Baby Thor

Baby Thor

Training Thor

In January 2010, Thor, a 5-month-old weimaraner, came crashing into my life.

Here, I will outline the steps taken to train him to be a well-mannered dog,

to do agility, and to perform some service dog tasks.

At five months, he is pretty wild.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Neutered, at Last

Yippee!  I stuck to my guns and waited til Thor had passed the 14-month mark.  We ended up going to Northampton Veterinary Clinic to a vet who is involved in the agility world and agreed with me that it was right to wait for growth to be complete.  On October 18, I took Thor in for pre-neuter blood work and urinalysis.  All good.   I had been worried about his blood sugar as Thor seems to drink and pee A Lot!  Turns out, nothing to worry about.  In the message left on my machine, vet tech Jen (my sister) said Thor's blood work was "pristine."  I laughed at her use of that word; that anything about Thor would be pristine is too funny!  Thor behaved better than I'd expected, walking nicely with Jen into the exam room.  And sitting when asked. 

After our appointment, we stopped at my mother's house.  She has a little gully in back, and I took Thor there.  I stood at the bottom and sent Thor running up both sides.  My sister (who hadn't known we were coming) saw Thor out the window and thought, at first, he was a deer!  She was impressed by his speed and his quick responses to come back to me when I called.

On October 26, I took Thor in at 8:45.  We had to wait for about 1/2 an hour for the vet, Leeanne, to see us.  Thor was very good, even lying down during the time that we were alone in the exam room.  Jen scanned for his microchip which was hard to find.  She had to use a second scanner and, it turns out, he has an international chip that is not universally read by all scanners.  That news made me irritated with my original vet who had implanted the chip.  In the past, they had used Home Again (which all my previous chipped dogs have had) and didn't tell me until AFTER the implant that they had switched to a different brand.  And they never did tell me it was an international chip or that some scanners cannot read it!

Leanne commented on how good Thor's coat looked.  I think she was also impressed that he sat for her.  I was displeased that he kept jumping up on the counter but, I have to admit, there were dog treats up there.  Counter surfing is a problem at home, too, probably due to my poor housekeeping!

I asked if I could leave a stuffed toy for Thor to have when he woke up.  I expected to be told no.  Most vets don't want anything left (often not even a leash or collar!) because they are afraid of losing things.  But I was told I could leave the toy, his harness, a collar, his leash.  Wow. 

Thor was ready for pick-up by 3:30pm. On the Discharge Instruction sheet are two photos of Thor:  a head shot taken on arrival and the second in recovery.  In the recovery shot, Thor is lying with his head on a large stuffed dog; he's covered by a blanket and his own toy is on the blanket.  He looks so sweet!

In addition to neutering Thor, they scaled his teeth, cleaned out his ears, and attempted (no luck) to flush his tear ducts.  It turns out that what I had identified as cherry eye is something else.  It is an inherited disorder called everted nictitans.  Basically, the cartilage inside the third eyelid curls inward.  Because the cartilage is encased in the 3rd eyelid which is soft, is causes no damage to the eye and no discomfort.  Leanne says she'll do surgery if it worsens but for now she wants to leave it alone.  Heartworm and Lyme tests were negative.  Thor weighs 59 pounds, my little baby. 

Keeping Thor quiet for two weeks was challenging.  But it was also a bonding experience.  I had mixed feelings about the neutering, wondering if I should have waited longer.  Or x-rayed growth plates.  Or both.  In my self-questioning, I was sympathetic to Thor.  And that was a good thing for us.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Agility #5 & #6

Week #5 coincided with AgileDogs USDAA trial.  I was photographer for the event, and Kathy was running her dogs.  But still, there was class.  I arrived early with Thor to let him run in the fenced pond area.  I let him run a second time just before class.  Thor loves to run with the other dogs.  One of my friends commented that he "runs circles around every other dog."  He certainly is fast, and his favorite thing is to run while another dog chases him.  No dog can catch him!

Class went well.  Because Kathy had to leave to run her dogs, class went longer than usual, and my friend Barb filled in to teach.  I love Barb's style, but it is very different from Kathy's.  I think some of the other handler's had a hard time adapting.  Barb spends a lot of time talking and explaining satisfying my desire for full understanding of the reasons behind the methods.  Kathy does more skill practice.  Both are important and it can be challenging for instructors to find the right balance.  Anyhoo, because the class went long, my legs gave out so I put Thor away.  We'd had a good class.

Week #6, Thor had just been neutered five days before so he stayed home and I audited. Kathy was out of town on a judging assignment so Barb was our instructor.  Barb, who rightly emphasizes independent obstacle performance, introduced the class to the concept of shaping.  Allowing the dog to CHOOSE to perform an obstacle while the handler stands by without giving direction develops problem-solving skills (in the dog) and a dog who fully understands the obstacle.  It requires patience and good observation skills on the part of the handler and can be very hard when first attempted.  I've done lots of this with Thor using both a tunnel and the tire.  As a result, he is very good at finding all angles of entry. 

I brought my camera to take pictures while watching and listening.  Deb's sheltie, Lucy, LOVES tunnels.  She was happy to run back and forth through a straight tunnel ignoring the treats that Deb tossed!  Repeating the tunnel was reward enough for Lucy!  And she already understood the concept of offering behaviors.  Linda's shepherd, Vasso, had a harder time.  Although only 11 months old, he has a history of formal obedience and wears a nylon choke collar.  So Vasso has been exposed to corrections for making incorrect choices.  This is a dog who will have trouble offering behaviors because he is afraid of  the consequences of making a mistake.  Vasso, who had been doing tunnels when directed, was unable to initiate tunnel behavior on his own.  Barb directed Linda to click/treat for looking at the tunnel, looking in the tunnel, putting head in tunnel, stepping one foot into tunnel.  Vasso is a smart dog and made really good progress.  But to Linda it must have felt like big steps backwards.  She was frustrated and close to tears despite Barb (and me) insisting that Vasso had made great strides forward.  Bean went next.  I know nothing of Bean's history but he is five years old and new to agility.  He reacted to the exercise similarly to the way Vasso had.  Both did a great job for dogs just being introduced to shaping.  Bean's handler was fine with it, Vasso's was not.  It made me very sad to realize that Vasso's early training had been with outdated methods.

I ended up with two photos that I like.  First, a picture of Roo (Barb's dog) happily demonstrating his "Go To Mat" behavior.  Second, a picture of Vasso peaking out of a tunnel and looking very worried.  These two photos illustrate the results of different training methods.  Roo, who has known only scientific, modern, positive training, and Vasso, who has done traditional obedience training in a choke collar.  As if I needed any more convincing...


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Agility Class #4

As we started class, Kathy informed us that a friend of hers might be coming to watch.  Okay, that's something Thor and I can handle!  BUT, as it turned out, he brought his little dog with him!  Not only did he bring a dog, but instead of just watching, he brought his dog out into the ring.  While I was working Thor on bottom behavior (2 on-2 off) on a plank, this man and his dog came up very close behind Thor.  I said, "Would you please move back just a bit?  My dog isn't always reliable."  Dog and man didn't move.  Luckily, Kathy was paying attention.  She came over and explained that Thor is very distractible and needed more space to be able to focus on his task.  At that point, dog and man moved back just a bit.  I realized then that visitors to classes need to be prepped in advance as to appropriate spectator behavior.  I don't think visitors should bring their dog.  I think they should be limited to a spectator area outside the ring.  Watch and learn, not get in the way!  The purpose of visiting a class should be to assess whether or not it's something you might like to do with your own dog.  To see if an instructor and his/her methods fit with the way you want to train.  No reason to disrupt the class!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Agility Class #3

Interestingly, a new dog once again joined our class.  This was able to happen because the handler has previously trained another dog and had already started this one.  But it certainly is disruptive!  The handler, who I know from trials, is someone who does not supervise her dogs closely and does not put their best interests first.  I say this because she chooses to set up her dogs very close to the agility rings at a trial and then complains when her dogs bark!  Several people have spoken to her about this and at the last trial she finally parked further away.  So maybe she is learning.

At the beginning of class, I was sitting on the sidelines doing attention work with Thor.  The A-frame was set near the spectator area and could, of course, been taken from either side.  If I were choosing to do it, I'd have sent my dog so he was moving away from other dogs.  But this handler chose to put her dog over the A-frame coming right at Thor.  At the bottom, her dog was not 3 feet from us.  Naturally, the dogs reacted.  I just kept feeding Thor and got his attention back quickly.  Throughout the first half of class, I was trying to move around enough to keep Thor away from the oblivious handler.  That's really hard for me these days with my impaired mobility.

I've been using forearm crutches in most areas of my life.  I don't yet use them with Thor because I really need two hands to control him.  But it means that I spend part of each class sitting on the ground!  I don't mind that, but would it be asking to much to expect others to steer clear of us?  Linda, who is training GSD Vasso, has the dog that interests Thor the most.  Yet Linda is very knowledgeable and very aware of her dog and their surroundings.  She has done a great job helping me by keeping her distance and asking from time to time if she is in a good place.  My friend who has a sheltie, Lucy, is less aware but since Thor has little interest in Lucy that has not been a problem.  But this new handler and dog... tough stuff.

About halfway through class, we were working on ramp bottom behavior.  Dogwalk planks were placed across a low table with a target at the end.  Thor raced to the end but was more interested in Kathy who was standing there than the food on the target.  When Kathy stepped in to point out and reposition the food treat, Thor leapt into her face to greet her.  This happened several times and I was unable to stop it.  I was afraid that Kathy was getting hurt.  So I left, put Thor in his crate in the car, and sat in the car to give myself a break.

When Kathy came out, I shared my frustration with trying to control Thor and my frustration with the new handler not keeping better distance between her dog and the others.  We talked for a few minutes, and I sent Kathy back to class but not before she suggested I bring Thor in after class to play with him alone.  Good idea. 

Alone in the building, Thor was a different dog.  I was able to send him into tunnels from all angles and work rear crosses with two jumps.  Kathy commented on Thor's distance skills!  So, we ended on a good/positive note, thanks to Kathy.  I think Thor needs more exercise prior to class...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Agility Class # 2

There was a new dog in class (he'd been getting neutered the week before).  Junior is a Brittany who took an extreme interest in Thor.  Thor was equally interested, and the two kept trying to get closer to each other.  I sat out several exercises in order to work on attention on the sidelines with Thor.  He responded well to this, and I will plan to do it again. 

After we rejoined the class, Junior managed to get away from his (two) handlers and came right to Thor.  Junior growled, Thor play bowed.  It was a little bit scary because of the growl.  After Junior was corraled, Kathy used the opportunity to explain why a dog should never be corrected for growling.  Corrections may remove the growling and you are left with a dog who gives no warning.  This can be a very dangerous dog.  This is something I understand well.  No doubt my Vada was punished for growling.  Her attacks (of other dogs) came with no indication of how she was feeling.  Eventually, Vada became a home dog and I no longer took her places because of her unpredictability.  She was much happier after that.

I told Junior's owners that I saw nothing really alarming in his behavior and that Kathy was right.  However, they decided not to return to class.  They emailed Kathy and explained that they had moved and it was simply too far to come.  I suspect they were surprised at how much difficulty they had controlling Junior and that that played at least some part in their decision.  Anyway, I'm glad they won't be back.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Thor and I went to Shatford Park, New Lebanon, New York this morning; many agility trials are held there.  This morning there was one other car but the park was empty of people and other dogs.  Perfect!  I let Thor out of the car, no leash.  He sniffed, peed, ran around.  I started clicking and treating any time he approached me.  Sometimes I called if he started roaming too far.  He always came back. 

After a while, he was tuned in enough to do some flat work.  Flat work is foundation work for agility.  No obstacles are used, but the dog learns to follow the handler's body language.  We worked in circles about 15 feet in diameter; Thor's circles were bigger.  I changed direction so he was on both sides but always on the outside.  Eventually, he will learn to slow down enough to be on the inside but not yet.  In my flat work book, the dog is working in heel position (both sides) right next to the handler.  Thor was not right next to me.  Since I cannot go faster than a walk, he is obviously much faster.  And I want distance in agility, so I allowed Thor to work about 15 feet away from me.  He remained focused at that distance and I was very happy.  I interrupted each set of circles with free run time to give Thor's brain a break.  Thor was off leash throughout.  We still need to do some leash work so he learns to walk nicely when leashed.  But that's not as much fun!

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Thor and I have been playing agility in the backyard for months.  On August 7, we attended a pre-novice agility seminar with Abbie Tamber.  I was so proud of Thor who showed off some good beginning skills!  I learned that he has good impulse control with food (something we had worked on) and very poor impulse control with toys (which we had NOT worked on). So we have been working with toys which has turned out to be much harder.  Thor will now sit in the presence of a toy, even if I wave it.  He will take it and release it on cue.  Hooray!  I was very pleased with how well Thor paid attention in the presence of other dogs/distractions.

Yesterday, we had our first formal agility class.  It was in the building so the other dogs were closer than they had been outside at the seminar.  This was hard for Thor who really wanted to play!  In his exuberance, he pulled me to the ground (but only once!).  He displayed his love of tunnels and exhibited a bit of zoominess but came back to me very quickly.  He had trouble walking straight through the ladder, probably because we have only played 101 Things to Do With a Ladder, where Thor is rewarded for anything he does; there is no criteria.  In class, we were asked to walk our dogs from one end to the other.  Hard!

After class, our instructor Kathy emailed me with this comment:  "You and Thorry did great yesterday, he is a LOT of dog but sooooo responsive to you - great job!!" 

I was delighted that Kathy read Thor so well!  She is a gifted instructor, and we are lucky to be in her class.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Thor likes anything that flies.  Balls, birds, moths.  His favorite time of day, I think, is nighttime when my outdoor floodlight attracts all the moths.  Thor loves trying to catch them and is surprisingly successful!  The other night, he saw lightning for the first time.  It was so much fun to watch him leap in the air trying to catch it!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Prejudice & Pride

What an exciting weekend!  New England Border Collie Rescue held their annual reunion for adopters and volunteers.  Since I have volunteered at their Dog Daze fundraiser for the last several years, I decided to take Thor for some fun border collie socialization.  I expected it to be hard.  I had anticipated that my next dog would be a petite female BC mix.  Instead, I have Thor.

Over 130 dogs attended the reunion!  Early in the day, no one was using the agility rings so I took Thor into the ring to play.  He went through a tunnel, curved under the dogwalk, twice successfully.  He also went in and backed out a few times.  That's okay; I am excited that he did anything in an unfamiliar environment!  We then went to each of the down contacts (2 on A-frame, 2 on dogwalk, 1 on seesaw) and shaped for 1RTO.  Beautiful!  At one point, a dog was being walked very close to the ring.  Thor went over to check it out.  No barking.  Cool!  And he came back!

Later in the day, we went into a large fenced area with a pond.  There were probably a dozen border collies running, playing, swimming.  Thor ran around having a good time and behaving very appropriately!  He ran with the dogs a bit but with an air of aloofness.  He seemed to be more interested in saying hello to the people.  And he never jumped up!  Even better, he periodically returned to me to check in!  Good boy!

At one point, I walked over to the pond with Thor who had shown no interest in it.  I was hoping I might be able to clicker train him to walk into the water.  No luck.  With his usual enthusiasm, Thor leapt into the water landing about chest deep.  He was startled and could not be lured to go near it again.

There were a few puppies from a litter that had been born into rescue.  A few days earlier, I had expressed to a friend of mine who is adopting one of the BC pups that that's what I should have had instead of Thor.  But on this day, watching the puppies romp and play, I felt no draw to them.  Phew!

On Sunday, I went to an agility trial to volunteer and introduce Thor to the environment.  I have been working on having him stay in the crate so that I can put on his harness and he doesn't have to wear it for travel.  Success!  Not easy, but I managed it.  With a bit more training, it should become a piece of cake.  Thor was somewhat overwhelmed by the crowd and all the activity.  I gave him a stuffed toy to carry (his security blanket).  Each time he dropped it, I told him "Get your toy" and he did!  He politely greeted several of my friends.  One commented how nice it is that he doesn't jump!  One of the vets who had agreed that I should wait to neuter him was also there.  She said that she was glad to see that he was an appropriate size (~25 inches at the shoulder).  She told me that she has been seeing lots of oversized weims (28/29"--the breed standard for adult males is 25-27) in her practice. 

My friend Kathy had her puppy there, too.  Jasper is about the same age as Thor.  An aussie mix, he is adorable and reminds me of Peabody.  I had had an opportuniy to adopt Jasper's brother a couple of months prior to the arrival of Thunder Thor.  At the time, I saw pictures and had to agree they were cute.  But I wanted something smaller than an Aussie and without the heavy coat.  I also expressed reservations about a docked tail.  Kathy told me that these pups had tails!  I was tempted.  But I was still holding on to I-can't-have-a-puppy-as-long-as-Vada-is-alive. 

So Thor came into my life. Turns out, Jasper is much smaller than expected and his coat is medium-length and not thick.  But I was so proud of Thor's good behavior and attention to me that I wasn't envious at all!  I hope this is the beginning of falling in love with Thor.  He deserves that, and he really is so very good.  Especially when I think back to the TORNADO that he was!!

Dinner Date

When I have gone out, Thor is, naturally, very excited to see me on my return home.  Tonight, I had a dinner date and was out of the house for over three hours.  Letting Thor out of his crate, we went to the back door.  I ignored him, my back turned, waiting for him to sit.  He did.  I praised and he got up.  Turned my back and waited.  He sat again.  I told him to stay while I opened the door.  Then I released him to go outside. 

He must have needed to pee pretty badly because he squatted right away.  I praised and patted while he was peeing.  He finished suddenly and popped straight upwards slamming into my nose.  It brought tears to my eyes, my initialy thought was that he's broken my nose.  Well, it's not broken.  But it sure did hurt. 

And he wasn't even finished peeing.  He squatted again.  Damn dog.  Too excited.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Time Heals

After medication adjustments, time, and a weekend of DOCNA agility with Glitterbug, I am feeling much better about Thor and me.  Glitter received a qualifying score and first place in the North America Challenge class earning her a bye to Nationals to be held at Sugar Bush Farm in October.  I'll wait to decide about entering until I see how our season is going.  But there is hope for her yet!

This past Saturday, I drove with Thor to Granby to volunteer at SoBAD's agility trial.  Since Glitter was not entered, I though it was a good opportunity to introduce Thor to the trial environment.  Turns out, I had the wrong date.  Trial is NEXT weekend!  Meanwhile, Thor was stressed in the car, chewed up a second EZ Walk harness despite the fact that it had been soaked overnight in Bitter Yuck, drip dried, and squirted in his mouth ahead of time.  He also chewed his blanket, something he NEVER does in his crate at home, which is how I know it was stress chewing and not simply opportunity.  I think I'll have to work on "stays" in his crate and offering his head through the harness so that he won't need to wear it in the car.  Also, need to take him on more short car rides so that he acclimates.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Piles of Poop

I finally got Thor diet under good control...Artemis Puppy with yogurt added, cheerios and string cheese as training treats.  No  accidents for several weeks.  Yippee!  Finally, I'm feeling hopeful about our future.

Then, I get close to the bottom of the bag.  Go to the one and only supplier in my area to discover that they are OUT OF ARTEMIS PUPPY!  What to do; what to do.  Finally, I buy a smaller bag of Artemis Adult and a bag of Nutri-Source to try.  For two days, I mix the new foods in with the old.  And bingo!!  Thor has now pooped in his crate three times in two days.  Hells bells. 

I am in such turmoil and tizzy that I call the crisis team at the Mental Health center and go in to talk to someone.  I am ashamed at how negative I've been feeling.  About Thor.  About me.  The clinician I saw first wanted to admit me but then said that with my cough (present for almost 2 weeks) I couldn't be admitted to the psych ward.  Phew!  I do not want to have to arrange for dog care!  And I do not want to be away from home.    So instead, she called a psychiatrist for a consult.  The result is that a recent medication change is known to cause changes in serotonin and frightening thoughts.  So, I am under orders to see my PCP for the cough tomorrow, to alter my meds, to schedule a psych appointment to evaluated current meds and how they are impacting my moods/thoughts, check-in calls for the next two days, and follow-up counseling.  I never should have let it get to this point.  But I feel better now that some concrete steps have been put in place.

Came home and had a lovely training session with Thor.  Then, after pooping outside, we came in and he pooped in his crate.

Open my email tonight to find that three of my current meds interact negatively...Rebif, Bupropion, and Sertraline...

"Your May 2010 Safety Report

"Safety Summary: Your medication check has detected interactions involving Sertraline, Bupropion and Rebif, and identified at least one medication with an orange risk rating. This means you may require closer monitoring of these medications in order to reduce your risk of serious side-effects (click on each drug for more details).

Rebif   (!)

Vitamin D


Sertraline   (!)

Bupropion   (!)


Monday, May 3, 2010

A Dream

In my dream, I have three dogs.  Thor, of course.  And 16-year-old Vada.  No Glitterbug; instead Morgan, an ancient mixed breed who, in reality, lives with my son and his girlfriend.  In the dream, Vada and Morgan are walking down my HP ramp to get to the backyard.  Thor keeps barging under the railings to disrupt the old dogs' progress.  He keeps knocking them down.  I see this as a metaphor for my own frailty and how much Thor enjoys knocking into ME. 

In addition, I am sad at the thought that Vada will not be with me much longer.  She has been a challenging dog to own and train...overactive and dog aggressive.  Much of her training was filled with mistakes of the day...I had yet to discover positive training when I was working with her.  Despite that, we did earn the AKC's Canine Good Citizen certificate and Companion Dog (CD) Obedience title.  Vada retired after leaving the ring during a show 'n' go to attack a GSD working articles in the next ring.  Neither the judge nor I saw it coming.  I was practicing with Vada in the Open class on an exercise called Retrieve Over High Jump.  With Vada seated at my side, I threw the dumbbell out over the high jump.  Then I sent Vada to get it.  She cleared the jump easily and went straight to the dumbbell.  But, instead of picking it up, Vada turned almost 180 degrees to get to the shepherd.  With dozens of people surrounding the two fighting dogs, I couldn't get close to Vada and had to watch and wait.  It was horrible.  In the end, neither dog was hurt.  Neither dog even had saliva on their coat.  But it was scary to everyone.  And people tried to demand that Vada and I be immediately banned from the grounds.

The judge was wonderful.  She found a long line and had me bring Vada back into the ring.  She had us perform the broad jump exercise which Vada did beautifully.  But it had been an awful day.  I cried for most of the three hours that it took to drive home.  Vada and I attended a few classes after that, with my friends all insisting that this could be fixed and that I shouldn't give up.  But in the end, I did quit.  I wasn't willing to risk that some day Vada would hurt another dog and there might be cries for her destruction.  So Vada became my backyard dog.  We played combined obedience/agility games just for fun, and she loved it.  She became more relaxed than she had ever been.  It was a good way for her to live out her life.

Now, as Vada as moving toward death, I cannot bear to think of losing her.  And, at the same time, I am struggling to fall in love with Thor.  He deserves to be loved as much as I've loved Vada.  But I am not there yet.  I have yet to fall in love again.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Lessons from Abbie

Abbie Tamber was a 2004 World Agility Team member with her canine partner, a Jack Russell Terrier named Microburst (aka "Mikey").  She owns and operates Dogs on the Run, a training program for all aspects of dog training from agility to behavioral guidance.  Glitterbug and I have attended numerous agility seminars with Abbie.  I love her approach which includes a variety of tools and a dog's eye view.  Abbie is a skilled clicker trainer and has experience with a wide variety of breeds.

On Sunday, April 25, I took Thor to Sugar Bush Farm for a private lesson with Abbie.  She was enthusiastic about Thor and gave many specific and helpful suggestions.  As a result, I have added the following skills to our training list.

1) Harness Unclip... Abbie suggested that I practice unclipping Thor's harness followed immediately with a treat.  This will teach Thor to attend to me when he is unclipped rather than viewing it as an opportunity for freedom and exploration.

2) Back Off... This is an impulse control exercise.  I had introduced the game to Thor in his previous home but forgot about it as we struggled with housetraining.  Basically, you present the dog with a handful of food.  Most dogs will try to get with, some with more persistence than others.  Thor was quite persistent initially.  Then you wait.  As soon as the dog "backs off" (maybe just glances away at first), click treat!  With a little reminder, Thor was able to back off into a sit pretty quickly.

3) Collar Tugs... Since I hope to have Thor doing some assistance tasks, Abbie felt that it was important that he learn to love having his collar grabbed and tugged.  Similar to my "Gotcha" game, this takes the game a step further.  While tugging on the dog's collar, the dog is fed a steady supply of treats.  As soon as the tugging stops, the treats disappear.  I've used a similar game to change the attitude of dogs who are dog aggressive.  Whenever a dog appears, the treatment dog gets fed a steady supply.  The new dog disappears (say around a corner), and the treats disappear.

4) Food Toss...  In order to discourage jumping up, Abbie suggested that I toss treats to the ground instead of hand delivering them.  With his focus downward, Thor should be less inclined to jump.  He is funny about this...he does not like his food to have dirt on it!

5) Retrieve... I explained how Thor liked to chase things and that, while he would return to me with the retrieved object (usually a ball) he seemed downright offended when I wanted it back.  He would give it to me, but with a look that said, "I wanted that.  You can play by yourself now."  Abbie suggested I teach him to told and then to retrieve a spoon.  She said the metal in his mouth would be something he'd be less interested in keeping.  :-)

6) Come-to-Side... As I walked around the agility building, Abbie had me reward Thor when he came up beside me.  She suggested I pick one side to reward consistently.  Since I am right handed, I would choose my left side as the place for a service animal.  However, I'm hesitant to reward one side only as I will want him working on both sides for agility.

7) Come-Go Game... I first learned this game from Abbie several years ago in an agility seminar with Glitter.  The purpose of it is to minimize sniffing.  The handler tosses a treat which the dog goes to get.  As soon as the dog turns back to the handler, a second treat is tossed.  The dog learns very quickly that sniffing the ground does not pay off but returning to the handler does.

8) Plank Play... Abbie was impressed with Thor's hind end awareness which we have been working on with plank, box, and tippy board games.  She brought out a wobble (Buja) board and, although Thor had never seen one, he was happy to slam it around with his feet and perform a 2-on-2-off on it.  We then brought out a PVC ladder which I started to lure Thor through.  Abbie stopped me and encouraged me to shape for feet-in-the-ladder instead.  Thor caught on to this game very quickly.  I have a PVC ladder at home but had not tried it with Thor yet.  I'm glad I hadn't because now I know to shape instead of luring.  We discussed contact methods (2-on/2-off, 1RTO, 2RTO, 4-on-the-floor).  I had been thinking I would teach Thor 1RTO to lessen the stress on his shoulders from a 2-on/2-off.  My previous agility dogs have had 2-on/2-off stops, and Abbie and I agreed that I stop will be essential given my mobility limits.  She suggested that Thor is too "upright" for a 4-on-the-floor, and I agree.

Definitions for non-agility folks:

Contact Obstacle:  There are three contact obstacles in agility, the A-frame, the dogwalk, and the seesaw.  Each is painted two colors...the lower parts of the up and down ramps are painted yellow while the "body" is painted a contrasting color.  These yellow areas are known as "contact zones."  The rules specify that a dog must touch the descending (and in some organizations, the ascending) contact zone with one toe nail (or more) as he passes through.  This is a safety rule so that the dog does not leap from high up and risk injury.  There are many ways to teach these.  Crossing your fingers and hoping is NOT training!

Running Contact:  The dog is trained to run smoothly through the yellow contact zone.  The training is complex and often involves such tools as hoops and stride regulators.  I never considered this method for my dogs as I need the advantage of having a dog who stops at the end of the zone until released. 

Two-on/Two off:  In this method, the dog stops at the bottom of the plank with his hind feet in contact with the plank and his front feet on the ground (hence the name).  The advantage is a dog who follows through in his descent and is unlikely to miss the yellow zone.  Another adavantage is that the dog is stopped which allows the handler to get into position for upcoming obstacles.  Disadvantages include stress to the dog's shoulders if he has not been taught to rock his weight back during the descent; and lost time (the clock is ticking during that stop)!  I taught Glitter to rock back by teaching a lie-down 2-on/2off initially and dropping the lie-down when she was shifting her weight back effectively. 

1RTO:  This stands for one-rear-toe-on.  The dog stops at the bottom of the plank with just one rear foot touching the wood.  Because the dog has come a little further than in a 2-on/2-off, his body is parallel to the ground and the stress to the shoulders is lessened.  There seemed to be a lot of excitement about this method several years ago, but I have not seen it in use in competition.  Not sure why.  I asked Abbie if something negative had appeared with it but she didn't think so.  She did say that she prefers a 2RTO (two-rear-toes-on).  I'm not clear on the difference between this and a 2on-2-off.  The 1RTO risks some off-courses as some dogs will, some of the time, come off the ramp and then reach back to make contact.  Since they have come off the obstacle, and then back on (with 1 toe!), it gets faulted as an off course.  It's a risk I'm willing to take to have a safe performance of the obstacles.  It is 1RTO than Thor has been introduced to at home.

Sit-on-the-Board:  Some handlers teach their dogs to sit near the end of the yellow contact zone.  While this accomplishes a rock back, I think it is nebulous to the dog.  It is unclear, in the dog's mind, just where the sit should be placed.  As a result, a dog may be likely to creep down the obstacle (or even perch at the top) because he is unsure of himself.  This may, in fact, happen with incomplete training of any method if the dog is unsure of the exact criteria for performance.

4-on-the-Floor:  The dog runs throught the yellow contact zone and lies down immediately after coming off the obstacle.  Because the dog is looking down and thinking down, he is not likely to leap off prematurely.  Abbie and I agree that with an upright dog like Thor, this behavior may be too time consuming.  Some judges will call this training in the ring and give an elimination.  I've seen that happen.  Again, it may be a risk some handlers are willing to take.

In addition to the contact position, I need to teach Thor to run quickly up and across a plank.  I know that, at his tender age, Thor isn't ready for contact obstacles.  Abbie suggested starting with a plank flat on the ground.  When that was mastered, I could raise one end by placing it on a low agility table and/or a milk crate.  Next would come a dogwalk set on milk crates.  Then a higher table.  I need to buy or build a big table.  My dogs, to date, have used a 16" table.  Thor would likely need a 26" one.
9) Tunnels... I had introduced Thor to my chute barrel (no fabric chute attached) and he had been happily chasing a ball through it.  When I had tried a squished (shortened) tunnel, however, I failed to secure it well and it wobbled when Thor stepped in it.  He quickly decided he could not go all the way through.  I told Abbie about my mistake and how he had decided he had to go partway in and back out.  I'd given up trying until I could secure the tunnel better and have a helper.  Abbie was the perfect helper, of course.  Within three minutes, Thor was running back and forth through a 12-foot tunnel!  Abbie suggested that in our work at home my goal should be to stand in the center and facing the tunnel while Thor ran back and forth through it.  She also explained that to introduce a curved tunnel, I should bend one end, not the middle, just a wee bit.  All set to take our show home!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sticks & Stones

Thor's love of sticks is second only to his love of balls.  Stones run a distant third, and broken bricks are better.  I've removed the racquetballs for now; he was starting to chew them open and I was afraid of swallowed pieces.  I need to go shopping.

With the balls gone, Thor is carrying sticks.  A few days ago, I was sitting at the top of my deck steps watching Thor run.  He had a rather large stick in his mouth.  Before I had a chance to react, he ran straight toward the steps.  There was room next to me for the dog to get by, but not the stick.  Dogs only judge their body accomodation for a stick.  So my shoulder got slammed into as if I were the bull in a bullfight.  And I try so hard to be Ferdinand! 


I have never shared my home with a dog as large or as smelly as Thor.  I change his bedding daily, wipe him down with pre-moistened pet wipes, and still it is hard to keep up.  Yesterday, I moved his crate to vaccuum and wash the kitchen floor.  While I was down on my hands and knees, Thor brought me the toilet brush and then the bathroom sponge;  I swear he was trying to help!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Name Game

Before playing any of the previously discussed "recall" games, I will play The Name Game.  I had suggested this game to Thor's previous owners, and he knew his name well long before he was in my home.

The Name Game: 

I start with the dog near me where he cannot/will not wander.  I say his name and immediately (within 3 seconds) give a food treat.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  I want a dog who, when he hears his name, looks at me and starts moving in my direction.  And I want the response to be instantaneous.  Dog trainer Leslie McDevitt calls this a "whiplash turn."  I like that.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


"Come" is a critical cue for dogs to understand.   In my mind, "come" means stop-whatever-you-are-doing-and-come-to-sit-in front-of-me.  I want the dog sitting close so that I can easily reach out and clip on the leash.  It's important to note, that "come" can be interrupted midstream.  Which means I may interject a second cue before the dog gets to me.  An example of this would be the competition obedience exercise Drop on Recall.  The handler calls the dog and, when the dog is partway in, cues the dog to lie down.  Another example would be in agility when I want the dog to head toward me but then I redirect the dog with an obstacle cue or another directional cue. 

To teach my dogs to come, I start with a backchaining technique, that is, I teach the last step first.  So many dogs will come "near" when called but then dance around just out of reach.  An incomplete come.  So I start with a game I call "GOTCHA."  With the dog in front of me, I take hold of the collar, say "gotcha," and give the dog a treat.  Realizing that in some recall situations, the dog may have faced danger and I may be emotional, I progress from a "take hold" to a "grab."  The dog learns that it is FUN to have his collar grabbed!

Next step is to "call" the dog as he happens to already be moving in my direction.  This is done without a leash and outside of a formal training session.  I notice the dog moving toward me, I say "come," and give the dog a treat when he gets here.  The dog is being introduced to the verbal cue and is rewarded for coming in close.

Once the above two have been practiced separately, I start using them together. 

More Games to "Come" By:

FIND ME...Without saying anything, I turn slightly away from the dog and wait.  I want the dog to come around in front to find my face.  Once in front, I give a treat.  Using baby steps, I progress to turning my full back on the dog.  Then I try moving a few steps away with my back to the dog.  My goal with this game is to have a dog who comes to find my face whenever he...
a) isn't sure what to do
b) needs direction
c) feels disconnected from me
d) is anxious or worried

Many agility handlers will chose to always reward their dog when he is at their side (both sides) and never when he is facing them.  This game can be easily adapted to a side position.  Later, when I'm adding verbal cues, "come" will mean in front facing me, "heel" will mean on my left side, "by me" will mean on my right side.

TOSS AND CALL... Tossing a treat, I get the dog to move away from me.  He'll eat the treat, then turn back to me.  I reward the look back by tossing another treat in the opposite direction.  As the game progresses, I vary the timing of my tosses.  Sometimes I will toss for the look back, other times when he gets partway to me, sometimes when he gets all the way to me.  I want to reinforce/reward for each part of the process, each piece of this come puzzle.  As the dog gets good at this game, I  add "Gotcha."  I also add a Sit-on-Arrival some of the time.  By keeping it varied, and rewarding each piece, I begin to build a reliable come!

COME CLOSE AT HAND... Hands full of treats!  Dog is facing me and close enough for me to touch.  I say "come" and take 1 step back. Dog will follow.  Dog gets treat.  I do this both with and without a clicker.  Fairly quickly, I add a sit into the equation. Remember, "Come" means sit-in-front unless I redirect.

THE RECALL GAME... Since I mostly train alone, I rarely play this game as it requires two (or more) human players.   Each person has lots of treats.  We start just a few feet apart.  One person calls the dog and treats when he comes.  The two take turns calling and treating.  To make it harder, I add more distance and/or more people.  I always make sure to only increase the difficulty of one thing at a time. Example:  If I've been playing at twenty feet, when I add a 3rd person, I'll go back to 5 feet.  I've only played this game with Thor once.  He played it very well at a distance of about 10 feet (2 people).  He never gave me a chance to call!  He would go to my friend when she called, get his treat, then turn and rush right back to me.  Pretty funny!

RUNAWAY RECALL... I start this game in a safely enclosed area (my fenced backyard).  Later, I will take it to the park with a long line.  I wait for the dog to be interested in something other than me.  Saying "come" in a happy upbeat tone, I turn and run away from the dog.  There are few dogs who can resist chasing a running friend!  I usually reward at my side as the dog catches up to me.  Depending on criteria, some handlers might prefer for the dog to come around to "front" position.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Better Day

Yesterday, when the sun was shining, I was feeling dark and ready to give up on Thor.  By the end of the day, he was being so demanding that I started to think he must be in pain.  He was drinking large amounts of water and wanting more.  I started to think about bloat, but it didn't fit with what I knew about bloat. 

I once saw a dog die of bloat. I was at an agility trial that was part of a larger canine fair.  There were two agility trials (USDAA & CPE) going on, a flyball competition, demonstrations and exhibits throughout large fairgrounds in New Hampshire.  Quite a few people had brought dogs that were not competing.  This was one of those dogs.  He was a large mixed breed.  When I saw him (and offered my cell phone to call a veterinarian), he was lying on his side and breathing heavily.  A veterinarian was reached and someone else offered to drive so the owner could ride with the dog.  I heard later that the dog had died.  I wasn't surprised.  He really had looked awful.

No bloat for Thor.  Not this time.  But knowing that it is a risk in the weimaraner breed is just one more reason that I would not have chosen to own this dog.

Today, grey and rainy, looks much brighter.  Thor has seemed happier and calmer.  And back to drinking a normal amount. 

We had our first successful walk to the mailbox!  With a front-clip harness on.  I used the Walk-Your-Dog-With-Love Harness because that is the one I had prepared by soaking it overnight in Bitter Apple (thnks Amy!  I now have a replacement Easy Walk as well but need to buy more bitter apple).  Although Thor walked well with the WYDWL harness, I was not impressed.  The leash never tightened; as a result, there was never any pressure on Thor's chest.  Instead, the harness seemed to work via its action behind the front legs.  I expect I'll be mostly using the Easy Walk.  I like the fit and action of the EW better.  :-)

Thor and I have been playing lots of Recall and Stay games.  Will plan to write about each of those next...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Poop Poop Poop

Three days ago, Thor pooped in his crate.  Two days ago, Thor pooped in his crate.  Loose goopy poops.  I can't remember the last time he peed in his crate.  While I was bleaching his crate two days ago, I thought, "I wish he stop this and go back to peeing in the crate.  That was so much easier."  Finished cleaning up, put Thor in his crate, within ten minutes he peed in his crate.  A mind reader, he.  Just trying to please.

Yesterday, I skipped breakfast for Thor.  Skipping an occassional meal can be good for dogs.  All animals who hunt survive with a large meal followed by perhaps days of no meals or much smaller meals.  An elk followed by days of rodents.  It's not bad for humans to sometimes miss a meal either.  My dogs and I miss about one meal a week by plan.  Today, Thor's poops are looking much more "normal," formed and hard, the way they should.  He is fully back on Artemis with yogurt added.  He gets cottage cheese in his kong. 

On Saturday (two days ago), I had a conversation with my friend, Barb, who feeds raw.  She doesn't feed a pre-mixed raw.  She feeds bones.  And raw mea--protein and organ meats.  And cottage cheese.  And she bleaches her dogs crates after every meal.  No way could I do that. 

Today, I went for a walk.  Ten minutes out, with my camera, on the floodplain behind my house to take pictures.  I was using two forearm crutches.  Going out was not bad, could have gone halfway without the aids.  Found something to shoot.  Sat down to rest and to steady the camera for shooting.  Damn!  No memory card.  I had forgotten to check before leaving the house.  Walking back took almost three times as long.  Left leg dragging, balance off, almost fell several times.  Home again, I took Thor and Glitter into the backyard.  Thor had never seen my crutches before.  He sniffed and tasted one before accepting it. 

Also today, Thor traded his ball for a pen.  Rewarded by getting the ball back.

Monday, April 5 6PM

After a half hour outside with few distractions (other dogs inside), Thor came in and promptly pooped in his crate.  I'm beginning to fear that it's a habit, that he's more comfortable pooping there than anywhere else.  And he doesn't care about getting dirty.  Even outside, he is not at all bothered by stepping in poop.  I am at my wits end.  Anyone want a young weimaraner? 

I have researched food allergies, food intolerances, and more online and gotten zero insights.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Feeding Thor

Thor's breeder sent him to his first new home with a packet put together by the Iams Company and a recommendation to feed Eukanuba.  So that is what his novice owners bought.  I advised them to switch to a higher quality food and, since their cat eats Wellness, that was my suggestion.  When I worked (for 3 years) in an animal shelter, we saw hyper dogs brought in for surrender on a regular basis.  Often, they were being fed Eukanuba.  There seems to be something in the formula that contributes to overactivity.  I also explained to Thor's owners the advantages of a higher quality food in terms of feeding less, smaller stools, longer life.  They did a shopping comparison but felt that the higher cost was prohibitive.

When Thor came into my home, I started to transition him from Eukanuba Large Breed Puppy food to Artemis Medium/Large Breed Puppy food.  I liked the ingredients list on the Artemis bag and the fact that it was listed on the Whole Dog Journal's recommended foods list for 2010 (and had been for some years).

The following, adapted from the WDJ recommendations, are what I look for in a dog food.

1)  First, I look at the food.  I want a food that is brown.  Multicolored (yellow, orange, red, green) foods contain artificial colorings that I don't want my dogs eating. I also look ( on the ingredients list) for artificial flavors, preservatives, and added sweeteners.  My dogs don't need those.

2)  Next, I read the ingredients.  I want to see two animal proteins in the top three ingredients or three in the top five.  I want the exact type of meat specified, i.e. beef, chicken, salmon instead of meat, poultry, fish.  "Meal"  (chicken meal, etc) is a fine ingredient and ensures plenty of protein in the food.

3)  I also want to see whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  But these should be a bit lower down on the ingredients list.  I like it when ingredients are "organic."  Note:  corn is a cheap source of protein and often found in lower quality foods;  there is some evidence that corn may promote aggression in susceptible dogs.  In addition, corn is commonly contaminated with aflatoxin, a mold that can be deadly when ingested.  There have been cases of canine deaths due to aflatoxin contamination in dry dog foods.

4) By-products are to be avoided.  These may include such things as chicken claws and beaks, cow hooves, organ meets

5)  The most important thing about any food is that your dog thrives on it.  I am looking for shiny coat, high (but not out-of-control) energy, alertness, digestibility.  The last means that stools should be small and well-formed.  Thor's have always been a bit loose.  Which is why I am exploring alternatives.

While on the mix of Eukanuba and Artemis, Thor's stools were pretty sloppy.  I started adding yogurt to his meals which helped a bit.  Once the Eukanuba was gone and his diet was only Artemis and yogurt, his stools were better, but still not best.  Sherry Holm, owner of No Place Like Holm (in-home boarding for dogs) told me that she feeds her boarders Taste of the Wild.  Even with the diet change and stress of boarding, her boarders do not get loose stools.  Pretty good recommendation.  So I bought a bag (pleased that it is less costly than Artemis).  Have been mixing it with Artemis for Thor for several days.  His stools are getting goopier and he's having in-crate accidents.  Apparently, he is a digestive nightmare.  I'll keep looking.

Many people feed raw diets designed to mimic what they might be eating were they living in the wild.  I tried raw with three dogs many years ago.  Two of my three did not do well on raw.  So I am reluctant to try it again.  That said, there are now pre-made raw foods that are more readily available than they used to be so the need to prepare one's own foods is eliminated.  That certainly makes the option more palatable (to me!).   I have also been warned that I should not be handling raw foods because of my illness.  Raw foods (and stools from raw-fed dogs) can carry salmonella and other food-borne illnesses.  That is not a problem for dogs whose digestive system differs from ours and can handle these contaminants.  But it may be problematic for me since my meds lower my immune system.  I would have to be ultra-vigilant in preparing a raw food diet for my dogs.  Despite this reservation, I am planning to look into Oma's Pride, a prepared and complete raw diet.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Thor has a habit, begun in his previous home, of barking incessantly whenever I am on the phone.  I have tried hard to ignore him, but the barking continues.  I have discovered that outdoors he is too busy to bark and doesn't care if I am on the phone.  But sometimes, I need to make a call from inside.  That was the case yesterday when I needed to call my credit card company about a charge I wanted removed from my bill.

I took Thor outside, waiting for him to pee and poop before going back in.  Then, I left him loose in the house while I made the call.  Success!  No barking.  But when I got off the phone, I found that Thor had pooped by the back door.  Success, you may ask?  Yes!  He didn't just stop and poop where he happened to be.  He didn't seek out his crate as a good place to poop.  He pooped as close as he could get to the outdoors showing me that he understands!  Hooray!


My health update:

I saw my neurologist a week ago.  He confirmed that my five day headache was, in fact, a migraine.  I've had two more since.  He also changed my treatment plan to include monthly IV solumedrol infusions.  In the past, I've had IV solumedrol for three consecutive days to treat acute attacks.  Now, it is hoped that the monthly treatments will slow progression.  The doctor also confirmed that I have increased weakness in my legs.  He prescribed a muscle relaxant to address painful leg spasms that he feels are interfering with my sleep.

I had a follow-up MRI today.  This one was not only my brain but also my cervical spine.  I was at the hospital for two hours.  The knocking/banging sounds of the MRI machine have always reminded me of the sounds of a train station which reminded me of when I was little; we used to pick up my grandmother at the train station when she came to visit from Washington, D.C.  That's always been a good association.  Today, as they rolled me into the machine, I thought, "I'm going to be with Nanni."  I had the feeling that I was heading into another world, an afterworld.


Today, April 1, is the first bright sunny day after almost a week of rain during which the Housatonic River behind my house crept out of its banks.  On two days, I've enjoyed walking about 30 feet to photograph the floodwaters.  I've struggled to walk that far, and I'm feeling that I no longer know who I am and what I can do.  Today, I spent two 10-minute periods sitting out in the sunshine.  Each time, the vision in my left eye blurred.  This is not new and it returns to normal as soon as I get out of the sun.  But I wonder if my vision will always normalize.  My walking used to normalized after each attack.  Now it does not.  I am not me.

The first Assistance/Service Dogs were Seeing Eye Dogs.  Thor could do that.



I spoke too soon!!!

After feeding supper (4pm), I took Thor and Glitter outside for two and a half hours.  When we came in, Thor went into his crate.  Within 10 minutes, he had pooped all over the place, gooey, soft poops (not atypical).  I put him back outside and set to work cleaning up.  By the time I'd cleaned the crate and his bedding, put the scraped off bedding in the washing machine, and washed and vacuumed the floor and carpet where he'd walked from his crate to the backdoor, I was exhausted.  Ready for a wheelchair, no exaggeration. 

I've done some slow diet changes for Thor as I do think he has a delicate digestive system.  Thought I'd settled on a good food but now wonder if it's the cause of these latest accidents.  I'll write my thoughts on food next time.  Too tired tonight.


I won't give up...I won't give up...I won't give up...

Monday, March 29, 2010


Thor has been working on two sticks, smoothing them with his teeth so they are like river rocks.  Last night, he wanted to go outside five times before bed.  Each time, he ran to get one of the sticks.  Obsessed with the work those sticks still needed, he couldn't focus on anything else.  Hence, every time we came back in, he was still asking to go out.  Finally, I took both sticks and tossed them over the fence.  He got as close to the fence as he could, pressing his nose against the pickets, and (finally) peed.


Next morning:  After miles of ball chasing and a big morning poop, Thor came inside and pooped in his crate. His punishment? I'm teaching him to do my year, he's on his own!


Thor had a playdate with Sophie this afternoon.  Sophie is a lovely little 4-year-old pitbull, very active but also polite.  They had a wonderful time running around my backyard.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Creative Athlete

The back door of my house leads onto a small deck.  Three steps descend into the fenced yard.  A 180 from the top of the steps brings you across the deck to a handicapped ramp, an alternate route to the yard.  Sometimes I sit on the steps to read while the dogs play.  Thor likes to race up the ramp and turn to run by me leaping over the steps and onto the grass.  Two days ago, he added a variation.

I was sitting on the deck and leaning over to scrape the steps in preparation for spring re-staining.  My back must have been fairly flat.  Instead of coming up the ramp, Thor approached the steps at a run, leaping onto my back and continuing around to descend the ramp.  When I got over my surprise, I thought it was funny as all get out.  This pup sure keeps me in stitches!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Forward and Back

Twenty steps forward, one step back.

After more than two months in my home, Thor pooped in his crate for the first time.  I had let my guard down and didn't get him out after his breakfast in a timely fashion.  My mistake.  But I wish he had been more vocal in expressing his needs!  What a mess!!

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Stress of Moving

Anyone who has ever moved (and who hasn't?) knows how stressful it can be.  Thor, in his short life, knew two moves and a hectic middle home.  Last night, it occurred to me that those stressors may well have delayed his housetraining.  Young puppies moving to their first (hopefully permanent) home are known to be stressed enough that it is recommended to separate the move from any vaccinations due.  This is especially true in breeds predisposed to vaccine reaction. 

As he settles in, the accidents have become far less.  Of course, he is older now, too, and the decrease in urination may well be due to maturity.  But he is needing only one trip out during the night lately, and that feels luxurious!

After a treatment with IV Solumedrol on Thursday, I was unable to sleep (a typical side effect) at all Thursday night into Friday.  So I had the opportunity to observe Thor's nighttime/sleep habits.  Except for getting up to go out once, he never stood up.  Even when I walked by, he watched me, but stayed lying down.  Nice relaxation.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Working With Words

Dogs are masters of communication.  That does not mean that we always understand them.  Misunderstandings are common largely because a dog's natural language is not verbal.  In order for them to behave in a human household, most dogs must learn a core of verbal cues.  But this does not come easily to them.  Dogs communicate with one another through a complex series of postures, tail position, facial expression, ear  tilt, and more.  People, of course, communicate non-verbally as well.  But often we are unaware of our non-verbal communications.  Dogs are not.  In addition to sending non-verbal messages, dogs are brilliant at reading our non-verbal communications.  And every minute that your dog is with you, he is studying you and becoming more skilled at reading you.

While Thor has been studying me and learning my non-verbal language, I have been focused on teaching him verbal cues.  Each behavior is introduced without the verbal cue which is added later.  These are the lessons we are presently working on.

1. "Off"  has two meanings.  I use it to mean Stop Jumping on Someone (I hope he will learn to never jump on people so that this use of "off" will end).  "Off" also means Get Off the Furniture.  This latter meaning will be continue to be needed as my dogs are allowed, by invitation, to get on the furniture.  This is an important point:  Dogs must wait to be invited onto furniture and must get off when directed to do so.  Those are the Furniture Rules in my household.  Thor either learned  get "off" the furniture in his former home OR he gets off in response to any verbal from me.  I haven't tested it to see which it is but I am pleased when he instantly gets off the bed in response to my verbal cue.  (It should be said that he rarely gets on the bed; only when he is excited and Glitter is already up there.)  One other thing about Furniture Rules:  a dog in my household must earn the right, through good behavior, to be allowed on the furniture at all.  Throughout her life, Vada had limited furniture privileges.  When allowed on furniture, she became "full of herself" and started being too bossy.   She would sometimes beat up other dogs in the house.  So her furniture use was restricted to nil for most of her life.

2. "Business," as in "Do your business" or "Tend to Business" tells my dogs to hurry up and pee!  Thor's previous owners introduced this, and I thought that Thor understood it.  Until I realized that I was just really good at predicting when he was going to pee and saying it then!  He had trained me well!  Now, two months later, I do think he knows this word and it's intended meaning.  At last.

3. "In your crate" or "Get in your crate" have an obvious meaning. Thor definitely learned this before he came into my home. His understanding has not generalized to all circumstances, however, and is most reliable if I'm preparing food or refilling his water bowl.

4. "Settle" (or "Settle Down") is used to get the dog to relax. When I cue this, I want the dog to lie down and be quiet. I look for other signs of relaxation as well, lack of muscle tension in the body and face, relaxed ear position, lack of panting (unless it is very hot), etc. So far, I have used this with Thor only when he is acting agitated in his crate. I'm really not sure how he learned it, but he is quite good (reliable) at settling when I ask for it. Sometimes his reward is simply (I assume) he feels better; sometimes I then release him from the crate.

5. "Hush" means the dog should stop whatever vocalizations are being made. "Settle" incorporates "hush" but asks for more. "Hush" asks only for quiet.

6. "Sit," "Down," and "Stand" are what I refer to as position cues. 
"Sit" means plunk your butt on the ground as soon as I say so.  I like my dogs to sit as a default behavior in place of cue given.  When meeting someone new, I may cue the sit even though I expect it to be automatic; I want to ensure that "Sit" happens!  When cued, it is used to gain control.  I teach my dogs an automatic sit when walking at heel and I stop.  I also use it at the start line in agility.  I like it as a stay position in a variety of circumstances.  I also use it when needed to work a dog in a small space (to calm him or in warm-ups for sport).  I like puppy push-ups ("sit-down-sit-down-sit," etc) and interspersed with targeting (ex. "touch (my hand)-sit-touch").   I like using "sit" in teaching "stay" and other impulse control games.
"Down" means lie down.  My goal is that both "sit" and "down" happen quickly and on the first cue.  I am less likely to ask the dog to "stay" when lying down.  If I've asked for a "stay," I want the dog paying attention to me which I think is less likely from a "down."  
"Stand" means get on all four feet and freeze.  No foot movement is allowed.  Head and tail  movements are fine. As mentioned above, I use this only in the obedience ring or on the table for TDAA agility competition. In general, I think the "stand" position invites movement so, unless I am training it as an obedience exercise, I'm highly unlikely to ask for a "stay" in that position.  I will, however, be teaching Thor to "stand" and brace himself so that I can use his sturdy body for balance.  We've begun that process.

7. "Stay" means maintain the position you are in until released.

8. "Okay" is my casual release word.  I define it as permission for the dog to move out of position.  I use a different release ("Gee") in agility where it means for the dog to explode forward.

9. "Let go" (or "Leggo") means Release What You Are Holding (into my hand).  I teach this by praising every time the dog brings me something and then trading for something of equal or higher value.  If it is safe to do so, I like to give the dog back the object he has presented to me.  Thor, for example, would much rather give me his ball if I then return the ball to him (NOT by throwing it!) than if I give him a food treat.  Balls are much higher value to Thor than food.  Unless he is really hungry or I'm using a piece of steak!

10. "Get It!" tells the dog to take in his mouth whatever I am holding, have thrown, or am pointing out.  It requires that the dog choose the correct object to "get!"  Like every dog owner, I expect a lot!

11. "Heel" indicates that I want the dog to walk nicely on my left.  If I am not moving, he should assume a sitting position in line with my left knee/hip.  "By Me" asks for the same behavior but on my right side.  I have just begun to introduce these words to Thor now that he is more comfortable at my side. And all of his training to date has been without a leash.  I use food or a toy to position and reward him. 

I once attended a seminar given by the late Patty Ruzzo whose training slogan was, "Got a problem? Put a cookie on it!"  She had a room of about 40 dog/handler teams and was teaching heeling in a 20 x 20 foot space.  She has us all up on the floor at once with short leads and handfuls of cookies.  The cookies were held directly in front of the dog's face, and we were encouraged to let our dogs nibble as we walked.  At the time, I had been competing in AKC obedience with Vada and it was Vada who was with me at this seminar.  Vada who, in her younger days, had strong dog-aggressive and possession tendencies.  Despite the crowdedness, every dog was heeling beautifully!  Even Vada!  It was years ago and was one of the things that convinced me to use lots of food treats in training.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


I've known for some time that there is a higher incidence of migraine headaches among people who have MS compared to the general population.  But I had never had one before this week.  I have done little but rest in bed for six days.  Poor Thor.  He is bouncing off the walls of his crate.

Despite the headache, Thor gave me a good laugh with his new crouch-and-stalk imitation of a border collie!  It happened when I was getting ready to toss a ball for him.  Funny fellow!

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I introduced Thor to my family and friends this past weekend.  On Saturday, my mother and two sisters came to take me out to lunch.  I exercised the dogs in the backyard prior to my family's arrival and crated them with stuffed kongs.  I wanted Thor to make a good impression, not be jumping all over them!  I think my mother was surprised at how big he already is.  At lunch, she said she felt a little guilty because she had encouraged me to take him in.  Which, of course, is nonsense.  I took him only because I like him!  And because I see potential in him.  And I've always had in the back of my mind that if he proves to be too much for me (because of my limitations), that I can provide him with basic training and then place him.  But it is fully my intention to keep him.

On Sunday, Glitter and I were scheduled to attend agility run-throughs at Sugar Bush Farm.  I brought Thor along in order to have him fitted with a front-clip harness after verifying that the New England Border Collie Rescue rep would be there.  I left Thor in a crate in the car for the first part of the day to focus on Glitter.  She was not running well, very slow with lots of sniffing.  I think she is sore from all her roughhousing with Thor!

When I brought Thor into the building, Barb fitted the harness very quickly.  My friend Jody (who has papillions, see photo) was especially taken with my boy, snatching the leash and taking him out for a walk!  The harness worked great!  Jody suggested keeping a short hold on the leash as Thor wanted to walk out in front of her rather than beside her.  Barb showed me a leash with an extra handle up by the collar.  Good idea.

Other people were interested in meeting Thor and hearing his story.  One woman, in particular, had some helpful advice for me.  She said he looked "well-bred" which was nice to hear.  She also advised me to keep his nails clipped short so that his feet would stay "nice and tight."  She agreed with previous opinions I'd heard about male weimaraners being slow to mature, slow to housetrain.  Thor had carried a cloth ball into the building but dropped it once inside.  Someone (very smart) said he'd lost interest in it due to stress.  I commented that he liked to carry things but that he had not chewed anything up.  I thought this unusual for a puppy.  I wondered if this might be something that would kick in later in a slow-to-grow-up pup.  My friends suggested that it would, indeed, crop up later.  A late puppyhood phase.  Great.

Home again, I walked the dogs, then crated Thor.  I left the harness on him thinking I'd want to walk him one more time and not sure I'd be able to get it on again easily.   Thor was unusually quiet in his crate.  When I went to get him for one more "practice" walk, I discovered he had chewed the harness!  Only the second thing he has chewed, the first was a new camera bag I'd bought and left atop his crate.  Destructive phase is kicking in.  But both these were my silly mistakes.  Second time around, lesson learned.  Maybe.

So I'll be picking up another new harness at the farm next weekend.  All to benefit New England Border Collie Rescue.  Thor knew what he was doing!

Monday, March 8, 2010


I'm doing a happy titer dance!  The vet just called, and Thor's titer levels are protective!!   I'm Soo Glad I stuck to my guns!!

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Thor loves having things in his mouth.  Yet he is gentle and not destructive.  They say a soft mouth is a weimaraner trait but I wouldn't have expected it from a puppy.  Puppies chew!  But not Thor.

When I first met Thor (pictured) at around nine weeks,  he had a blast playing with my shoelaces.  Last night, he untied my shoe.  This bodes well, I think, for teaching him to be an assistance dog.

This afternoon Thor and Glitterbug gave me a big laugh.  We went outside, and Thor went over to the ball bin to get a ball.  After a bit of running around, both dogs stopped.  Thor dropped the ball.  Glitter just stood there and barked.  Thor pushed the ball with his nose.  Glitter barked.  Thor picked the ball up again.  Glitter kept barking.  Thor dropped the ball and batted it around with his front feet.  Glitter never made a move for the ball, acting completely oblivious to it.  All she wanted to do was bark at Thor. 

For about ten minutes Thor kept teasing and trying to get Glitter interested in the ball.  Finally, Glitter lost all interest and turned to walk away.  Leaving his ball, Thor followed Glitter toward the house, not wanting to take a chance of being left outside.  Suddenly, Glitter whipped around, running back to grab the ball!  Then she raced around the yard, ball in her mouth, with Thor in hot pursuit.  I laughed and laughed.  Wished I'd had my camera out for THAT!

"Give Me That Ball!"

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Chip on His Shoulder

Thor now has a microchip ID implanted between his shoulder blades.

After our last vet visit, I had called and told them that I would not be doing another distemper/parvo vaccine but that I would keep the appointment in order to have Thor microchipped.  He is the fifth dog that I have had chipped, and I am a firm believer. 

Having not yet obtained a front-clip harness (yeah, I know, I'm a procrastinator), I used a make-shift method of attaching the leash that I had learned some years ago from trainer Leah Foran.  Leah currently teaches classes at my vet's office.  She also does private in-home training and is certified by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.  So, with Thor attached per Leah's instructions, we made our way successfully inside.  When The vet tech appeared to call us into the exam room, she commented that the leash was tangled around him. I explained what I had done to which she replied, "That's dangerous."  I told her that it would be even more dangerous if I couldn't control him and got pulled down. 

Once in the room, I undid the leash and took hold of Thor's collar.  He immediately twisted around, the collar tightening on my finger.  I cried out, the vet helped untangle me and got me a bandaid.  (One finger was bleeding, another alarmingly indented.  And all because I was intimidated by the vet tech into undoing the leash.) 

The vet then told me that without a fourth distemper/parvo shot, Thor was unprotected against disease.  I reminded her that he had had three.  She replied that the last two had not been close enough together (even though what he had had fit Dr. Dodd's protocol).  Finally, she let it go when I said I was willing to titer him.  Titers measure the level of antibodies to specific diseases and thus measure a dog's level of protection.   Results will be back in a week.

The vet also told me that Thor needed a Gentle Leader head halter to control him.  I said that I intended to purchase a front-clip harness.  She responded that they had wrapped the leash around his nose while he was out back and that it had calmed him down.  A gentle leader, she said, would do the same.  Well, the leash was still around his nose when Thor was brought back to me, and he has doing his best to remove it.  Calmer? Maybe, but mostly just focused on a task. 

After putting Thor in his crate in the car, I went into their store to look for a front-clip harness.  They had them but not in the right size.  I purchased prescription food for Vada which a receptionist carried out for me.  I asked her about the harnesses, whether or not they'd be getting more in.  She told me that she had used a prong collar successfully on her dog.  Sorry.  I'm not going that route.  Told her I'd known them to cause puncture wounds.  She replied, "Oh, I know, but it worked with my dog."

I won't use any product that has the potential to hurt my dog.  I also won't use a product that has the potential to have a negative impact on my relationship with my dog.  Once home again, I went online and ordered a front-clip harness from "Walk Your Dog With Love."  Later, I put a leash on Thor, and we practiced heeling in a small square on the back deck.  All's well.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Possible Service Dog

One of the reasons I agreed to take Thor was my own increasing disability.  In the week before he arrived, I fell three times.

In December 1989, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  For years, I had relapses and remissions.  Most of the time I was fine but during a relapse I would have difficulty walking and holding things.  During most relapses, with one leg dragging, I was able to run sideways.  My little dog Peabody was very adaptable to the changes in me, and we worked very hard to develop distance skills so that we could continue to run agility regardless of my speed.  In 2008, my doctor told me that my disease had progressed.  It  was now classified as secondary progressive MS.  That means that I will not have the dramatic relapses of the past, but also that I will not recover from whatever deficits come.  I can no longer run.  My balance is poor.  I drop things.  In addition, I have cognitive deficits involving memory, word retrieval, and multi-tasking.  Throughout the course of my illness I have had bouts of severe
depression.  These are all part and parcel of the damage to the central
nervous system that MS causes. 

In thinking about adopting Thor, I knew I would have a big project on my hands.  But I also knew that he was going to be a big strong dog who could learn to help me with balance and getting to my feet.  I knew also that he could be taught to pick up dropped items.  My border collie, Vada, had been a big help to me at home.  Due to her unpredictability (aggression) around other dogs, she could never be a full service dog.  But at home, she helped to steady me.  She learned to pull off my socks.  She learned to pick up anything I asked for such as pens and pencils and articles of clothing.  She could pick up a quarter off my linoleum kitchen floor. 

Since Thor was already friendly, exposed to young children, good with other dogs, the right size and coat type, I thought he'd make an excellent service dog.  I was further encouraged the day I took him to the vet.  Even though he was awful at walking on a lead, once we got inside he sat quietly in the waiting room.  In the exam room, he lay down, completely relaxed.  If he was able to do that at five months, he'd certainly be able to as an adult. 

One of my next projects will be to introduce him to adaptive equipment.  I sometimes use a cane, crutches, or forearm crutches.  I expect that my future holds a walker and/or wheelchair.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Show Me a Trick

Glitterbug, Thor and I played this game for the first time today.  It's a great game but one I have never played with my dogs before.  Here's the gist:  I say, "Show Me a Trick!"  Then each dog gets rewarded for any cute/good behavior shown.  This morning's reward was string cheese.

Glitter showed me sit, down, spin (both directions), and lots of back ups.

Thor showed me sit, down, bow, and 2 get-in-your-crates.

All tricks were offered, not cued.  Each time I saw a "trick," I said, "That's a good trick!" before delivering the treat.  What a fun game!

This game gets the dogs thinking (Thor did some jumping up but those "tricks" were ignored).  It's fun and silly.  Some people require that it be a different trick for each treat.  I didn't because we've never played before; I wanted to keep the rate of reinforcement high while establishing a new game.  My verbiage meant nothing to the dogs but kept the game silly and fun for me!

Thor's Private Game:

When Thor outgrew the collar he came in, I replaced it with an old one I had.  This one is two big and the excess length hangs down about 6 inches.  While I was working on my computer, about six feet from Thor's crate, he started to chew and pull on the hanging tab.  I must have been really focused on my work because I wasn't aware that Thor's antics pulled the buckle from its hole, and he was collarless.  Mission accomplished!  He didn't chew on the collar any further.  Silly dog!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Those Who Wait

Thor is learning that "all good things come to those who wait."

When we go outside and again when we come in, I have been having Thor sit while I put on/take off my boots.  That's pretty routine now.  So I've upped my criteria.  He now has to stay sitting while I open the door, waiting for my release.  I started by simply putting my hand on the doorknob.  If he remained sitting, he got a treat and we went outside.  If he got up, we simply tried again.  Next step was to open the door while he remained sitting.  Just a crack at first.  Again, stay sitting, get a treat.  Get up, the door closes and we start over.  When we progressed to the door opening fully, I slipped my fingers through his collar to ensure success.  This morning, he stayed sitting with door fully open and no fingers!  His reward for staying put is sometimes a food treat and always a release to go outside.  A bonus to this game is that Thor is beginning to understand a verbal release ("okay"). 

Friday, February 26, 2010

What Thor Knows

1. Housetraining is coming along well.  He has an occasional "pee" accident in his crate but they are few and far between.  I can get all bent out of shape over it or I can accept that that is where he is right now.  I prefer the latter.  Several people have suggested to me that he probably has an immature bladder and will grow out of it.  I have been allowing him brief periods of freedom in the house; no accidents!  I really think that Thor learned the basic idea/expectation of housetraining in his previous home.  He always gets vocal when he needs to go out, and I didn't teach that.  And he always tells the truth.  When we go out, Thor grabs a stick  or a ball, then quickly finds a place to pee.  If I want to stay out, so does he.  If I want to go in right away (because it is cold and windy and the middle of the night!), then so does he.

2. Thor understands the word "sit."  He responds better to the verbal cue than the hand signal.  The hand signal seems to be interpreted by Thor as an invitation to jump. So I've dropped it for now. May try to invent a new signal...

During his vet visit, the vet asked Thor to sit 4 or 5 times, and he did every time.  It was a big surprise to me to discover that he could transfer that skill to a new person. 

I had been frustrated that Thor was rocking backward into his sits.  This meant that if he was walking next to me and I stopped and asked him to sit, Thor ended up sitting well behind me.  I asked several people who are involved with competitive obedience for ideas to address this.  None had any suggestions for me.  So here's what I've done.  I come to a stop and say "sit."  I have food in my right hand, held forward of my body.  My left hand slides down Thor's back, no pressure, just a reminder.  It's working well and his "sits" are much better!

3. I have not done much with hand targeting simply because it wasn't fun for me.  Thor wasn't getting it.  (I need to be "clicked!")  Early today, I played hand targeting games with Glitter while Thor watched.  Tonight, Thor is targeting!!  Dogs do learn from other dogs, no question.

4. Lying down was very hard for Thor to learn.  For some reason, known only to him, he wasn't comfortable with the idea.  So we played click/treat for approximations--head bobs, front foot movement, reaching forward and down.  Within the last few days, he quickly and happily lies down on a verbal cue and/or a hand signal.  Wow.  He actually "pops" down the way my previous dog, Peabody, did.  Anybody believe in reincarnation?  [grin]  At times, he will even offer a default down.

5. Thor goes into his crate on cue, "Get in your crate," another skill he brought with him from this previous home.  Now that I am giving him bits of house freedom, I have noticed that if I am near the treat cupboard or fixing dog dinners, Thor will go into his crate.  Wishful thinking.  Good boy!

Next priorities:

1) Loose-leash walking.  I've been researching front clip harnesses; wish I could try one on and play with it before purchase but that's not going to be possible.

2) Change in location.  Once we have an appropriate harness, I'll  have to plan trips to various parks and parking lots to begin to expose Thor to different places and to generalize his learning.

3) Find a class in basic obedience, manners, tricks, or foundations for agility.  Anything just to get Thor out and about.

4) Handling.  Thor needs to accept handling of his feet, mouth, tail.  He does not like having his nails clipped; it's the only time he puts his mouth (gently) on my hands.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


For a long time, I've been uncomfortable with the use of the word "obedience" in regard to dog training.  But I haven't been able to come up with an alternative that I like.  I recently settled on "cooperation."  I prefer the word "teach" to the word "train." Years ago, I discarded the word "command" in favor of "cue" or "cue word."  Why does it matter?  What difference does semantics make?

Let's look at the definitions (provided by of the following pairs of words.

1. the state, fact, or an instance of obeying, or a willingness to obey; submission
1.the act of cooperating; joint effort or operation

I don't want blind obedience from my dogs, and I don't want submission.  I want each dog to be a well-behaved partner and pal.  I  want my dogs to develop as the thinking creatures that they are.  A service dog, for example, should not "obey" if doing so would place his handler in danger (example: handler asks the dog to guide him across the street but dog refuses because a speeding car is coming).  An agility dog should not "obey" if doing so would put his own safety in jeopardy (example: dog steps onto a contact obstacle and then does not go up...later it is determined that the obstacle was not properly stabilized).  Submissive behavior in dogs is an automatic response.  I don't want my dogs on automatic; I want them thinking.  In short, I want my dogs to have an attitude of cooperation.  I want them to play/work with me because they want to, because it is fun and rewarding to do so, not because they "must."

6. to discipline or condition (animals) to perform tricks or obey commands
"Teach" show or help [someone] to do something give lessons, to guide the studies of; instruct

The word "discipline" has developed a connotation of punishment in common usage.  In fact, self-discipline is a very positive thing.  In the above definition, however, the implication is the the animal is coerced into performing or obeying.  Certainly not how I want to teach my dogs.  Teaching, as opposed to training, implies gentle guidance toward understanding.  I want my dogs to understand their tasks rather than doing them because they "have to."

1. (tv) to give an order or orders to; direct with authority
1. (iv) to exercise power or authority; be in control; act as a commander
3. anything serving as a signal to do something

There is a subtle and not-so-subtle difference here.  A command requires obedience.  A command indicates that one individual has power over the other.  There is a militaristic meaning inherent in the word.  A command requires compliance.  There is an implication that non-compliance is a bad thing and will result in a negative consequence, a punishment if you will.  A cue is more forgiving.  If my dog does not heed a cue, it is my responsibility to understand why that is so.  Does the dog understand the given cue?  Does the dog understand the cue in this particular setting?  Does the dog understand the cue with distractions? I cannot assume understanding.  Because I expect my dogs to live in my world (not a "natural" world for them), I must ensure that they understand the workings of that world.  Through my signals, I provide them with direction and understanding.  If a dog seems to ignore a cue, I have to examine whether or not it is completely understood.  I have to give the dog the benefit of the doubt.  No commands, just suggestions.  Most of the time, the dog will realize that my suggestions make sense!