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.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Nights and days run into each other as I'm taking Thor out every 1-2 hours during the day, every 2-3 hours at night.  Insomnia when I try to sleep.  Last night was different.  Thor was quiet from 9pm until I got up at 4am.  He had urinated in his crate.  So...the question is, did he make a ruckus and I, somehow, slept through it?  Or did he not say he needed to go out?  He's been so good about indicating his needs that it seems unlikely he would have stayed quiet and just peed.  On the other hand, am I really soooo tired that I would sleep through his barking.  The mystery will remain...

While I was waiting for the bleached crate to dry, I took Thor outside (where he peed again), and we did some training.  He is very good at sitting on cue.  So I asked him to sit and then took 2 steps.  He got up.  Two steps was too much.  I moved just my upper body.  Thor jumped up on me.  Still too much.  Okay, so I handfed him (in a sit) while moving my upper body.  Success!  Within 5 minutes, I could move my upper body while he sat and then received his reward.  Something to build on.  Smart boy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ten Good Things About Thor

1.   He's people-focused and very friendly.
2.   He makes great eye contact (voluntarily).
3.   He takes food from me gently.
4.   He's curious.
5.   He's playful and likes toys.
6.   He's smart.
7.   He's fearless (almost)*.
8.   He's respectful of my old dog.
9.   Smooth coat (minimal grooming).
10. He's tough (falling/bumping doesn't faze him).

*Last night's wind scared him when we were outside.
  He's wary (not scared) when meeting new dogs.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Play Date

Thor had his first play date!  We went to Sugar Bush Farm for some puppy training and play.  Most of my work with Thor has been without a leash in a fenced yard so I was curious how he would be on a leash.  Because he is so tuned in to me, I thought he'd be pretty good.  Wrong!  He wanted to pull and, for a 5 month old puppy, boy is he strong!  I used food to walk him into the building; it wasn't pretty.

Thor's initial reaction to seeing a strange dog and person was to crouch down and tuck his tail.  He was clearly worried.  I sat down with him and, while Kathy and I chatted, I fed him treats.  When he seemed to feel more relaxed, we introduced the two dogs.  Kathy was working an 11 month old border collie who had come into rescue about a week ago.  Both dogs were interested in each other but tentative and polite. 

Next we played some mat games.  Kathy had just introduced Jack to the clicker.  I've been using a clicker with Thor but I don't think he understands that "click" means treat.  That's undoubtedly my fault because I didn't spend much time charging it.  I should have spent longer with click/treat, click/treat, click/treat, etc. in our initial session and continued that until he was looking expectantly for the treat.  He's also not all that excited by food.  In my backyard, he will play for his regular kibble but I was glad that I had taken plenty of cut-up cheese for our play date. 

Thor didn't seem to be aware of the mat.  He moved around a lot, trying to alternatively jump on me or offering a sit as I have taught him.  I moved around (which incited jumping) just enough to get Thor off the mat so he could get back on.  I clicked and treated for any incidental contact with the mat.  But Thor never seemed to associate the mat with the click/treat.  So I started clicking for Looking at the Mat, thinking that that might bring more awareness.  Well, no, it didn't seem to but Thor did seem to finally understand that click=treat!  Baby steps...

We then let both dogs off leash to play.  They sniffed each other briefly, then ran around briefly, but both dogs seemed more interested in the people than each other.  Kathy was great at treating Thor when he approached and before he had a chance to jump.  Kathy had expressed some worry that Jack might have food guarding tendencies, but we saw no evidence of that.  Kathy was able to feed both dogs simultaneously or sequentially with no difficulty.

After a short play period, I took Thor outside and he peed.  Yay!!  Then we went back to the mats.  Thor still didn't seem to realize that foot on mat means cheese but he was happy to play with me.  Both Kathy and I were able to drop the leashes and both pups stayed engaged in their game.  Finally, I got one look-at-the-mat-then-step-on-it that looked deliberate to me.  So I jackpotted, and we called it a day.

Kathy had some great hand-outs (thanks Amy!) and also let me borrow a puppy training book.  I have little experience with puppies.  I have almost always gotten a young adult dog from the shelter.  Puppies are too much work!  People who hire me generally don't call until adolescence hits and they find their dog has become big and hard to control.  I have LOTS of experience with adolescents (usually one hour at a time).  When I first started working with Thor, he was the wildest, most out-of-control dog I had ever met.  Now that he is getting more exercise, he has settled a bit. 

I am concerned about socialization with Thor.  I don't have many visitors to the house and haven't been able to locate a puppy class that meets at a suitable time.  Being winter, we can't just go for walks and bump into people.  So I will have to make big efforts.  Today was a great start.  It's hard to remember that he has been in my house for only 2 days.

Night #2

Still no accidents!  Thor got me up a total of SIX times...I took him out each of those times...He peed on five trips, pooped on the other.  I'm glad I listened to him!  However, I'm left wondering if he may have a urinary tract infection or something else going on.  Water is withheld overnight so it seems odd that he would have to pee that much.  If another night is the same, I'll get it vet checked.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

All Is Forgotten

Dogs do not generalize well.  The fact that I had trained Thor to sit, come, and keep his feet off me didn't mean he would have those skills when he moved to my house.  I hadn't really thought about that.  But, lo and behold, when he arrived here, he had returned to a wild man, unable to pay attention or remember anything!  That was my theory because it is TRUE that dogs do not generalize well!

Today, Thor will sit on cue.  I didn't retrain it.  My new theory is that yesterday he was under too much stress to be able to behave the way I wanted.  By today, he was feeling more comfortable and, thus, able to focus.  I'll need to remember that stress can cause memory loss!

We've had no housetraining accidents.  Yippee!

Glitter and Thor are playing together.  Racing around the yard (and digging up my poor grass).  Thor has a tendency to use his front feet like a boxer, and Glitter doesn't like that.  But she lets him know when he's starting to get too rough.  Of the two, Glitter actually seems to have more energy!

Thor is very respectful of Vada who will be 16 years old in June.  He goes slowly up to her and likes to sniff her, but he is very gentle with her.  He knows.

Thank goodness for a January thaw and high temps these few days.  I'm dreading the return to cold.  We are spending a lot of time outside!

Our First Night

We made it through the night!  No accidents!  Thor was crated, of course.  Twice he woke up and started to vocalize so I took him out.  The first time he peed; second time, nothing.  That's okay.  He tends to vocalize in his crate when first put in.  I'm learning how hard it can be to be a cross-over trainer!

For those who don't know... A cross-over trainer is one who has abandoned the old traditionally-used (and often aversive) training methods to embrace the new scientifically-based methods.  This requires ignoring all undesired behavior.  In the old days, I would have reacted to barking in the crate by yelling, throwing keys, and/or a squirt of water.  None of those worked very well if at all.  Now, it is important that I not react at all. 

This is so hard!  In my head, I am yelling.  I'm thinking, "What would it hurt if I squirted him?"  And immediately I know that it WOULD hurt.  Okay, so a squirt of water may not be physically painful.  But would YOU like to squirted in the face?  I know I wouldn't; and I no longer do anything to me dogs that would be unpleasant to me.  So I'm being completely non-reactive and each time Thor settles down a just a wee bit faster than the time before.  I did make a tiny mistake this morning.  I glanced at him as he was barking.  Now that is not a terrible mistake, but this is a dog who likes eye contact.  So a mere glance will be rewarding to him.  I don't want to let that happen again.  Ignore, ignore, ignore!  When he is quiet, he gets verbal praise and, sometimes, a treat.

And I am exhausted!

Monday, January 25, 2010


Half and hour after eating, pee and poop!  Success!

(Baby steps!)

He's Here!

Pouring rain today!  But at least it's warm.  I played with Thor in his backyard for about 20 minutes before loading him into the crate in my car.  He whined most of the ride (only about 5 min) and wouldn't take food.  That is a good thing to learn about him...he doesn't eat when he's feeling stressed.

Within the first three hours here, I had him outdoors 5 times.  He peed once.  I fed supper just a bit ago and hope he'll poop the next time out.  He's not happy about being crated; I'm ignoring his complaints.  But he is having fun exploring the yard.  Glitter is happy because she stole his Kong!  In general, I think her nose is a little out of joint.  Vada doesn't seem to notice.  Interesting.


Thor is expected to arrive at my house today!!  I went over this morning and grabbed a stool sample.  Now I'm waiting for the vet to not call so I'll know it is clear. 

Glitterbug and I had two days of agility over the weekend so I haven't been to see Thor.  I'll try to play with him before I bring him here.  I hope to keep him tired enough that, in the house, he sleeps!

My first priority will be housetraining.  I've set up a smaller crate than he is used to which I'll use until he outgrows it.  I'm planning trips outside every half hour for pottying and play.

My second "first" priority  is to teach Thor that jumping on people is not acceptable. He loves people (a good thing) but he knocks down small children and doesn't yet understand that he will get more attention if he behaves calmly. I have been ignoring all jumping (not easy to do!) and giving Thor food treats when his feet are on the ground. I have been successful outdoors where he no longer jumps on me but that hasn't translated to indoors or to other people.
I am also rewarding Thor (with food) for choosing to sit instead of jump. He is doing quite well with this concept.
Thor has been introduced to the clicker but it hasn't quite "clicked" for him. I am now using it to mark behaviors I like and hope that he will soon associate the sound with treat delivery.

If you listen carefully, you will hear a bit of dread in my voice!  This will be quite an adventure!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Some Background...

Thor was purchased at 8 weeks from a breeder in Massachusetts. The buyers were given a training book and a purchase agreement that required training classes, neutering, and a return to the breeder should he need rehoming. His new family included a toddler and an infant.

He was taken to the vet twice by his new family. He received follow-up shots and two doses of de-wormer. He has had drippy eyes since his purchase; that was pointed out to the vet who did not seem concerned. Thor was (and still is) underweight; again the vet glossed over the owners' concerns. Thor has been eating Eukanuba Large Breed Puppy food. He is a reluctant eater, often not finishing his meal. He is, however, willing to work/play for food...even his kibble.

Housetraining started out well. Thor was kept in a small crate when not supervised. As he grew, he was moved to a much larger crate. He would occasionally urinate in the crate. He was not defecating in the crate until he got sick with diarrhea. At that point, his housetraining took a step backward, and he now eliminates in his crate regular. This morning he needed a bath.

When loose in the house, Thor knocks over the 2-year-old and tries to "bite the head" of the baby. He is extremely active (due to his breed and lack of exercise) and races around the apartment leaping onto any furniture in his path. He often comes crashing to the ground; that does not seem to faze him. At this point, he is spending a lot of time in the crate.

When his owners realized that a puppy was too much for them, they contacted the breeder who blamed the owners and refused to take him back. After a brief search for a new home for Thor, I decided to try him at my house. He is scheduled to arrive here next week. (I have agility events both Saturday and Sunday; don't want to leave him for a long stretch when he first gets here). I have been working with Thor almost daily for the last week. He's excited to see me, and I am pleased with his progress. Still, he will undoubtedly shake up the quiet environment of my home. I feel both excitement and dread.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another Romp

Another day in the snor with Thor. When I first started working with him, he was ALWAYS in front of me. Although I wanted him at my side, I thought it was more important to treat him for something, anything, so that he learned that I was a source of Good Stuff. Next, he was racing past me, granted we were heading in the same direction but he wasn't paying me any heed. No matter, at least he wasn't barging into me or jumping on me anymore! But he got no treats for that, just the joy of running. Today, when I turned my back to walk away from him, he ran up and stopped next to me!!! Treat treat treat! That was repeated multiple times. He also is beginning to target my hand, something I started teaching on day one but it didn't "click" right away.

I've cleared a spot in my kitchen for his Great Big Heavy Huge crate! It will fit!! I expect him to come live with me next week. I wanted to wait because I have agility events both days this upcoming weekend and don't want to leave him for that long yet. I'm excited and also fearful about having Thor in my house...

Playing in the Snow

Yesterday Thor and I played in the snow. Whenever he stopped moving around, I turned and walked away to get him running again. Previously, he would have jumped all over me, but now he just keeps running! How I stopped his persistent jumping: Anytime he approached me I would lean forward (to slow him down) and hold treats at face level. So when he arrived, if he didn't jump, he got treats! Even without treats, he rarely jumps on me anymore. This new skill (not jumping up) works with me but has not transferred to other people yet.

When I fell in the snow (fault of the snow and my ankle, not Thor), Thor came over but did not touch me! He just stood nearby while I struggled to get up. Good boy! (Previously, he would have been on top of me.) When he is full grown, I will teach him to help me balance as I'm rising.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thor Meets Glitter

Yesterday I took Glitterbug to meet Thor. Glitter is my 8-year-old Beagle-Sheltie mix, a spayed female. I waited in the backyard with Glitter on lead; Thor came out, also on lead, with his owner. Both dogs got very excited at the sight of one another, straining at their leads. Both looked happy despite their energy/excitement so I said we should take of the leads. The two dogs ran to each other and sniffed muzzles. Thor's tail was tucked which I saw as a good thing. He did not try to jump on Glitter or overwhelm her as I thought he might. After their brief sniff, both dogs ran around the yard for a few seconds, then ignored each other. Glitter went sniffing to explore the yard (where she had never been); Thor was more interested in interacting with the people than another dog. Another good sign!

Sunday, January 17, 2010