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.

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!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Portrait of Thor

Six months old today!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Goofed Again

When I took Thor to his vet appointment, he pulled me eagerly into the building and wanted to greet a little bulldog who was just inside the door.  Afterwards, he dragged me back outside.  I was afraid of falling down he pulled so hard.  Note to self:  work on loose-leash walking!

The training I do with Thor in the house and in the (fenced) yard is all without a leash.  No problem getting him to stay with me.  But put a leash on him and he pulls, pulls, pulls.  So yesterday I decided to take him with me (on lead) to walk to my mailbox (about 100 feet from my front door).  I loaded up my pocket with lots of little bits of cheese and hotdog.  I thought that with the food held in front of his nose, Thor would want to stay next to me.  Wrong!

A neighbor's dog was tied out and barking, within our sight but 3 houses away.  Thor found that very exciting.  He pulled, he jumped, he circled me tangling me in the lead and knocking me to the ground.  Between Thor's bouncing and pulling, and my weakness, it was several minutes before I was on my feet again.  The return trip was equally difficult.  When we got to the house, Thor tore up onto the porch slamming my hand into the porch railing.  It hurt!  After we got inside and Thor was back in his crate, I sat down and cried.  My hand hurt, and I kept thinking I was in over my head with this big strong wild dog.  Finally, my thoughts became calmer and I went online to find a front-clip harness. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Setbacks (and I Goof)

After 17 days of a dry crate, Thor peed in his crate once more.  I don't think I had changed anything re frequency of trips out. I may have taken his water away a bit later than usual.  But I'm puzzled and waxing philosophical.  I do believe that for learning to be solidified, backsliding is inevitable.  In fact, setbacks are an important part of the learning process.  To forget (or seem to forget) and then relearn makes a behavior more reliable.  When I was taking piano lessons, my teacher would have me learn a piece well, then put it away and forget about it.  Weeks later, she would bring it out again and have me relearn the piece.  I think that was a wise way of teaching.  So if I can let myself believe that Thor's "accident" will make his housetraining stronger, then that is what I'll believe.

With the schedule for taking Thor outside that I have set up, I am exhausted.  Then, when he did his backsliding, I was exhausted, discouraged, a little bit angry.  So the next time I was working on his obedience skills, I got a bit rough with him (pushed him into a sit when he didn't sit "fast enough" for me).  He was shocked.  He froze and didn't want to get up again.  Poor Thor.  I know better!  I need to get some sleep so that I don't slip again into those old training patterns.  I am committed to positive training! 

For the most part, Thor's obedience skills are coming along very well.  He sits when I cue him to sit, he offers a sit when he's unsure of what to do.  I've been teaching him to maintain position (sit) until a verbal release (okay) without my having to say "stay."  That's the expectation in shutzhund, and I like it.  One of the first books I read about drive and allowing the dog to push the training was Shutzhund Obedience: Training in Drive by Sheila Booth with Gottfried Dildei.  I later read Sheila's book, Purely Positive Training.  These were among my introductions to a better/kinder way of training.  I later attended a puppy training workshop presented by Sheila, and we've had several conversations at agility trials.  If I could be half the trainer that Sheila is...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Naming Thor

One of the good things that Thor learned in his previous home was name recognition.  He knows his name and runs to me when he hears it. 

I've been looking over Thor's AKC registration paper and thinking about giving him a more formal registered name.  Since he knows his name and has a good association with it, I don't want to change it.  Normally, I make it a policy to change the name of a rescue dog so they get a fresh start.  I don't think that's necessary with Thor.  I'm thinking of making it Thoreau which has good associations for me because of Walden Pond.  My sister says it's too "regal" of a name for a goofy dog.  She likes Thornton.  I told her that Thor is only goofy because he is a puppy, but he will grow into any name. 

The article in Dog World (March 2010), uses the following words in describing weimaraners: aristocratic, courageous, intelligent, elegant.  And from the AKC Complete Dog Book: friendly, fearless, alert, and obedient.

I'm thinking "Lakewood Thoreau."  Lakewood is the informal name of the neighborhood where I live.  I like the connection to nature in keeping with Thoreau.  And, of course, Thor was the god of thunder which suits him, too.

I can't let the subject of AKC trip by without a word of criticism.  According to the AKC standard for weimaraners, the tail MUST be docked  (a non-docked tail is a disqualification in the breed ring) and the dewclaws MUST be removed.  I swore to myself years ago that I would not own a dog that was docked or cropped.  I think it is outrageous that the AKC requires the maiming of certain breeds.  I also think that both tails and dewclaws have specific purposes, especially in a performance dog.  I suspect that dogs without them are at a disadvantage when jumping and turning at speed. 

It makes me want to cry when I look at Thor's docked tail, hairless where the cut was made.  And I wonder if, like human amputees, dogs who are docked and/or cropped feel phantom pain?  Has anyone ever looked into this?

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Importance of Balls, Part II

Since his purchase, Thor has had recurring drippy eyes.  When his previous owners brought this concern up with the vet, they felt it was not taken seriously.  So, during Thor's vaccination visit last week, I brought it up again.  The vet's response was that the tear ducts could be flushed while Thor is anaesthetized for neutering. I informed her that I would be delaying neutering until Thor was around a year old.  The vet objected to this, saying that 5 months was the optimal age.  Having worked in an animal shelter for three years, I fully understand the problems of pet overpopulation and the importance of canine sterilization.  I participated in the euthanasia of hundreds of unwanted animals.  The shelter where I worked was a proponent of early-age spay/neuter and had a policy of neutering all animals prior to placement.  This meant that puppies and kittens were often being sterilized at 8 weeks of age.  I did not come lightly to my decision to hold off on neutering Thor.

Chris Zink is a veterinarian who is well-known and respected for her knowledge of the canine athlete.  She has written extensively on canine structure and how it relates to athletic performance in dogs.  I own two of her books which are extremely informative.  In the packet that was provided by Thor's breeder was an article on the importance of waiting to neuter a weimaraner pup.  As it turns out, it is all dogs who probably should be neutered after puberty.  There are many deleterious effects of early (pre-pubescent) neutering of both males and females. 

The first risk of early neutering is an alteration in the growth rate of certain bones.  Apparently, growth plates are reliant on sex hormones to close at the appropriate time.  Failure to close leads to abnormal growth which shows up as tall "leggy" dogs whose bones are not in the correct proportions to one another.  As a result of this disproportion, dogs neutered prior to the development of adult sex hormones are more likely than those neutered later to develop hip displasia.  In addition, one study showed that all neutered animals have a higher incidence of rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament.  Both of these conditions may require surgery to repair. 

Another study found that a variety of cancers occur at an increased rate in spayed and neutered canines.  Those neutered prior to one year of aged had an increased risk of bone cancer.  Since cancers are rampant on older dogs, I believe we must pay attention to these studies as one way to curb the incidence.

There are behavioral effects to early neutering as well.  Those neutered early exhibited an increase (to my surprise) of sexual behaviors in both males and females.  Noise phobias were increased in both genders while females developed more fearful behaviors in general, and males exhibited more aggression.  I read long ago that dog aggression is most common between two spayed females. 

As a result of my reading, and knowing that Thor will be well supervised and managed, I can only come to one conclusion.  It is in the best interests of my dog to wait until one year (or thereabouts) prior to neutering.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


In the hubbub of changing homes and getting Thor settled in here, the date for his third distemper/parvo vaccine came and went.  He was about a month late in receiving it when I took him in last Thursday.  I had read information provided by the breeder about adverse reactions to vaccines in weimaraners which included the recommendation not to combine vaccines.  Armed with that info, I asked if we could separate the distemper and parvo into two shots separated by a week in time.  The vet told me that they don't get them that way so it wasn't possible.  As long as we weren't doing the DP and rabies together, from what I read, it should be okay.  So he had the vaccine.  The vet also told me that, because of the delay, he would need to have a fourth shot.

Within a few hours of the injection, Thor had blowout liquid diarrhea.  I thought back to hearing he'd been sick with diarrhea and vomiting in his previous home.  So I contacted the previous owner to ask about the timing of that illness in relation to his DP vaccine.  She verified that he had gotten sick within 48 hours of the injection.  Later, I bumped into Thor, and he held his back leg up as if in pain for several moments.  Turns out, painful joints and pain-to-touch are among the symptoms of an adverse reaction to vaccine along with diarrhea. Fever and lehargy can also occur. More serious reactions include seizures, muscular atrophy, incoordination and weakness.  In the worst cases, death may result.  Luckily, Thor did not exibit any of the severe symptoms.  Still, the diarrhea was alarming to me in its severity.  According to his previous owners, it was the earlier episodes of diarrhea that lead to Thor soiling his crate.  No wonder.

Dr. Jean Dodds cites a recommendation to "refrain from vaccinating these animals [those who have had an adverse reaction to vaccine] until at least after puberty."  The rabies vaccine is known to bring on neurological reactions in susceptible animals; the Weimaraner Club of America says that no weimaraner should receive the rabies vaccine prior to 6 month old.  Thor was vaccinated at 4 months.  His previous owners had presented the vet with the breeder's recommendation to wait another 2 months, but the vet insisted he have it earlier.  Thor had a similar reaction (vomiting/diarrhea) to that vaccine.  

Dr. Dodds conducted a study of weimaraners in which adverse reactions to vaccination included high fever, cyclic episodes of pain, diarrhea, lethargy, anorexia, enlarged lymph nodes, coughing, pneumonia, depression, seizures, refusal to stand or move.  Most cases were in male puppies.  Outcome for Dodds' subjects were good for half the group; other puppies died or remained chronically ill as adults.   Going forward, measurement of titres is recommended along with avoidance of unnecessary vaccines and "tailoring a specific minimal vaccination protocol for dogs of breeds...known to be at increased risk for adverse reactions."  The puppy series should be started later, at 9-10 weeks, according to Dodds.  Avoidance of revaccination in dogs who have already had an adverse reaction is recommended.  Needless to say, I called my vet and canceled the appointment for DP #4.

Thirty-six hours after the vaccine, Thor was much improved although he did vomit once beyond that time frame.  During the first day and a half following vaccination, he ate significantly less than usual.  For a puppy who normally doesn't notice pain (he does wipe-outs on the ice in my yard regularly and jumps up to keep on running), he was particularly sensitive to a minor bump.  All in all, I wish I had investigated sooner the special needs of weimaraners and vaccination.  I certainly will take a protective/proactive role in dealing with any veterinarian who questions the research.

Now two and a half days later, Thor seems to have fully recovered.  Keeping my fingers crossed.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Importance of Balls

The weimaraner is historically a hunting dog known for his soft mouth.  Right from the start, I was amazed at how gentle Thor is when taking treats from my hands. 

There is a bin of balls (racquetball & tennis balls) that sits in my backyard.  In her youth, Vada would retrieve (after the behavior had been taught with a clicker). Glitterbug will chase balls that I throw but will not bring them back.  Both dogs have always ignored the bin unless I initiate a game. 

Yesterday, Thor discovered the ball bin!  Now, when he goes outside, he goes straight to the bin and gets a ball.  He carries the ball proudly around the yard, even while peeing, and likes to shake "kill" it.  If I take the ball to throw for him, he will chase it but doesn't want me to take it again.  So for now, I am simply praising him for carrying it and, more importantly, allowing him to keep the ball when he comes to me after being called.  That's a hard one for him; he hasn't quite learned to trust that he can get near me without losing his precious ball.  But he is learning.  I do take it away when we come back in the house as I don't want him to chew it up and risk swallowing pieces.  He lets go very well but I can tell he is disappointed!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jumping Up

I first met Thor when he was about 9 weeks old.  At that time, his owners were already complaining that he was jumping up.  I was glad they wanted to address this behavior while Thor was still a tiny puppy.  We went out into the backyard where I showed them how to ignore all jumping behavior and wait for Thor to sit.  As soon as he sat, I said "yes" and fed him a treat.  Within just a few reps, Thor had it!

It was a couple of months before I saw Thor again.  I was amazed at how much he had grown and by his complete out-of-control behavior.  He greeted me by jumping up.  I turned my back.  Luckily, I was near the wall.  Thor pinned me to the wall keeping his front feet on my back.  I had instructed his owners to do nothing.  I already realized how people focused Thor is and felt that saying anything to him or pushing him off would be reinforcing to him (as it is to most dogs).  I waited.  And waited.  This was the most persistent (and attention-seeking) puppy I had ever met.  It was probably a full minute (and it felt a lot longer!) before I felt Thor's feet leave my back.  I whipped around and started treating him, lots of little treats one right after another while verbally praising.  

Thor never did that to me again.  He would still jump on me but it was a gentler jump, less desperate.  I reintroduced the Treat for Sit game which, as before, he picked up very quickly.  I also introduced him to the Look Away game (aka Doggie Zen) in which the person holds a treat out to the side at arm's length and shoulder height.  The dog will naturally look at the treat; you wait for the dog to look away from the treat and toward you.  The ultimate goal is for the dog to make and maintain eye contact.  Thor got this game right away!  He only glanced at the treat and then looked right into my eyes.  "Yes,"  treat!  Another confirmation of how much people matter to this dog.  Connecting with me was more important than focusing on the treat.

After that day, I started working with Thor once a week, then twice a week, then daily.  One of my early frustrations was Thor's resistance to being at my side.  I could lure him into position but as soon as I asked for a sit, he'd flip back to being in front.  I rewarded that anyway because I felt it was more important to develop our relationship, to establish myself as a provider of treats, and to help him understand this whole training game. 

The other frustration I experienced early on was that Thor could not be lured into a lying down position.  By the time I introduced the concept of "down," I had introduced Thor to the clicker.  So I worked on the position by clicking and treating head bobs and any front foot movement.  It took several days of this before he would go all the way down.  The first time he did, he got a jackpot of treats!  A month later, he still does not like to lie down, and I have to start each session rewarding approximations.  As soon as I get a full down, the lesson ends.  He gets treats and playtime but no repetition of this behavior that is so hard for him.  Baby steps, baby steps...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Urinalysis came back showing nothing.  Meanwhile, it has been almost 48 hours since Thor last peed in his crate!  We are making progress.  Baby steps, baby steps...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Housetraining Update

I swear Thor understands that he is supposed to pee and poop outside.  He always whines (increasing to barking if I'm not quick enough) when he needs to go out.  On Friday (two days ago) I was in the shower when he started to whine.  I hurried to get out, dry off, and get dressed, but it was too late; Thor had peed in his crate (no bedding).  But I am convinced that he did not want to do that; he had TRIED to alert me!  I was able to get a urine sample which I dropped off Friday morning.  Being the weekend, I won't have results until tomorrow but have my fingers crossed.  I'm hoping there IS an infection so that he can go on antibiotics, and I'll be able to finish housetraining him in short order.

Yesterday, Glitter and I went to Albany to play in the Capital District Agility Fun League.  I have a couple of friends there who are more familiar with weimaraners than I.  One of them brought me the March issue of Dog World which features the breed.  Very helpful.  I was also told that male weims are slow to mature and, as a result, can be slow to housetrain.  Kind of like little (human) boys!  So, if there is no infection, I may just have to wait for his bladder to mature.  I can deal with that.  As long as I know there will come an end to this (almost) constant peeing!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Housetraining & Play

Thor peed in his crate again. I think he may have had other episodes in the crate but my sense of smell is so impaired that I cannot be sure.  I am taking him out every hour, and he almost always pees outside.  At this point, I am starting to wonder if there is something amiss.  I'm going to try to get a urine sample for testing. 

I'm now giving him brief periods of (supervised) freedom in the house.  He's doing very well with this.  He found an old tennis ball which he likes to carry around.  He will release it when asked and chase it when thrown.  He'll return to me with the ball but is more reluctant to release it the second time.  I haven't asked for a third!  I am so thrilled that he likes to play and is including me in his games.  I'll probably introduce tugging soon; I wanted to be sure he had a good release first.  I'm thinking I'll put the release on cue before we start tugging.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Plant Power

A funny thing about Thor: he loves plants!  When we go outside, he always finds some plant material to pick up, carry, play with, chew.  It's funny because he is not a chewer of other things.  Of course, adolescence has not hit, and I'm sure he will go through a chewing/destructive phase!  I hope that his obsession with plants will translate into my using play to reward him as training progresses.

Eyes are changing to gold.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Piddle Progress

No accidents the past two nights.  In fact, Thor went about 6 hours each night without needing to pee (despite the fact that I took him out; I'm not taking any chances). 

When we go outside, he piddles right away if he needs to.  If Glitter is out though, she's too distracting.  Thor would rather play than piddle!  I've been trying to take him out alone.

Once he has relieved himself, it's exercise time.  Because I can't run, here is what we've devised.  I walk back and forth in a line about 10-15 feet long.  Thor races past me to the edge of the yard where there's a fence.  I turn around to walk my little distance and Thor races past me and up the HP ramp to the back door.  We repeat this as many times as possible.  Until it gets too cold to be out any longer!  So Thor is covering about 80 feet to my 12ish.  It's a good arrangement and one I'm very glad we were able to develop.  I do have to keep walking though.  If I stop, Thor comes and sits at my side.  A nice thing!