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.

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!