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, 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...