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.

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!