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.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Neutered, at Last

Yippee!  I stuck to my guns and waited til Thor had passed the 14-month mark.  We ended up going to Northampton Veterinary Clinic to a vet who is involved in the agility world and agreed with me that it was right to wait for growth to be complete.  On October 18, I took Thor in for pre-neuter blood work and urinalysis.  All good.   I had been worried about his blood sugar as Thor seems to drink and pee A Lot!  Turns out, nothing to worry about.  In the message left on my machine, vet tech Jen (my sister) said Thor's blood work was "pristine."  I laughed at her use of that word; that anything about Thor would be pristine is too funny!  Thor behaved better than I'd expected, walking nicely with Jen into the exam room.  And sitting when asked. 

After our appointment, we stopped at my mother's house.  She has a little gully in back, and I took Thor there.  I stood at the bottom and sent Thor running up both sides.  My sister (who hadn't known we were coming) saw Thor out the window and thought, at first, he was a deer!  She was impressed by his speed and his quick responses to come back to me when I called.

On October 26, I took Thor in at 8:45.  We had to wait for about 1/2 an hour for the vet, Leeanne, to see us.  Thor was very good, even lying down during the time that we were alone in the exam room.  Jen scanned for his microchip which was hard to find.  She had to use a second scanner and, it turns out, he has an international chip that is not universally read by all scanners.  That news made me irritated with my original vet who had implanted the chip.  In the past, they had used Home Again (which all my previous chipped dogs have had) and didn't tell me until AFTER the implant that they had switched to a different brand.  And they never did tell me it was an international chip or that some scanners cannot read it!

Leanne commented on how good Thor's coat looked.  I think she was also impressed that he sat for her.  I was displeased that he kept jumping up on the counter but, I have to admit, there were dog treats up there.  Counter surfing is a problem at home, too, probably due to my poor housekeeping!

I asked if I could leave a stuffed toy for Thor to have when he woke up.  I expected to be told no.  Most vets don't want anything left (often not even a leash or collar!) because they are afraid of losing things.  But I was told I could leave the toy, his harness, a collar, his leash.  Wow. 

Thor was ready for pick-up by 3:30pm. On the Discharge Instruction sheet are two photos of Thor:  a head shot taken on arrival and the second in recovery.  In the recovery shot, Thor is lying with his head on a large stuffed dog; he's covered by a blanket and his own toy is on the blanket.  He looks so sweet!

In addition to neutering Thor, they scaled his teeth, cleaned out his ears, and attempted (no luck) to flush his tear ducts.  It turns out that what I had identified as cherry eye is something else.  It is an inherited disorder called everted nictitans.  Basically, the cartilage inside the third eyelid curls inward.  Because the cartilage is encased in the 3rd eyelid which is soft, is causes no damage to the eye and no discomfort.  Leanne says she'll do surgery if it worsens but for now she wants to leave it alone.  Heartworm and Lyme tests were negative.  Thor weighs 59 pounds, my little baby. 

Keeping Thor quiet for two weeks was challenging.  But it was also a bonding experience.  I had mixed feelings about the neutering, wondering if I should have waited longer.  Or x-rayed growth plates.  Or both.  In my self-questioning, I was sympathetic to Thor.  And that was a good thing for us.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Agility #5 & #6

Week #5 coincided with AgileDogs USDAA trial.  I was photographer for the event, and Kathy was running her dogs.  But still, there was class.  I arrived early with Thor to let him run in the fenced pond area.  I let him run a second time just before class.  Thor loves to run with the other dogs.  One of my friends commented that he "runs circles around every other dog."  He certainly is fast, and his favorite thing is to run while another dog chases him.  No dog can catch him!

Class went well.  Because Kathy had to leave to run her dogs, class went longer than usual, and my friend Barb filled in to teach.  I love Barb's style, but it is very different from Kathy's.  I think some of the other handler's had a hard time adapting.  Barb spends a lot of time talking and explaining satisfying my desire for full understanding of the reasons behind the methods.  Kathy does more skill practice.  Both are important and it can be challenging for instructors to find the right balance.  Anyhoo, because the class went long, my legs gave out so I put Thor away.  We'd had a good class.

Week #6, Thor had just been neutered five days before so he stayed home and I audited. Kathy was out of town on a judging assignment so Barb was our instructor.  Barb, who rightly emphasizes independent obstacle performance, introduced the class to the concept of shaping.  Allowing the dog to CHOOSE to perform an obstacle while the handler stands by without giving direction develops problem-solving skills (in the dog) and a dog who fully understands the obstacle.  It requires patience and good observation skills on the part of the handler and can be very hard when first attempted.  I've done lots of this with Thor using both a tunnel and the tire.  As a result, he is very good at finding all angles of entry. 

I brought my camera to take pictures while watching and listening.  Deb's sheltie, Lucy, LOVES tunnels.  She was happy to run back and forth through a straight tunnel ignoring the treats that Deb tossed!  Repeating the tunnel was reward enough for Lucy!  And she already understood the concept of offering behaviors.  Linda's shepherd, Vasso, had a harder time.  Although only 11 months old, he has a history of formal obedience and wears a nylon choke collar.  So Vasso has been exposed to corrections for making incorrect choices.  This is a dog who will have trouble offering behaviors because he is afraid of  the consequences of making a mistake.  Vasso, who had been doing tunnels when directed, was unable to initiate tunnel behavior on his own.  Barb directed Linda to click/treat for looking at the tunnel, looking in the tunnel, putting head in tunnel, stepping one foot into tunnel.  Vasso is a smart dog and made really good progress.  But to Linda it must have felt like big steps backwards.  She was frustrated and close to tears despite Barb (and me) insisting that Vasso had made great strides forward.  Bean went next.  I know nothing of Bean's history but he is five years old and new to agility.  He reacted to the exercise similarly to the way Vasso had.  Both did a great job for dogs just being introduced to shaping.  Bean's handler was fine with it, Vasso's was not.  It made me very sad to realize that Vasso's early training had been with outdated methods.

I ended up with two photos that I like.  First, a picture of Roo (Barb's dog) happily demonstrating his "Go To Mat" behavior.  Second, a picture of Vasso peaking out of a tunnel and looking very worried.  These two photos illustrate the results of different training methods.  Roo, who has known only scientific, modern, positive training, and Vasso, who has done traditional obedience training in a choke collar.  As if I needed any more convincing...


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Agility Class #4

As we started class, Kathy informed us that a friend of hers might be coming to watch.  Okay, that's something Thor and I can handle!  BUT, as it turned out, he brought his little dog with him!  Not only did he bring a dog, but instead of just watching, he brought his dog out into the ring.  While I was working Thor on bottom behavior (2 on-2 off) on a plank, this man and his dog came up very close behind Thor.  I said, "Would you please move back just a bit?  My dog isn't always reliable."  Dog and man didn't move.  Luckily, Kathy was paying attention.  She came over and explained that Thor is very distractible and needed more space to be able to focus on his task.  At that point, dog and man moved back just a bit.  I realized then that visitors to classes need to be prepped in advance as to appropriate spectator behavior.  I don't think visitors should bring their dog.  I think they should be limited to a spectator area outside the ring.  Watch and learn, not get in the way!  The purpose of visiting a class should be to assess whether or not it's something you might like to do with your own dog.  To see if an instructor and his/her methods fit with the way you want to train.  No reason to disrupt the class!