Friday, February 28, 2014

FitDog Friday: Noseworks Class

On Sunday, we had our first Noseworks class. I wasn't really sure what to expect. All I knew about it really was that our trainer had said Barley would have fun and it would help her to think with her nose instead of always be on the lookout for other dogs.

When we pulled up to the training center, I was nervous. There were at least 6 other dogs in the class and from observing them in the parking lot, I knew they were going to be a high energy group. Barley tends to do better with couch potato dogs who just lounge on the floor in between activities, so I knew the class would challenge her focus.

My nerves escalated when our trainer announced that noseworks is all about drive. When Barley gets hyped up, she tends to lose focus on me. Our trainer said we were not allowed to use obedience commands--so no sit, stay, down, watch, wait--the only commands we could use were "find it" and "all done." I was allowed to give other commands between activities--THANK GOODNESS--because Barley has such high drive anyway that a few calming games between activities wasn't going to make her shut down.

To make a long story short, Barley LOVED the class! We really just worked on building value for sticking her head in a box and keeping it there for a while. First, we just dropped treats on the floor to teach the "find it" command. Barley loves treats, so she especially loved that game. Then we'd repeat it but drop the treat in the box followed by more treats to keep her head in there. She loved that, too.

Early in the class, Barley established herself as the class clown. She is so used to getting commands that when she isn't given a command, she runs through everything she knows how to do until she gets a treat. So, my goofy girl decided that she must need to do things in the box in order to get treats.

This is noseworks, right?
She was certain that she was supposed to sit inside the box.  So, while our instructor was giving more instructions, Barley climbed into the box and stayed there. She had the entire class in stitches laughing at her. So, of course, she thought that was her sign that she was doing the right thing and climbed into the box as soon as she finished getting treats. I'm not sure how this will impact her training to do whatever noseworks actually is, but I'm not sure how to keep her from doing that without obedience commands--hopefully our trainer will say it's not a problem when we have our second class :)

Treats taste good, but I don't like licking cardboard on accident.
We've been continuing to practice find it with the box and have moved up in difficulty a tiny bit. Sh gets shut in another room, I put a treat in the box, and then let her out and tell her to find it.

On the prowl!
She found it!
Despite getting really riled up while working, she never even glanced at the other dogs. I was so proud of her. So far, we love noseworks and are really looking forward to adding on to our skills each week!

Update on our mileage goals: We came in just short of our goal to be at 100 miles for the year so far. We are at a little over 96 miles, so we were very close--but it got really cold again. When I got home yesterday, it was 9 degrees with a windchill of -9, so I decided we should stay bundled up inside instead. It seemed safer for everyone. Hopefully Mother Nature will give us some gorgeous days during spring break when I can get 4 or 5 miles days for the whole week and we can make up for it then.

Hope everyone's staying warm during this latest blast of cold air!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Forgettable Moments: Recipe for Moments Blog Hop

February is Spoil Your Pet Month--but let's be honest, every month is spoil your pet month at my house!--so BlogPaws and Nature's Recipe are hosting a blog hop to focus on the most special moments we share for our pets.

Barley and Soth would probably say that our most special moments are the ones that involve food.  You know, the moments like busy mornings when I'm rushing to throw together a turkey sandwich for lunch, but still find time to give them a nibble of lunch meat. Or, the moments when I turn my back and Barley nibbles the banana bread I had cooling on the stove top.
At least I got to have the end piece before Barley got to it.
They both love to sit by their dishes and lick their lips.
As much as I love food, too, I'm not sure it's part of our recipe for special moments. In fact, I think there are very few ingredients in our recipe. We've had some really unforgettable moments: like the first time Barley and I visited Squire's Castle or when we passed our CGC test or the cross-country road trip Soth and I took to move from NM to OH. The moments I cherish the most, though, are the moments that are completely forgettable, the moments when we can just be. So here are my top 3 perfect moments with my pets:

  1. Snuggling on snowy days. There's nothing like curling up with my darlings, a book, and a mug of hot chocolate. In my personal favorite holiday movie, I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown, one of the characters says, "Happiness is a warm puppy." Add "and kitty" to the end of that and you've got  my perfect recipe for a winter day.
    Soth thinks snuggling is a close second to food-related moments.
    Barley likes to snuggle, too, but it doesn't make the top of her list. 

  2. Unplanned breaks from grading papers/planning for classes. Both of my pets are great at getting me to take breaks from hours of prepping for classes. Soth's preferred method is to plop down on top of whatever papers I need to work. If I don't want to wrinkle my student's essays, I can't pull them out from underneath him, so I'm forced to spend time giving him some love. Barley has a similar method. She'll come and put her chin on whatever work I have in my lap, then sit beside the couch and lean against my leg, so I have no choice but to give her some love, too. If she's more interested in playing than loving, she'll start tormenting her brother so I have to get up and redirect her attention with a squeaky toy or some agility practice.
    These papers look great, but I'm a lot more fun.
    Emily Dickinson is really complicated. Hanging out with me is not.
  3. Just being together. It took a long time to get my pets to be comfortable being together. For months, if Soth was sleeping on the love seat and Barley hopped up, Soth would get up and leave. Barley wasn't allowed on the bed for her first six months in the family because I wanted Soth to have a place that was his (he still only has to share the couch with me). Now, Barley and Soth willingly, voluntarily spend time together. When Barley and I do mat work, she saves room on her mat for Soth. When I am too swamped with work to take a break, they curl up in the spare room or on the love seat together. I wasn't sure they'd ever learn to like each other, but slowly the embraced each other. On the few occasions one or the other has had to spend extended time at the vet, whichever pet is home alone is ready and waiting to greet the other one with lots of sniffing and rubs at the end of the day. 
    Soth used to refuse to share the love seat at all; now he prefers to be touching his sister.
    It still counts as being on my mat if I give Soth some room, right? 
    More kisses!

So my recipe for moments is simple. There are three ingredients: one crazy pup, one cranky cat, and me. Toss them into a two-bedroom duplex, add a little snow if desired (and at this point, I'd say we've had enough snow for a while--adding a little sunshine might be a better choice), and watch what happens. As long as we're together, the moments are special--even if we don't remember each individual moment, any chance we have for warm toes on snowy nights or an extra scritch behind the ears is a perfect moment.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Successful Weekend

We've had multiple successes this weekend, and since the whole reason I started this blog was to keep track of our successes for the days when I need a reminder that we've come a long way (or as a reminder that things can fall apart if I let my guard down), I thought I should take a few minutes to make a note of them.

Yesterday, it was sunny and in the 40s. Since I didn't have papers to grade this weekend, I thought I should take advantage of the break from the cold and go adventuring with my girl.  There were several places in Doggin' Cleveland that we hadn't had a chance to check out yet. There are several that sound like great parks, but they are over an hour away and since the majority of our adventuring takes place in the summer, it doesn't seem very practical to drive that far away when it's going to be too hot to walk for long.

So, we took a little road trip to check out Doggin' Cleveland's #2 park: Hinckley Reservation. I picked this park for a few reasons. First, it was listed as the second best park out of 50 in the area. But the main reason I picked it for this trip was because it has a 3-mile paved trail around a lake. I figured that a paved trail was probably going to be clearer and less muddy than the clay or gravel trails. I was right.

That also meant that we had a lot of distractions to deal with. Everyone was out with their dogs since everyone's had cabin fever. I was hoping with 3 miles worth of trail, we'd have plenty of empty spaces to avoid running into other dogs, but it wasn't quite that easy.

Even though there were a lot of dogs--all shapes and sizes (and some wearing coats!)--Barley was excellent. Every time we saw another dog coming, we pulled off the trail and I gave Barley treats. She didn't react at all. She also didn't care about any of the joggers we encountered. I was so very proud of her. There was even one moment when an off-leash dog came by (and luckily it had an observant owner, who called it to heel--and it listened!) and Barley didn't bat an eye. The one difficult distraction we encountered was some bird--I'm not sure what kind it was because I was trying to get her attention so she didn't try to sniff people we were passing in a tight spot, but I saw brown feathers swoop in front of the path. Barley is scared of birds when they're flying, so she stopped in her tracks and gazed off into the woods where the bird had gone. The people we were trying to avoid stopped and laughed at her. My dog is such a goober.

There were some really incredible views of the lake, but we didn't have an opportunity to get pictures of very many with all the other dogs around. I'm not sure that we'll be going back to this park. It was very nice and it looked like there were some great woodsy trails to explore when the snow is gone, but we already have some great parks that are just as pretty and take less than half the time to get to. It was definitely a fantastic walk, though!
The one picture we got of the lake.
Since we were already out that far, we decided to go just a little farther and visit #29 (I think--the book's in the car) Buckeye Woods Park. This one was also described as having a long paved trail; however, these trails were not clear at all. There were several slick spots and a few really deep puddles, so I regretted not wearing my boots because my tennis shoes got a little soggy.

There were only a few other dogs on trails and enough different paths that we could turn in different directions to avoid running into them. The skies were so ridiculously beautifully blue. This park was really nice, too, but again it was far enough away that we probably won't be going back any time soon.

Barley was worn out for the first time in ages! We were in bed asleep before 9:30. I'm a total night owl and don't remember the last time I was in bed that early. Apparently we're not used to that much fresh air and sunshine! We walked 5.7 miles between our two adventures!

Today, we had to get up and out the door for our first noseworks class--I'll save the main points for Friday's post--but she did GREAT work in class. I was nervous because there were at least 6 other dogs in class and when we got there, we found out that noseworks is all about drive and instinct--two things that get Barley into trouble regularly.

The dogs were super excited and energetic, but Barley was having so much fun that she didn't notice the other dogs moving around. She didn't even bark when she saw other dogs moving around while I got more treats ready to go!

Our last bit of success came after class when we went to one of our favorite parks that's down the street from our training center. I wasn't sure if we'd actually be able to walk because the paths are not paved and an update on the park website said one of the parking lots was closed due to flooding, but we got another 3.8 miles in today. It was fantastic--even if it wasn't quite as warm today.

The biggest success came when we saw three deer along the path. Once upon a time, we had been on a trail near my parents' old house. A deer jumped across the path--right at a curve, so the people coming in our direction didn't see the deer run into the woods--and Barley sat down in the middle of the trail and barked her head off. She wouldn't stop until I put her in a bear hug and all of the other people on the trail had already looked at us like we were nuts. Similarly, when deer would play in my parents' backyard, Barley would stand on their back porch and growl at the deer. Today, she sat calmly and watched the deer while I took some pictures and then even posed with the in the background. Baby girl is growing up!

We even saw a tiny raccoon on the side of a tree. I felt bad for it--it seemed pretty scared and I thought raccoons were supposed to be sleeping during the day, but it was kind enough to pose for a picture.

 We had another beautiful walk along the frozen river.

Sweet Barley was so worn out by the time we got home that she couldn't even make it all the way onto her bed.

We're right on track to be at 100 miles for the year by the end of the month! Now if Mother Nature can just give us a few more days of above freezing temperatures, I'll be one happy girl!

Friday, February 21, 2014

FitDog Friday: Making Progress

Last week, I mentioned that we'd been adapting the hide-and-seek games that Diane and Rocco over at To Dog With Love had been sharing over the last few weeks as part of K9 Kamp along with SlimDoggy and Peggy's Pet Place. After reading about Rocco's success with learning "Hide Your Eyes,"I decided to practice that with Barley (although we're calling it pray because that will hopefully balance out the heathenish tendencies of her brother cat--seriously, that cat plucks angel decorations off of things and rips their wings off, so we need a little extra prayer in our lives).

We started with practicing "Paws Up." My girl is so smart it scares me sometimes. I've known she was smart for a while--when we first started training, our trainer told us we'd probably need 2 weeks to master our homework and by the end of our third day of practice, Barley had it all down pat even with distractions like squirrels, bees, trains, and neighbors putting a new roof on their house--but we do so much reinforcing of our regular training, that I don't always remember how quickly she catches on to new things.

After I had told her "Paws Up" three times and sort of lured her toward the box she was putting her feet on with a treat to help her figure out what I wanted, she had the command down. I said "Paws Up" and her front feet were on the box. So, we took a little break.

When we came back to it about an hour later, she was so enthusiastic about getting a treat that she put all of the paws up.
When she realized she wasn't getting a treat for that, she hopped right off and tried again (I'm supposed to make her think about what she did to get lots of treats before, so I'm not supposed to help her out and give her the command again. Sometimes, that's so hard!)
Then she got it right and gave me her big old Barley smile while I got some treats out of the bag.
We've started doing "Paws Up" on anything and everything (so expect to see lots of future pictures of Barley with her paws on things when we go on adventures!). She's got it down, so now we're trying to work on getting her to bow her head. 

That's proving to be a little bit harder. We couldn't train that behavior the way Diane and Rocco have--Barley puts so much weight on her front paws that I do have the upper body strength to keep my arm up for very long when she puts her paws up! So we're trying to just skip that step and work on it on various surfaces like the edge of the bed. Barley prefers to just put her feet back down and try to get the treat. 

We've also been making some progress with our walking goals! Finally, the bitter cold broke. It has been in the 30s and even got up to 40 today! The snow is slowly melting and our sidewalks are reappearing! We got in almost 2.5 miles Wednesday and Thursday in the neighborhood. Then today we got in 3.2 at the state park! Hooray! We've logged about 80 miles for the year so far--I'd like to be at 100 by the end of February, but I'm not sure if the cold will stay away long enough for that to happen.  Fingers crossed.

No more trudging through the snow! (For now.)
This was the best pre-agility class walk we've had all year! We had a great, focused lesson on Tuesday as a result. 
Barley modeling next to the last bit of deep snow in front of our house.

On Sunday, we start a noseworks class with our favorite trainer (although we do love them all!), so we'll keep you posted on our progress with that!

Hope everyone else has had a nice break from winter's wrath, too! I'm going to go stimulate my mind with a performance of the one-woman Emily Dickinson show The Belle of Amherst tonight, so Barley and I are ending the month happy and healthy, both physically and mentally! A few weeks ago, I wasn't sure that we'd be able to say that any time soon ;)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Brain Games & Love

As I've lamented over the last several weeks, Barley and I have been limited in our physical fitness lately due to ridiculously cold temperatures! Here's what the weather's looked like on our last four walks--we haven't had a walk over 1.3 miles since the 3rd.

This week, we've really been focusing on the brain games to at least keep up with our mental fitness. We've been playing variations of the hide-and-seek games the winter session of K9 Kamp has been posting each week: we can't quite fit in a box like Rocco can (and Soth would not be pleased if someone stole a box out from under him), but Barley's new cozy cave bed is an excellent hide-and-seek tool.

I can hide, too!

We have been able to play hide-and-seek with Barley's toys. She's not a huge fan of this game because she'd rather chase her toys or snuggle with them, but every now and then if I'm reading in bed, she'll hop up with a toy and I'll hide it in the pillows and blankets. We're really looking forward to practicing the hide your eyes trick this week--how cute!

We've also been playing with Barley's treat ball regularly. Even after a month of playing with it, this toy still breaks her brain. She's started to figure out ways to get the treats more easily, though. She's found if she rolls it into a corner or up against her crate, she can just keep bashing it against the wall/crate and turning it a little bit at a time until a treat falls out--and bashing is a lot more fun than rolling it from one end of the apartment to the other. I've also gotten better at letting her problem solve--instead of following my instinct to help her out when she gets the ball stuck under the dining room table or the desk, I've been pretending not to notice and she works it out herself. (I will probably regret this when she gets her head stuck in one of the dining room chairs.) Seriously, if you don't have one of these yet and your dog is going crazy with this cold, you should get one.

We also got some homework from our agility teacher, which has been wearing out my pup, too. On Tuesday night, we were struggling with leading out. Somebody is a little velcro-y and doesn't like it when I leave her behind. As soon as I'd leave her side and get to the jump, Bar jumped and was by my side. She actually has a very good stay in some situations--she did beautifully when we were practicing for the CGC (and during the actual test) and she is excellent at home; I can put her in a sit-stay and leave the room and she won't budge until I release her. But, in class, there are a lot of distractions and we've spent so much time keeping her focus on me that she gets a little unsettled when I leave her side.

So, our trainer is having us practice and sitting and staying in front of a jump. We were supposed to use her dinner to practice and put it on the opposite side of the jump and if she doesn't get up, she gets her dinner. But dinner is a really important part of her routine and when it's messed up, she get's a little crazy--she'll act like she hasn't had dinner and run back and forth to her bowl for the rest of the night.  So, we improvised and used the next best thing--CHEESE! This is also helpful because some activities in class require light colored treats so we can throw a treat and the dogs can see them on the dark floor, but Barley loves cheese. When the cheese comes out, she can't focus on anything but the cheese. She runs through every single trick she knows because she's too excited about cheese to think about what I asked her to do. This makes the activities that require cheese in class extra difficult because she is a spinning, jumping fool instead of a focused pup.

We didn't get to practice our homework on Wednesday, but we had a good session on Thursday. I had her sit on one side of the jump and set pieces of cheese on the other side. In between setting pieces of cheese on the ground, I'd toss her a piece so she'd get rewarded for sitting and staying. I am not supposed to go back to her because our trainer says that's a reward for her and she's turned it into a game because she knows if she gets up, I'll come back to her to reset her in front of the jump. We aren't good at being apart. At first, Barley was really excited about the cheese and she kept getting up, but I'd cover the cheese with my foot until she sat on her own and then toss her a piece when she sits again. Then I'd release her and she'd get all the cheese from the floor.

Barley's part vulture.
Slowly, but surely she started to focus less on the treats on the floor.
Look how far apart we are!
She couldn't get to the treats fast enough.
A little more control this time around.
Hope everyone takes a break for a little extra lovin' today! Soth and Barley have been having a sibling love fest this week, so I think the Valentine spirit has rubbed off on them.

Happy Valentine's Day from me, Barley, and Soth!

The Mutts Comics Facebook page had this delightful strip posted this week. It seems appropriate for me and the pupperoo.