The adventures of SD Juno and SDIT Kaline (and their human, Colt).

29 March 2014

Rally Trial in Petaluma

Yeah, I know, there goes that New Year's Resolution. So much for once a week blogging. It's been a really bad week. If you know me, you know why, and if you don't ... well, I don't need to broadcast it to the ether.

Last weekend Juno, Kaline, Dad and I headed to Petaluma for a Rally trial. Normally, Dad is kept as far away from these things as possible because he is an enormous distraction. However, I was very low on spoons, and knew that if I didn't take him I'd probably fall asleep driving there or coming home. He's a really great dad—I made him get up at 5:00 in the morning so we would get there early. Need my good parking spot, time to set up, and time to practice.

Dad basically dropped us off and went to go have breakfast, so the first part of the trial went fairly smoothly. Juno was in Excellent and Advanced, still looking for an RAE leg, and Kaline was in Advanced for the first time. Juno was great warming up (except for focusing so hard on my face that she walked into the jump). Got her in the ring, and it was like pulling teeth. Being in the ring is just unpleasant for both of us. She was clean though, and ended up with a 93 and second place.
First through fourth place dogs won toys as well as ribbons!
Dad returned to help with wrangling as I warmed both dogs up for Advanced. This turned out not to be such a great idea, even though he made himself scarce about 45 minutes before Juno's run. Kaline went first, and although it was a little insane—he is much faster than Juno, and it makes me feel like I'm flying by the seat of my pants—he was very good and got a 94. All our work off leash with the e-collar paid dividends. Even when he was not looking at me at all, a verbal cue got instant results! Super helpful.

Then I took Juno in. She was doing okay, and then halfway through the run, it was like she suddenly realized Dad had left. She lost all focus, and was scanning the crowd, looking for him. I could barely get her through to the end. She got a 70, which is the lowest score you can get while still qualifying. So she got an RAE leg but I think we shall stop there.

Kaline's 94 was good enough for second, which was really exciting. Then we had a long break, during which my wonderful father brought us lunch.

In the second trial, I only entered Kaline. He was again very good, even though we had a bit of a hiccup in our course. Earlier, the judge had let a dog run the course with the wrong jump height, and had to call them back after finishing to have them do a proper jump. Rally jumps only go up to 16", but obviously that's pretty short for a 27" Doberman. So just after Kaline did the jump (second exercise of the course), the judge had an Oh Shit moment and called us back. He was worried the jump was again too short. After a quick check with the stewards, he realized it was right, apologized, and had us restart, promising not to re-judge our first two exercises. I was a little flustered, and Kaline had lost a little focus, but he got it back fairly quickly and did really nicely! Well, except when he heard Juno whining while we were on the far side of the ring. He clearly thought that she was in distress and needed his help (even if she were, she wouldn't want help from him! haha). But he got back on track and got a 95, and another second place finish.

Pretty much unrelated news: Sue Korp, the nice lady with the Doberman bitch with All The Titles, earned her and Jessi's Obedience Grand Master title at the same trial. Very, very cool.

18 March 2014

Criteria for Graduation

A friend and I were talking about how you know it's time to graduate your service dog in training to full service dog status, so I thought I'd do a post about it.

One thing that makes a big difference is whether your state gives the same access rights to handlers with SDITs as with SDs. Since California, our state, treats SDITs and SDs the same according to the law, there is no incentive for me, or any other handler, to rush graduation. I think that's a great argument for all states giving SDIT handlers more rights, but that's another discussion. In states where SDITs have limited or no access rights, one might lower the graduation standards to the minimum, just to have the benefit of the dog's help in more areas.

I'm not talking about graduation standards for anyone but myself. (Just wanted to make that clear.) Right now, I hardly ever remember to actually put Kaline's in training tag on whatever gear he's wearing. But if anyone asks, I will say he's in training. Sometimes, when we're working on a new skill or working through a problem, it's pretty obvious to anyone looking that he's in training. But a lot of the time, at least in harness, he's really starting to act the part of a full SD. (At home and off duty, he can still be a crazy boy.)

Here are some of the things I'll be looking to see before I'll officially graduate Kaline. No hard and fast numbers or anything, just a general idea.

Treats: Do I feel dependent on my treat bag, or can I accidentally leave it in the car and still feel like Kaline will do what he needs to? If the answer to the first part is yes, definitely not ready to graduate. At this point, I try to remember the bag just in case, but I've forgotten it several times and not felt remotely panicky. And Kaline has done everything he's been asked to do. So no, we are no longer treat-dependent for known/proofed skills.

Distractions: This is probably our hardest area. Kaline still wants to make googly eyes at people, especially if they talk to him. He also is still very interested in/distracted by children who are either loud or moving abruptly. He is generally good at ignoring being touched by strangers, although we are working on desensitizing him to being touched on the rear. He was fine with that until very recently, and now all of a sudden, if someone touches his butt, he has an out-of-proportion startle response. Recovers quickly though. Food distractions are not an issue. He doesn't go for food he sees around, and he doesn't beg from the table. Animal distractions ... well, I know small prey animals aren't a big issue because a squirrel basically ran under his feet the other day and he just looked at it interestedly for a second and then moved on. Other dogs, however, he still wants to look at for more than a second, and if the other dog is doing something interesting, like pulling toward Kaline or lunging at him, Kay can definitely lose his focus. This is a main reason why I feel Kaline is not ready for graduation.

General public behavior: I'm really quite pleased with Kaline's recent improvements in this area, especially when he's asked to lie down, settle, and be unobtrusive. His popups have decreased a lot. He's not rattled by much of anything, including, as I discovered a week or so ago, exceedingly loud screams at hockey arenas. He hardly ever sniffs inappropriately, and remains focused on his job most of the time. He definitely has a working mode and understands he has to meet higher standards of behavior when in harness. Basically, he acts professional. Different people have different definitions of what “professional” is ... Mine is a little fuzzy, but basically I want anyone looking at him to know, just by his demeanor, that he is a working dog. And now, they do (most of the time. Some people are just dense, what can you do?). Still, I don't feel the same way about him in public as I do Juno. She is my rock, and he just is not quite there yet. Still a bit higher maintenance, if that makes sense. Building that kind of bond and trust takes a very, very long time—we're almost there, I think.

Tasks: Before I graduate a dog, I want him/her to be able to do all of his tasks promptly and correctly the vast majority of the time. If Kaline needs a little extra help occasionally with accuracy on handicap buttons, I don't consider that a huge issue (for someone with a different disability, it might be a big deal). But when I need DPT, he is on it, no problem, no matter what position I'm in. If I ask him to do stairs, up or down, he's almost always doing it right. (Yes, we are still practicing the various components of going down stairs properly.) Momentum pull is practically perfect. His retrieve is getting pretty reliable, although it needs to be better before he graduates. Helping around the house in the kitchen is excellent, probably because we practice several times a day out of necessity. Kaline cannot learn counterbalance tasks until he is cleared by an orthopedic vet after his second birthday. So having that clearance will be a big milestone indicating graduation is near. I don't think the counterbalance tasks will be too hard for him to learn, but we'll have to get them solid before I will graduate him.

Maturity/endurance: This is a big reason why I think any dog under 18 months of age cannot, by definition, be called a full service dog. As a puppy or adolescent, a dog cannot handle day after day of full-time work without burning out. Burning out is kind of a subjective term, but to me it means a dog loses its drive to work and/or no longer enjoys their work. Puppies and adolescents have bouts of silliness, as well as teenage asshole moments—things that are expected and understandable in a SDIT, but pretty much unacceptable in full SDs. (I say “pretty much” because obviously even adult SDs are not robots, and can have bad days on occasion.) Kaline at this point does have the ability to be a full-time SD, at least for my lifestyle. Being a full-time SD for me involves a lot of off-duty time, given that dogs are my life. It also involves some day-long events, and Kaline has proven he can handle those too. Maturity ... Well, he at least manages to act mature when he's on duty. I guess it doesn't matter terribly much that he acts like a complete idiot sometimes on his own time!

None of this means that training stops. Training NEVER stops, not for service dog teams who want to stay sharp. We will always be working on our weak points, always trying to spice things up with new behaviors whether disability-related or not, and you never know what tasks you might need to teach in the future.

03 March 2014

Goodbye, Fussy Eater, and Other Stories

Kaline has always been a fussy eater, more or less. He goes through phases of eating really nicely, and then phases of just NOT EATING. As you may have guessed from my all-caps, I find this extremely frustrating.

It seems (I am trying not to jinx it) as though the fussy eater days are over! My genius friend Amber, handler of Kaline's cousin and fellow SDIT Rowan, sent me Sue Ailsby's fussy eater protocol and for the most part, it worked like a charm!

DISCLAIMER: What I am about to say is a paraphrase of Sue Ailsby's method. I did NOT think of it myself.

I was pretty desperate, as Kaline hadn't eaten anything in about a day and a half. I finally had gotten him to put on weight so that his ribs could be easily felt but not seen, and was very afraid he was going to lose it all. Amber sent us the protocol, and off we went.

For Kaline's first meal on the plan, I cut him back to about a cup (normal meals are two cups). I filled his bowl, then did what I almost never do when feeding dogs: I tried to amp Kaline up. I squeaky-talked to him, got him racing out to his food bowls, put the bowl down with a great flourish and released him. He rushed up to it, stuck his nose in ... then walked away. I counted to five, then took away the bowl.

At the next meal, I only put in about half a cup. Same excitement ritual and what do you know? He ate it! Scarfed it all down! With one or two hiccups, I got him back to two cups per meal and now he is eating like a champ. You put down that bowl and he eats until the food is gone. I am a very happy dog mommy. Here is the link to the detailed method if you too have a fussy eater and want him to be replaced by a chow hound.

In other news, I have been in a funk that I would find interesting, I suppose, were I not actually in it. I am exceedingly anxious most of the time, churning tummy, racing thoughts, etc., plus just really depressed and negative about most things. Usually it's one or the other. Usually if I'm in a depressed funk I am too low and lethargic to have this much anxiety.

Anyway. I obviously don't do this all the time, and don't really recommend it as a regular mood-booster unless you've just won the lottery, but I treated myself with some Paco collar retail therapy in addition to having the dogs help me over the weekend. With help from Lindsay and Bruce the Painted Doberman, I ordered a new black/silver deluxe super-bling Stardust for Juno, with blue and light blue sea glass along with abalone rhinestones, and a new tan/brass deluxe super-bling Stardust for Kaline, with red, blue, and purple sea glass. We are not going to talk about how much these collars set me back. It is a very great secret. However, I feel much better knowing that I didn't do nearly as badly in my dog walking income for this past month as I thought I would. (Short month, ski week, etc. and I was still only off the previous month by a few hundred dollars. Wooooo.)

After ordering the Pacos, we headed to Lindsay's grooming shop where she very kindly bathed Kaline and Juno in scrumptious-smelling shampoo and conditioner. The dogs smell so good I want to EAT them. And they're extra shiny. Kaline whined and wailed like he was being beaten, because he is Mr. Drama Queen. Never believe it when people tell you Dobermans are tough and scary. They are THE biggest babies ever. It's why we love them!

On Sunday, Kaline got to work my mom's second birthday dinner. (Juno did Real Birthday Dinner.) This was planned by my mom and her sister, so my Auntie Barbara, Uncle Paul, and cousins Walker and Whitney joined us at an Italian place in Burlingame. Kaline was pretty excellent aside from some sniffing as we walked to the back of the restaurant. First we had a table by the kitchen, but Mom didn't like that location, so we went upstairs—where the AC was making an incessant, eardrum-collapsing rumble. You know that bad feeling you can get in your ears if your car windows are open just enough while you're going kinda fast? That feeling, only more. Instant major headache. So we moved again, and Kaline was very excellent matching my pace as we went down the stairs. Then he settled nicely at the table and mostly slept through dinner. He had his head on my feet a lot, which was awesome. And then after dinner I let the kids love on him, which made all of them quite happy.

At least on the job, I think my wee man is maturing. He can still be a bit of a hellion when he gets bouncy around the house, but when he's working, he's been doing really well.