Woot! Do I Have a Working Dog?

Barnum and I just had a very exciting walk!

I haven’t even been able to attempt a walk recently because I haven’t felt up to it. But I slept on and off till 4:00 PM today, so I started gathering our walk things as soon as I woke up.

I really wanted to try to go farther than we have been, despite that my outdoor chair is still in the shop, so I found my elevated leg rests for my indoor chair.  I’m hoping the walks will whomp me less the next day if I have more physical support and stability.

And . . . we’re off!

First, I took him to his toileting area, and I asked him to pee, and he did! Click!

Before we left the yard, I clipped the leash to his collar, and didn’t put on the Easy Walk Harness because I thought he’d probably generalized loose-leash walking (LLW), and we wouldn’t need it. I was right! He showed no more inclination to pull on his collar than on the harness. Click!

He was also very interested in taking cheese for clicks, which he earned for

  • being in the right position, or
  • making eye contact, or
  • being about to go too far ahead and then remembering to keep the leash loose and returning to position!


We wandered along at a sedate pace (because that’s what he’s used to; going at faster speeds makes him excited, and then he forgets what he’s supposed to be doing) with a nice loose leash. Then, when passing my neighbor’s front yard, we saw they had a very bright, dark pink, plastic thing propped up next to the road. I think it might be a toddler’s sled?

Anyway, Barnum looked at it with deep distrust. He’d never seen one of these before, and who knew what it was capable of?

So I backed us away from it until he seemed comfortable, and we watched it for a bit. I c/t for looking at it relaxedly. Then I started playing the “Look at That” game (from Control Unleashed).

I’d say, “What’s that?” and point to it, he’d look, I’d click, and he’d turn to me to take the treat. We did that a bunch, moving slowly forward.

Eventually we got close enough that he just wanted to give the whole thing a good sniff and not take any cheese, so I just clicked for sniffing. BUT, he was keeping track, because after a round of sniffing, he came back to demand cheese! I obliged of course; the click is a contract.

Since he was already sniffing it, I thought we might as well add nose targeting, so I pointed to different parts of it, saying, “Touch!” and he’d get a c/t for each.

Then we did some sits and hand targets and eye contact cues, right in front of the pink thing, and he was very happy to get c/t for all of that. I decided that the pink thing was no longer a source of anxiety, and we moved on.

We continued out LLW, including the opportunity for me to cue a poop. I have learned now that when he reaches for a treat and then wrinkles his nose and turns away, it means he has to poop. Very useful information. I can then take him to my preferred spot and cue just as he starts to circle.

Unfortunately, the bugs were terrible, attacking us both relentlessly, so I decided to speed up to try to lose them. This triggered the desire to run for Barnum, which resulted in some leash pulling, so I turned us toward home.

This was a tricky place to turn, because we had gone partway up an extremely steep hill, which also was very loose (dirt roads here, keep in mind) with gulleys and gravel from the snow and rain, so I had to go down it very slowly, with my back-rest reclined as far as possible, otherwise I could easily have tipped over. (This chair is too lightweight to safely maneuver a hill like that.)

I would not have felt safe to do that at all with the Barnum of two months ago, because I would never know when he’d pull and I’d do a face-plant into the rocky road. But he walked very slowly and deliberately next to me, while I crept along on “turtle.” Good dog!

On the way home we passed the pink thing, which was no longer an object of interest. What was an object of interest was my neighbor using his riding mower, which is the kind of fascinating sound and movement that usually plays havoc with Barnum’s focus. So, first I let him just observe for a couple of moments, and then he made eye contact. C/T!

Then we did more uncued eye contact, and I segued into cueing sits, downs(!), stand, touch, eye contact, and “chin” — the first time we’ve done chin away from home. He was game for all!

Then I decided to see if I could get him in working walk position with my two cues I use at home, “come by,” which means, “swing around on my left rear,” followed by “side,” which means, “stand next to me on my left, parallel to my chair, with your face next to my knees.” Often, at home, I can just say, “Side,” without “come by,” but I wanted to make things easy for him.

Not only did he do it — which we, again, had never done away from home before — but when I asked him for Side the second time, he actually did a BOUNCE into position, which is incredibly cute. (He leaps into the air and lands in the right spot. He bounces from a down into a stand sometimes, too, and gets serious air.) He bounces into position when he is feeling confident and happy to be training.

I really have to get these working bounces on film some time. They’re wonderful.

All this, in front of the mower driver!

Then we moved on, and a formidable opponent presented itself to us: birds! Not just one bird, but two or three small birds, scrabbling in the dust in the road and on the roadside, looking for seeds or insects. Bouncing, scratching, hopping birds!

I stopped when we were a good distance away to think about how to handle it. I backed us up, hoping to get him under threshold, which — with birds — has generally not been possible in the past. But, when we were about seven car-lengths back (that’s how I measure distance — I imagine how many cars would fit in that space, because I have no concept of feet or yards or meters, etc.), I just sat and waited for him to notice me. He looked at me, c/t.

Then I did “What’s that?” with him to get him looking back and forth between me and the birds. Two of the birds (too far away for me to identify, maybe wrens?) helped us out by flying away, so there was just a single robin left.

After we had grooved on the Look at That game, I cued eye contact and got it, and we slowly proceeded forward, with me c/t very frequently for keeping LL and for eye contact. Then, when he seemed he wanted to chase, I said, “Leave it,” which is our Zen cue, and — while he did not actually back off or look at me, which is the response I train for — he did STOP in his tracks.

The robin hopped right into the middle of the road, taunting us, the cheeky little twit, and I said, “Leave it,” again. Then, [cue clouds parting, sunbeam shining down on us, choir of angels singing] Barnum SWUNG HIS HEAD TOWARD ME AND LOOKED AT ME, INSTEAD OF THE HOPPING BIRD!!!!

I clicked and gave him about half-a-pound of cheese and squealed with delight, and other dignified dog-trainerish-type things. I told him how proud I was of him, and he waggled around a lot. It was a very nice moment. We proceeded forward, and I got to practice my zen cue with the robin a couple more times, each of which went great — because now we were on a roll, see?

Then we went into our driveway, which put us even closer — despite a few intervening trees — to my neighbor riding his mower. So, I went right up to our border so Barnum could watch, and then we did more zen, sit, touch, etc., despite the mower distraction. Very satisfying!

Inside the gate, I took off his orange safety vest and his leash, and we romped a bit, but he really was not so into it because he wanted to get inside, away from the bugs. He was way ahead of me when I saw him pick something up from the ramp and chew it. I thought it was a flower at first, but then it started crunching. I asked him to drop it, which he was not inclined to do until I reached for the cheese (still need to work on that), and when he did, I saw it was a piece of plastic flower-pot. Not edible!

He took his cheese and turned back to slurp up the shard of flower-pot. His nose was on it when I said, “Leave it,” and he backed right off of it! We really ended on a high note!

Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT?!?!??!

P.S. Several of you have commented on recent posts, and I haven’t yet had the chance to reply. Your comments are really important to me, in some cases quite touching. I just wanted you to know that I definitely plan to respond to them.

15 Responses to “Woot! Do I Have a Working Dog?”

  1. 1 Laura June 5, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    So exciting! A good walk can feel like a miracle can’t it? Nice work Barnum 🙂 Nice work Sharon 🙂

  2. 3 Brooke & Cessna June 6, 2011 at 5:45 am

    This is such wonderful news!

    Good boy Barnum!

    Yay Sharon!!

  3. 4 Karyn June 6, 2011 at 10:03 am

    This is awesome pawsome! I think I have learned a valuable lesson from your expeience- neutering can often times be the difference between a wash out and a SDIT working out. I know yo uare probably still having you wavering uncertainties but from where I sit, he’s going grand

    Sometimes I feel jealous actually. Your positionally training is so much better than what I have achieved. I really would love tips for improving mine with Thane. We rely more on where I put my hand than on a cue and would really love to have what you and Barnum have achieved.

    I am so proud of you two!

  4. 5 Sharon Wachsler June 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Hey Karyn, I just discovered yesterday that I can reply to comments by email, so this will make it much easier for me to respond. Yay. Yes, I’m proud of us, too. I am feeling quite optimistic. If he shows he can keep his head in new and distracting situations, he is back to being an SDiT, as opposed to an SDiT [question mark, question mark] LOL Yeah, I think the neutering played a really big role, although as I also wrote, he was getting mixed signals about LLW for over a year, and it’s impossible to learn that way, so that has had a big impact, too. I talked recently to his breeder and the person who referred this breeder to me, who has had several dogs from her, and they said that this litter, and his line, are unusually slow to mature. Bouvs tend to be slow to mature, anyway, even for big dogs, so I think he just is a guy that needs a lot of time to grow into his brain. Or for his brain to grow. Or something. LOL Next time, seriously thinking of getting a girl. As to positioning. We are not nearly where I want us to be yet, but I will think about trying to describe how I work on it. One thought I have, which is something I need to start working on, is hind-end awareness. If you don’t teach that, a lot, they really never think about where their back feet or legs or butt is. I think that is our next step in getting his positioning better. Have you done a lot of hind-end awareness stuff with Thane? For instance, shaping him to put his hind feet on a slightly elevated target (a phone book wrapped in brown paper works well — something that he can feel is different than the ground, but that won’t slid around). Then you teach him to spin on it, so he has to keep his back feet on the target while following you with his nose around it. Stepping back up or onto or between things, like steps or a ladder lying on the ground, stuff like that. Unfortunately, all the resources I can think of on this topic are video, but I bet there have to be written instructions somewhere. I will keep an eye out. Teaching “back up” by free shaping alone is also good for hind end awareness.

  5. 6 Karyn June 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Too bad someone did not tell you about this line and especially this litter being slower to mature before now. That would have spared some aggravation I bet.
    I understand the LLW issues- its like too many cooks in the kitchen concept. With Thane its never been with anyone else so if he gets mixed messages it is because I gave them to him. I will admit it happened to frequently in the early days.
    I wrote you by email about our feet awareness probs but in terms of working positions- Thane does really well. I think part of the problem is me not practicing what I did not think I needed.
    He surprises me sometimes though by sizing up a situation and trying a new position- such as when I am back to him and a timer goes off. Before he would just ignore that. Now he will paws up on the back of my chair or kitty corner back and side. This new awareness to try whatever works shows me that he really would get other position training if I can figure more ways than hand target to train it with him

  6. 7 MiMo June 7, 2011 at 12:06 am

    woohoo! go Barnum!
    I’m over here, in your corner, cheering exactly as loud as you want (but not so much you feel the pressure of expectations).

    It is clearly not always the case that neutering makes a big difference, but I have definitely seen in the shelter dogs I work with that it certainly can make a big difference. Glad to see that it seems to be helping here!

    What? huh? there are other things to be excited about than smells? ORLY?

  7. 8 Sharon Wachsler June 7, 2011 at 12:14 am

    MiMo, Thank you! I love the “cheering at just the level that feels comfortable” bit. That DOES feel comforting and supportive. What does “ORLY” stand for?

  8. 9 MiMo June 8, 2011 at 2:09 am

    oy, sorry about the ‘net speak drifting in there! And I wasn’t even really using it right! oops 😉
    ORLY is an internet-meme based abbreviation of “oh really?” meant to convey some sarcasm or something like that (kinda like “ya don’t say?”) (I was really going more for slow-amazement/ “how ’bout that? sort of effect. I think, I don’t even know, actually.) see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_RLY%3F also google “o rly owl” (also now that I see specifically where it came from I am ashamed to have been using it. erp.)

    And that sentence was, in case it was not clear, which I see that it rather might not have been (sometimes commenting when I should be sleeping goes ok. sometimes not so much! I am afraid this clarifying comment itself is tending towards the not-so-coherent. oh well.), my impression of Barnum realizing food, etc. can be exciting too. Because I like to write internal dialogue for dogs, because it amuses me. 🙂

  9. 10 brilliantmindbrokenbody June 8, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Sharon, what happy news! I’ve got a grin a mile wide reading this and man am I ever happy for you.


  10. 11 thetroubleis June 8, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    I’m so glad to hear such wonderful news!

    I really appreciate you talking so candidly about your worries about washing out. I wish I had said something before, but now is as good a time as any.

  11. 13 Sharon Wachsler June 11, 2011 at 1:42 am

    Thanks, Karyn!
    Yes, I am not yet ready to say 100% for sure. We’re still courting. We have avoided a break-up, but we’re not yet ready for the engagement party. I have to see if he can sustain and build on this, and if he can carry it into the wider world. I am still a bit worried about his tendency to look concerned sometimes. His hyper-alertness. But, we have come a long way baby!

    And I have read all these fact sheets and such from vets and other authorities that it is a myth that a dog will have a personality change or want to eat more or whatever from getting neutered. Now I don’t believe them! Also, the balance sheet WRT health is not as clear-cut, either. There are pros and cons to both side.

    He still has the same overall personalilty (which I am glad about!), but in many ways it mellowed him right out, helped him focus more, and definitely he is way more food-motivated now.

    As for positioning and jealousy.

    Interesting you mention that in the comments, because Andrea from The Manor of Mixed Blessings and I have had a bit of a discussion about jealousy and guilt among partner-trainers, and we are talking about having a discussion/interview of each other and cross-posting at our mutual blogs about this very topic! So, I think it’s sor t of endemic in the dog-training world — how easy it is to compare your training or your dog’s success against another trainer and dog, and find yourself/your dog lacking. And how hard it is to turn away from that and say, “No, we are all unique, and there is no one right way.”

    Also, you haven’t seen us work, so you don’t know that his position is really so hot (which it’s not, actually), and your needs are somewhat different than mine in that Thane is guiding, so you have a different position need, and there’s the harness issue, which I don’t have. Also, a big reason position is important for me is that I’m a big woman in a big chair, with a big dog, wearing a pack, with an oxygen thing sticking out the back. I take up a lot of space, which can be problematic when going into stores and stuff. So, position feels really crucial for me for public work because I already take up so much space. But you’re small and Thane’s small, and I think your chair is smaller — certainly smaller than my outdoor chair, which is huge. So, I think that makes a difference.

    But I am now working on his positioning by teaching him to rotate on a phone book. It’s a long story. I will try to post a blog about it. Remind me if I forget, and I’ll try to post my tips and what has worked with different dogs and not others and why, etc.

  12. 14 Sharon Wachsler June 11, 2011 at 2:22 am

    Hi! Yes, now is definitely as good a time as any! Thank you. Yes, I’m still waiting to see if another shoe is gonna drop — behaviorally, or his eye test or his joints or who knows. But, for now, we are doing well.

  13. 15 Sharon Wachsler June 11, 2011 at 2:40 am

    Thank you! And thank you for your explanation of ORLY? Now I get it. It’s humor! 🙂
    Yes, I don’t know what percentage of dogs it matters for or not. Also, if Barnum was going to be a pet, not a SD, the issues I was finding undesirable might not be for someone else. After all, most people ENJOY having a dog who is not tempted to counter surf or steal food or whatnot..

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