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Spring Training

I took Zillekins for a 2 mile hike today, in preparation for Civil War season. See, I’m a huge Civil War Bore, and attending the events that go on during the spring, summer, and fall takes me on a lot of hikes. Tink has traditionally been my hiking buddy, but her werid medical problems lame her up from time to time and thus the presence of Zille, the Emergency Backup Dog.

However, Zille does not automatically do all the things Tink automatically does that make Tink such a pleasure as a hiking companion, and also I would like to stop Zille doing some of the things Tink does do that make her a slightly less pleasant hiking companion. Hence today’s 2 mile walk down to the end of our road and back, working on loose leash walking. Zille does this pretty well already, but because hiking in the forests and meadows of a battlefield is pretty high-distraction, I want to build up a solid reward history with her for walking where I want her. This little graphic may help:

A diagram of where I want Zille to walk. There is a white circle to represent me. Immediately to the circle's left is a green rectangle. Surrounding the green rectangle and partly in front of the circle is a yellow zone. The rest of the diagram is red.
Reward zones for teaching Zille to walk with me.

The little white circle there represents me. Next to me, you’ll see a green rectangle. This is the Mark-And-Treat Zone. When Zille is in this area, the leash is loose, I can see her out of my peripheral vision, and if she suddenly surges because of something like a squirrel, I won’t get yanked immediately. I really want her here, although I don’t care if her head is down and she’s sniffing, or if it’s up, or if she’s walking in a straight line or meandering around in that green zone, so I mark-and-treat (“Good dog!” *cookie*) a lot when she’s in there, no matter what she’s doing. She spends about 70% of her time there on her own inclination. The goal is to get that up to 80%.

Immediately outside the green zone and extending in front of me is the yellow zone. I do not mark-and-treat while she’s in it, but neither do I stop walking or give her a no-reward marker. In the yellow area, she has taken most of the leash slack and may be putting light pressure on it, or I may not be able to see her without making an effort. Still, she’s not really doing anything I actively object to. Tink, when walking, spends a lot of time in the yellow zone no matter what kind of treats I’m carrying, it’s one of the things that makes her a less pleasant hiking buddy. Zille tends to spend maybe 20% of her time in the yellow zone naturally.

The area furthest out, on my right side, and behind me is the red zone. In this zone I will stop walking, give a no-reward marker (“Negative, Zille” or “Ah ah!”), or bring her back to the green zone with leash pressure, or sometimes a combo of two of these things, or sometimes a combo of all three. In the red zone, I can’t see her easily or she’s pulling on the leash hard, or she’s on my right. Tink is trained to walk on my right[1], and if I walk the two of them together I don’t want them interfering with each other too much, so I don’t want Zille on my right at all, just as I don’t want Tink on my left. Maybe 10% of the time Zille gets into the red zone, and thus the training: I’m hoping to eliminate that 10% or at least get it down to about 1%.

Other behaviors practiced: alerting silently on people who come within view. Eventually I would like her to alert on people I *can’t* see, which is going to take some help from a friend and a trip to the woods where there’s more visual obstructions. Sit or down on stop; it’s her choice. I don’t care what she does but if I’ve stopped moving it’s probably because I’m taking a picture, and then I need a loose leash. Zille will sniff her way quickly into the red zone if I stop moving, which will interfere with picture-taking. The other reason I might stop on a battlefield is to listen to a lecture, in which case she also should be polite and stay still instead of invading the space of other listeners. Watch me; an all-purpose useful way of getting your dog to stare at you and await further instruction.

[1] TINK IS TOTALLY BLIND IN HER LEFT EYE DUE TO A DETACHED RETINA, SO HAVING HER ON MY RIGHT HELPS MAKE SURE NOTHING BLIND-SIDES HER LITERALLY WITHOUT ME HAVING A CHANCE TO TELL HER ABOUT IT. AT ANY RATE, BECAUSE SHE WALKS ON MY RIGHT, THIS DIAGRAM WOULD BE FLIPPED TO THE MIRROR IMAGE FOR TINK-TRAINING.

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Spring is in the air

The scene: Manor of Mixed Blessings, 1830. Your humble narrator is in the living room at the computer looking at some OW Guide for a game online. Dogs and cats are arranged variously according to their whims.

Zille: I has a ball.
Me: You sure do. What a nice ball.
Zille: Make the ball go.
Me: No. You ate a mere 30 minutes ago and I do not wish you to bloat and die.
Zille: At least if I die playing fetch, I’ll die happy. Make the ball go.
Me: No. We don’t play fetch in the house with that ball[1] anyway.
Tink: I have to pee.
Me: You tell lies. You want to bark at something.
Tink: I never lie.
Me: You lie all the time about having to pee so I’ll let you bark at things.
Zille: Make the ball go.
Tink: I gotta PEE.
Beowulf: Are we goi– SQUIRREL!!! SQUIRREL!!!!
Tink: SQUIRREL!?
Zille: MAKE THE BALL GO DAMMIT.
Me: WE ARE NOT GOING OUTSIDE YOU WILL ALL DIE OF BLOAT. WHICH WOULD SERVE YOU RIGHT BECAUSE YOU ARE ALL OBNOXIOUS.[2]
Time: *passes, as it does*

Zille: Is it fetchy time NOW?
Tink: I gotta PEEEEE.
Beowulf: Is something interesting going to happen?
Me: What time is it?
Zille: FETCHY TIME.
Tink: PEEING TIME.
Beowulf: LOVE EMERGENCY.
Me: No time for love, Dr. Jones. It’s been an hour and we are going OUTSIDE.
Chorus of Canines: OUTSIIIIIDE YAY!
Jubilation. Exeunt omnes.

[1] WE DO HAVE A HOUSE FETCHY BALL, WHICH IS JUST A SPHERICAL STUFFY. ZILLE NINJA’D IT INTO HER MOUTH ONE DAY AT PETSMART SO I FELT OBLIGATED TO BUY IT FOR HER.

[2] I DON’T REALLY THINK THEY DESERVE TO DIE OF BLOAT.

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Bedtime escapades

I covered morning at the Manor in a previous post, so let me briefly touch on bedtime before I go into the latest way Tink has found to drive me abso-freakin-lutely nuts.

Sometime between 1930 and 2000 (I get up at 0415, don’t judge) I get tired of listening to Roo whine about it being bedtime, and I prepare for bed. I brush my teeth, I turn out lights, I collect my cell phone (which also serves as an alarm clock) and whatever book I’m reading, and then I call Tink. Together, we process into the bed chamber, where I close the baby gate behind us and put up our bed rails for toddlers. The baby gate in question is 42″ tall. Remember that figure, it is important and there will be a quiz later. It also has a cat-sized door in the bottom of it which is left open.

Once in bedroom, I put the cell phone on the dresser and the book on my pillow, which is lovely and temperfoam and sits upon a slightly squished firm regular pillow. I turn and garb myself appropriately to sleep, and when I turn back to the bed it used to be that Tink had inevitably stolen my spot, which features a body pillow in addition to the lovely temperfoam head pillow. This is not the way that Tink drives me abso-freakin-lutely nuts, because I’ve outsmarted her: at the foot of my bed you will find two firm pillows in nice cases, stacked just like my pillows are, and a spare blanket. This is Tink’s spot. Tink requires pillows.

At any rate, now that Tink’s Spot is sorted out, these days I just crawl into bed, arranging myself around Tink who did not have to pause to garb herself appropriately, and then the cats arrange themselves around me, and then I read a bit and eventually turn out the light and fall asleep. In the morning, Tink and I stumble out of bed when the alarm goes off and I open the baby gate and the normal morning routine starts.

Last night, bedtime routine went totally according to its usual plan. Sometime around 0100 or 0200 the rattling of the baby gate half-woke me, but I thought “Zille is attempting to stuff her 70lb Shedder self through the cat door again, Jesus” and went back to sleep. Then the alarm went off at 0415 and I stumbled out of bed, automatically wobbling around the spot where Tink jumps off the bed[1], only she wasn’t there.

“Tink?” I inquired. She has been known to crawl on her side under the bed and go to sleep, from which location she will totally claim she can’t hear the alarm go off, but she always responds by noisily flailing around to my inquisitive “Tink?” No flailing. My next “Tink?!” had a little more urgency to it.

And then I glanced at the doorway and there she was all “Yes, Mom?” except she was on the other side of the baby gate. The closed, locked, nailed down baby gate. Panic! Tink has abnormally fragile skin, so I was quite certain that there would be blood, and possibly shreds of her epidermis, and visions of an extremely expensive visit to the vet flashed before my eyes. I rushed out into the hallway and began feeling her up.

Nothing. No blood, no hanging shreds of skin, no wounds, no broken bones, nothing. My 60 pound dog who is roughly 27″ at the shoulder managed to somehow get by the baby gate with only a touch of rattling. The fact that I have no clue how she did it is what’s driving me abso-freakin-lutely nuts. If it keeps happening, there will be a security camera in my future and hers, because I have to know.

[1] TINK IS MOSTLY BLIND. IF SHE IS ALSO MOSTLY STILL ASLEEP (SHE’S NOT A MORNING PERSON ANY MORE THAN I AM) THEN IT’S USUALLY JUST EASIER TO MOVE OUT OF HER WAY RATHER THAN EXPECT HER TO NOTICE YOU AND MOVE OUT OF YOURS. A 60-SOMETHING POUND DOBERMAN EXITS A BED WITH ENOUGH FORCE TO KNOCK A MEDIUM-SIZED WOMAN INTO A WALL AND LEAVE BRUISES. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.

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The lightbulb moment

So I’m teaching Zillekins, fetchy dog extraordinaire, to stare at me to make me throw the ball. She’s a delight to train because she’s really damn clever and also very, very willing to learn things for the right motivation. Being a very handler-sensitive dog[1], a correction harsher than a disappointed tone of voice is out of the question. The minute she hears “Oh, Zille, what did you do?” her head and tail and ears droop and she comes slinking over to reassure herself that although she might have momentarily slid toward being a Bad Dog, she is still loved. Not to mention the fact that I like training my dogs using rewards, because I want training time to be a fun game for everyone involved.

Anyway, all of this is a lead-in to say that at the moment, Zille must glance at my face to make me throw the ball. Looking away from the ball is hard for her, so I started with waiting until she looked *anywhere* else and succesfully shaped a darting gaze around the yard with stops at the ball. Then I started rewarding looking at me above the waist. She was still not QUITE getting it, but tonight you could see the lightbulb go off: “SOMETHING I AM DOING WITH MY EYES MAKES HER THROW THE BALL” and then “I MUST LOOK AT HER BODY TO MAKE THE BALL HAPPEN”. Sheer brilliance.

I still don’t have a stare, but at this point I’m only throwing the ball when she actually looks at my face. We’re working it. She’ll get there.

[1] Zillekins comes from Hard Ass Working Dog lines. Her mother, Danca, and father bite people for fun (aka they hold Schutzhund titles) as do a huge chunk of her ancestors. Danca has passed her sweetness and handler responsiveness to Zille in spades. Zille lives to be a Good Dog.

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Mornings at the Manor

Feeding time is an exciting time as one might imagine. The Usual Suspects look forward to breakfast in particular with great relish. Monday through Friday, breakfast happens around 0500, before I get in the shower. Weekends, it happens whenever I can no longer stand to listen to Rooney Lee as he sits on the arm of my chair and whines:


Transcript of video and more post below the cut!
Continue reading Mornings at the Manor

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It’s the little things

Last night after torturing Tinkerbella I decided to go for a never-fail stress relief tactic. I took Zille and a tennis ball out to the yard and sat on the stoop watching the sun go down and throwing a ball.

Imagine my delight when I discovered the bats are out of hibernation! I saw something swoop by me in the twilight, flapping in that erratic flappy way bats have, and thought it might have been a particularly awkward bird, but then another flew by me and lo! it was bats.

I am quite fond of the little buggers above and beyond their usefulness for eating insects, so I was pleased to see them up and around after the long, cold winter. I was so pleased that I started contemplating buying freeze-dried crickets for them, but my plan to nourish the bats was thwarted when I couldn’t come up with a good way to launch the crickets into the air for bats to grab.

Alas.

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Sometimes I am mean to dogs, redux.

So I’ve had a stressful couple of days for no good reason really, things have actually been going pretty well but EVERY LITTLE THING just drives me nuts. In an effort to cheer myself up, I played dress-up with Tink.

And then I read this interview with Cherie Priest wherein she speculates on casting for a Boneshaker movie.

And then I accidentally captioned a picture and it’s totally not my fault you guys, I swear.

Can I just note that Tink is a really tolerant and patient dog when cheese is involved?

Tink the fawn doberman stares dubiously at the camera.  She is wearing Doggles, the lens over her blind eye smoked and the one over her good eye clear, and a slouch hat.  The caption reads 'Hay Cherie!  I iz steampunk enuff for part in Boneshaker movee?'

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A pile of puppies!

My friend C (Zille’s breeder!) came over yesterday, bringing with her a PILE OF PUPPIES. I am not kidding, check it:
A pile of 8 week old German Shedder puppies rests on a laminate floor.  Their right ears are green from recent tattooing.  There are four sables and two bicolors (black and tan), and this is seriously dangerous levels of cute, people.

That is the only puppy picture I am posting, as I do not wish to steal her puppy picture thunder. It is possible that she got pics with Tink in the same frame as puppies, but Tink was not about to hang out with puppies and play the auntie. She was relatively calm about puppies in the yard, although she did work herself up to frothing at the mouth, but she found puppies in the house unspeakably disturbing and was confined to the bedroom after she cornered one under my desk to bark at it. Beowulf was much the same, although rather than stare at puppies and froth at the mouth he nobly pretended that puppies did not exist, with random expressions of horror when they came galumphing toward him.

He did, however, flirt with Nike (who is 12ish and adorable), who came with, and Nike flirted back and was all “yeah, I still got it, the boydogs half my age want me!”

Anyway, puppy ears are green because part of the reason they came to visit (aside from the random socialization of visiting a strange place and new adult dogs who look radically different from the other adult dogs they have met) was to get their ears tattooed. So now the little boogers have things like “BORN TO FETCH” in their right ears for ID purposes[1]. And at this age they were over it within 3 seconds of getting it done. In fact, they all learned quite quickly that the puppy scream when the stamp was done meant that cookies would be forthcoming, so the mercenary little buggers were just WAITING for their siblings to cry out in pain. They’re so adorable.

The Feline Horde was mostly absent. Braxton took one look at puppies and disappeared himself. Aida made one foray towards the living room, saw them, and disappeared. Roo on the other hand hovered around the edges whining about being hungry and giving puppies really, really dirty looks. The black and tan girl with eyebrows was brave and confident and followed him around and even barked at him…as long as he wasn’t looking at her. The minute he gave her the Evil Eye, she would back off to a safe distance or the comfort of the puppy pile. It was six different kinds of hilarious.

[1] OK, I KID, THERE’S ACTUALLY SOME COMPLICATED CODE THERE. BUT MY VERSION IS WAY COOLER.

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Sometimes I am mean to dogs.

At 0820 this morning, amid a discussion of why my mother had stickers in her purse, I stuck one that says “BRILLIANT!” on Zille’s nose.

It is now 1150. She is still wearing the sticker. I don’t have the heart to take it away from her at this point.

Edited to add: She kept the sticker on her nose until around 1600 when my friend C arrived bringing Nike, a dog Zillekins grew up with. Such was the excitement at being re-united with her buddy, she knocked her sticker off on the fence.

Zille, a sable German Shepherd, regards the camera with bright curiosity and attentiveness.  On her velvety black muzzle, about halfway between her nose and eyes, is a white sticker.  You can't see that it says 'BRILLIANT!' and has a lightning bug on it in the picture, but it does.

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This is how my mornings go…

The scene: Manor house, 0245 on 3 March. All is calm, all is dark. I am asleep in the bedroom with Tink and the Feline Horde, who are also asleep.

Me: Zzzzzz.
Braxton: Zzzzzz.
Roo: *snrk* Zzzzzz *snrk* Zzzzzz (he was laying on his head funny)
Aida: I am too evil to snore. In fact, I am too evil to sleep.
Tink: ZZZZZZZzzZZZZzZZZzZZZ (she even sleeps dramatically)
Beowulf: DEFCON ONE DEFCON ONE ALIENS ARE AT THE DOOR ALERT ALERT ALERT ALERT DEFCON ONE NOW SET GENERAL QUARTERS ALL HANDS MAN YOUR BATTLE STATIONS TRAVEL FORWARD AND UP TO STARBOARD DOWN AND AFT TO PORT GENERAL QUARTERS!!!!!!
Zille: MY GOD BEOWULF SAYS THIS IS REALLY SERIOUS AND THERE’S ALIENS OUT THERE HOLY SHIT EVERYBODY GET UP I DON’T KNOW WHERE MY GENERAL QUARTERS STATION IS ALIENS DID I MENTION ALIENS?
Tink: SOLIDARITE! UP, UP! ARISE MY MINIONS SOMETHING HORRIBLE IS HAPPENING OH GOD THE OTHER DOGS ARE BARKING AND I HAVE NO CLUE WHAT WE’RE BARKING AT!
Braxton: OMG NOISE AIE! *launches off my stomach*
Me: Zzz–OW HEY WTF NOISE?
Aida: I’m going to kill you all if you don’t shut up. I can kill you with my brain.
Roo: *snrk* Zzzzzzz *snrk* Zzzzzzz *snrk* Zzzzzzzz
Chorus of Dogs (with full orchestration): WILL YOU JOIN IN OUR CRUSADE WHO WILL BE STRONG AND STAND WITH US? BEYOND THE MANOR’S WALLS THERE IS A TRUCK AND WE’RE NON-PLUSSED!
Me: *staggers to living room window*
Me: Guys. That is a TOW TRUCK. No, I don’t know what it’s doing there but odds are quite good that you do not need to be barking at it like fools.
Chorus of Dogs (where did they find an orchestra at this hour?): DO YOU HEAR THE DOGGIES BARK? SOUNDING A VERY LOUD ALARM! WE ARE BRAVE AND LOYAL DOGGIES WHO SHALL SAVE YOU FROM ALL HARM!
Me: No, seriously, you don’t need to save me from the tow truck. It’s not even pointed at our *house*.
Tow Truck: *drives away*
Chorus of Dogs: SECURE FROM GENERAL QUARTERS. SEND THE ORCHESTRA HOME.
Chorus of Dogs: *collapses in various places as if unplugged and is asleep in mere moments*
Me: *staggers back to bed*
Roo: *snrk* zzzzz *snrk* zzzzzz *snrk* zzzzz–hey wha?
Me: How did you sleep through everything except me coming back to bed?
Roo: Shhh. Sneepin. *snrk* zzzzzz *snrk* zzzzzz