Monday, December 15, 2014

Conquering Chocolate World: It’s All About the Burgers

Dop Dop met the singing cows.

That’s right. THE singing cows—Gabby, Harmony, and Olympia, the singing cows of Hershey’s Chocolate World.

Doppler turns one year old on December 21, which means that he has his one-year evaluation next week. He’ll spend a few days at the kennel with Susquehanna Service Dogs’ professional trainers so they can determine if he has the potential to become a service dog.

I have to admit, I’m a little bit nervous. I think Dop Dop is a great dog, but he does have his quirks. Take stairs, for instance. He still tends to hesitate when faced with a new set of stairs.

Anyway, I learned at the last puppy lecture that Chocolate World is one of the places the dogs could go during their one-year evals. And since I’m all about setting my dog up for success, I decided that Doppler was going to visit Chocolate World before his eval.

Now, in order to get on the ride, I knew Doppler would have to go down a set of brand new stairs. (See why I would be a little nervous about his eval?) So I decided to tip the scales in my favor and stuffed my treat pouch with two McDonald’s hamburgers, one hotdog, about half a cup of goldfish, and as much kibble as would fit.

It worked!

We got to Chocolate World and trotted over to the tour ride. Knowing that the stairs were coming up, I let almost everyone pass us so that we wouldn’t hold anyone up if Doppler decided the stairs were horrible, terrible, no good, very bad things. I shouldn’t have worried, though, because Doppler was a pro. He didn’t even hesitate going down the stairs! He even stopped and looked at me for his treat every time I clicked. Completely blew my mind.

But once we made it down the stairs, Dop Dop had another obstacle to overcome. In order to get on the ride, he had to step from a stationary floor to a section of floor that rotated. Would he do it?

Sure! No problem! Why was I even worried?

He did hesitate before getting in the car of the ride. I had to lure him with some hotdog, but once he was in, he sat down and absorbed it all—sights, sounds, smells, and singing cows.

I was so proud and let him know it! He got lots of treats and praise.

Now, his loose leash walking left a little to be desired, and he was a little hesitant on the ramps leading up to the stairs. Oh, and his happy tail knocked a few small things of the shelf when we did some greetings. (But he stayed focused on me!)

All in all, I call this a HUGE win for Doppler, and I’m not nearly as nervous about his evals as I was. I know he won’t be perfect, and I know I’ll probably get a nice list of things to work on with him, but at least now I’m not worried that he’s going to fail because he turned into a scaredy-cat and refused to do the stairs.

After eating two hamburgers, one giant hotdog, and half a cup of goldfish, though, I think I might need to loosen the ol’ harness tomorrow. Poor Dop might not get as much breakfast as he’s used to.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It’s All About Self Control

Just two big goofballs waiting for a treat

Well, Doppler’s almost as big as Fire now (and Fire is BIG). Little Dop is a solid, 10-month-old, 70-pound ball of awkwardness. Although he’s not tall and gawky like most teenage dogs, he still seems to be figuring out exactly how his body moves. Half the time his feet are sliding out from underneath him.

But this giant puppy has been soaking up everything he can. I think about half of it sticks. The other half, well, we’ll just keep plugging away at it.

Take loose leash walking, for example. When he was a little puppy, he was the best loose leash walker. He’d walk right next to me and the leash would be in this beautiful J-shape. I used to think, hey, teaching loose leash walking is a snap! No problem! We got this.

Then Doppler discovered smells. And people. And other dogs. And grass, bushes, trees, garbage cans, and random spots on the sidewalk that just smell awesome.

My puppy who walked with a loose leash disappeared.

We’d take a few steps together, and I’d click and treat. He’d walk a few more steps, I’d click, and he’d surge ahead, completely ignoring the click and the fact that he was about to get a treat. It didn’t matter what kind of treats I had—goldfish, hotdogs, peanut butter—he didn’t care.

For a while, I used the penalty yards method. Every time Dop Dop pulled, I’d walk backwards until he was next to me again. Then we’d start walking forward again and I’d click and treat him for staying on a loose leash. But after that first click, he’d surge ahead to the end of the leash again. It would continue like that down the entire street. He wasn’t learning anything.

Well, today, I decided I’d had enough. It was time to try something different.

This time, when we headed outside at lunchtime, I chose a spot in the alley to serve as the starting spot. We’d walk down the street from that spot toward the grass by the river. Of course, Dop really wanted to get to the grass. We walked a few steps. Click, treat. Dop ate the treat and pulled ahead.

This time, instead of walking backwards until Doppler was next to me, I turned around and we headed back to the starting point. Once we reached the starting point, we turned around and started again. He got clicked and treated for staying right next to me. The second time, we made it about ten meters before he pulled and we had to go back to the start line. Same thing the third time.

The fourth time, we made it halfway down the street.

The tenth time, we almost made it to the end. Dop could see the grass. Yank! on the leash. Back we went to the start line.

Interestingly, Doppler walked perfectly every single time we were walking back to the starting line. It was only when we were walking toward the grass that he had a problem.

Fifteen minutes and half a treat pouch later, Doppler finally walked the entire length of the street on a loose leash.

Needless to say, he got tons of praise and the best reinforcement he could have wished for—lots of free sniffing time.

You know what’s really awesome? After his super sniffing treat, he spent the rest of our walk with his head right at my knee. Perfect loose leash walking.

I have no doubt that we’ll have to go through this again, but now I know what method works for Dop Dop. Eventually, this giant puppy will be a top notch loose leash walker.

Next time you leave me in the car by myself, I'm just going to drive away.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

This Is What Pure Joy Looks Like

Take a good look at that photo above. See all those little shreds of paper? Yeah, that used to be William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, a delightful piece of literature that I’ve never actually read from cover to cover. Guess I’m not going to be reading it any time soon. Doppler turned an 800-page novel into confetti in a few glorious moments of pure, unsupervised puppy joy.

I had left Doppler by himself, uncrated, in my apartment for just over an hour. I figured he would be just fine, since he has successfully stayed by himself three other times, all for about an hour. I had no reason to think this time would be any different.


I wish I had one of those pet monitors so I could see exactly how long it took him to demolish Thackeray’s novel. I’m guessing he sat at the door for a few minutes after I left. Once he realized I wasn’t coming right back in, he probably got up and maybe pounced on one of his bones. Chew, chew, chew. He looks up, realizes he’s still alone. Gets up, pads over to the bookshelf. Sniffs, rubs his side against the wood, sniffs the books again. Ooooo, this one smells good! He gently puts his mouth around it and tugs. Since he chose an 800-page novel, it flops to the floor as soon as it clears the shelf. Whoa! In his puppy brain, he thinks Vanity Fair wants to play. He pounces. He play growls. He grabs the pages and shakes. Pages rip. What a great game! Rip, shake the pages, run around my apartment, shred the pages into tiny bits.

Best game ever!  

Needless to say, in the foreseeable future, Doppler will be crated when I’m not home. I don’t want to come home to another carpet of shredded literature. He’s just lucky that Vanity Fair isn’t one of my favorite books.  

Dude. Shredding a book? So awesome!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Get in the Car!

One of the few photos I have of Doppler sitting

I made bacon-wrapped dates today. If you come to Susquehanna Service Dogs’ Graduation Ceremony tomorrow, you just might get to have one.

Speaking of food, Doppler now has a new location for his meals: the car. He’s absolutely convinced that he’s a small dog and refuses to jump in the car. He’s not a small dog. He has big paws and a solid, stocky body, and I can tell you from having to pick him up and get him in and out of the car that he’s getting heavy. And that’s precisely why he’s getting his meals in the car. I’m trying to get him to jump in and out of the car.

Amanda, Susquehanna Service Dogs’ training coordinator, suggested putting his food dish in the car so he has to hop in himself to eat. Brilliant idea! Labs love food, and Doppler pretty much loses his little mind at meal time. Sure, he sits calmly until I give him the okay, but in the time before he has to sit, he’s running around in pure, food-motivated joy.

So when I took Doppler and his full food dish out to the car this morning, I fully expected him to hop right into the car and chow down.


Oh, don’t misunderstand. Doppler went right up to the back seat and stared at his food with his little nose quivering. But then he plopped his butt back on the pavement and just stared at me. I tried using a super happy voice. I tried moving the food closer to the door on the seat. I even tried putting the dish on the car floor, thinking it would be easier for him to jump up to the floor rather than the seat.


Finally, since I had to get to work, I scooped him up and plopped him in front of his food dish. He chowed down happily.

Fast-forward to dinner time. Since I had nowhere to be, I decided to just wait him out. At some point, he was going to get up the gumption to get in the car to eat his dinner. I put the food in the car on the seat. He stepped toward it. I thought, Yes! He’s going to do it!


Another nope from Doppler when I moved the food to the car floor.

Then inspiration struck. I balanced the food dish on the edge of the car so he could reach it from the pavement and told him “okay.” I let him get a few bites in, then moved the food dish onto the floor of the car. Well, little Dop had already tasted the manna that is dog food, and he wanted more. He put one paw tentatively in the car, then another one. Then I saw him lift his back paws. Yes, yes, yes! He was in the car all on his own!

I’m pretty sure my neighbors thought I was nuts because I suddenly burst out with “Good boy! Good puppy! Oh, you’re such a good boy!”

Total party time.

I made little Dop get out of the car on his own, too. I threw a small handful of treats back in his food dish and put it on the pavement, then told him “okay.” He hopped out as if he’d been doing it all his life.

Here’s hoping that with a few more meals in the car, I won’t have to pick him up anymore.

I think he looks like a little puppy again here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Big Dog Puppy Class

Doppler hanging out at Celebrate Etown

I was all set to write about Doppler’s crazy busy day yesterday, but then I realized that today was Doppler’s first day in big dog puppy class. So instead of writing about how Doppler spent most of yesterday under my desk; went for a 1.5 mile run after work; aced his little puppy evaluation (with some things that still need improvement); and spent two hours at  the Celebrate Etown event at WITF where he took a tour of WITF, relaxed in a down while Vocaline sang, and generally wowed people with his cute face; I’m going to tell you about his first big dog puppy class.

I knew that Doppler is very interested in the smells on the ground and other dogs, I decided to get to puppy class early so he would already be inside and settled when the other dogs got there. In theory, he would then be calmer. Well, my plan worked partway. Doppler was the first puppy there for class. However, as soon as SSD Jana came in, he went into a barking frenzy. I managed to get his attention, and as the next dogs came in, I just shoved treats in his mouth. If his mouth is full, he can’t bark. Plus, all the treats helped keep his attention on me.

Doppler started learning two new behaviors in class. First, I started shaping him to put his nose through the loop in the leash. Why on earth would I do that? The loop is just a stand in for a comfort trainer. When the dogs enter advanced training and when they become working service dogs, they may wear a comfort trainer to give their handler more control. So Doppler is learning to stick his nose through a loop in the leash. It’s probably going to be a slow process. Doppler hasn’t yet figured out that he gets a click and treat for interacting with the leash loop.

He also started learning the cue “lap,” which is where the dog rests his two front legs in a person’s lap. Doppler actually did pretty well with this, once he figured out that he’s really not a little dog anymore. I had to use a treat to lure him up to my lap, but he put both legs up there.

We’re also going to be working on going up and down stairs in a controlled manner, although we didn’t start this in class.

But then, we played a game. Every semester, we play a game at the end of each puppy class. This semester, it’s Par for the Course, a type of golf game with dogs. There’s a square at either end of the room. You have to put your dog into a down-stay in one box, walk to the other box, and then call your dog to come to you. You get additional points if your dog does anything other than come to you, such as visiting the other dogs or heading to other distractions. Now, Doppler is very distracted by smells, and I knew that once all the other dogs put their butts in that square, there would be no way he would settle into a down. So I volunteered to go first. It still took a little while for Doppler to settle into a down. He was very interested in SSD Annabelle, who was sitting near the square. Luckily, her puppy raiser was really nice and moved Annabelle away. After that, Doppler laid down after a few more tries, although he wasn’t quite in the box. But, good enough!

I really wanted Doppler to be successful, so instead of going all the way to the other square, I just went partway and called him to come. He did great! He popped right up and bounded over to me. He looked so happy! So I put him into another down-stay, and this time I went all the way to the other box. Doppler got up before I called him, so I took him back, recued him, and then called him to come again. He came right to me! He didn’t even care that there were three other dogs in front of him! I was so proud of him.

So despite his crazy barking at the beginning of class, we had a very successful time. Next week, puppy class is at the Harrisburg Mall carnival. Definitely going to make sure I have lots of power treats for that. 

Sleepy after his busy day

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Training for a 5K

Doppler is training for a 5K. We’re doing the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community to support Susquehanna Service Dogs on May 17. Now, Doppler weighs 37.4 pounds, and there is no way I’m carrying his furry butt more than 400 meters. So we’ve been going for long walks to get him used to walking long distances without pulling. On Saturday, we walked close to three miles, and on Sunday, we did about two and a half. Doppler’s a pretty good little walker.

The Highmark Walk is one of SSD’s biggest fundraisers, and Doppler and I are trying to raise $500. I don’t usually like asking people for money. But Susquehanna Service Dogs is something I really care about. They’re making a huge difference in people’s lives. And because I really care about SSD, I’m going to ask you for money. Here it goes:

Thank you so much!

Doppler and I are off to take another walk. I’ll catch you up on all the things he’s been doing in a later post.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Doppler and the Wonderful, Amazing, So Good, Excellent Outing

Relaxing after his wonderful, amazing, so good, excellent outing

Remember Friday’s outing to Giant? That horrible, terrible,no good, very bad outing?

Doppler just wiped it completely off the slate. We went back to Giant this morning, and it was awesome. A wonderful, amazing, so good, excellent outing. And what makes it even more amazing is it wasn’t a grab-pay-and-go outing. I actually bought my groceries for the week with Doppler by my side.

With Friday’s disaster still fresh in my mind, I did everything in my power to set Doppler up for success. I had a plan.

First, I packed power treats. Doppler loves Easy Cheese, that disgusting, fake, yellow cheese you squirt out of a can. I think it’s gross, but it holds Doppler’s attention like you wouldn’t believe. I knew that if I had the Easy Cheese, I would have a pretty good chance of getting through Giant with a nice, focused puppy.

Second, we went to Giant at 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday. (Yeah, I'm a morning person. I wake up before the dogs on weekends.) There was hardly anyone in the store, and since Doppler gets very distracted by people, that helped him stay focused on me instead of pulling toward everyone. Even more importantly, mornings are Doppler’s calm time. He’s extremely calm in the morning and much more focused. Late afternoon and early evening is his crazy time. By taking him in the morning, when he’s still half asleep, he was much less inclined to be a wild thing.

Lastly, Doppler only got a psychological breakfast before we left my apartment. What’s a psychological breakfast? It’s just a small handful of kibble in his food dish. Because it’s in his food dish, he thinks he’s getting breakfast, but he’s still going to be hungry. If he’s hungry, he’s going to be more inclined to try to figure out how he can get treats from me while we’re out in public, which means he’s going to behave.

My plan worked like a charm. I had a puppy who walked on a loose leash next to the cart. He sat next to me while I put broccoli, onions, and sweet potatoes into produce bags. He even sat nicely in the meat department and again while I checked eggs. While we were checking out, he sat and paid attention to me.

Best of all, he was quiet. Not a single peep! It was awesome.

Sure, he still pulled toward a few people, and he was extremely interested in the person using the power cart. But I was able to get his attention back on me fairly easily. It was nothing like the paws-scrabbling-on-the-floor pulling that he did on Friday.

I was so proud of him. And yeah, I’m a little proud of myself, too, for setting him up for success.

Other Doppler-is-awesome moments:

We went to my parents’ house, and Doppler didn’t have any accidents inside! He even went to their front door when he needed to go out. Even more awesome, he went up and down their wooden stairs several times on his own, just because he wanted to. Woo hoo!

I’m also starting to proof his self control with his food dish. All Susquehanna Service Dog puppies must sit (uncued) and wait for the “okay” before they’re allowed to eat their meals. Doppler has gotten really good at sitting and waiting for me to say “okay.” But then I decided to see if he was just waiting for me to say anything, or if he was actually listening to the word I was saying. I waited for him to sit and put his food down like normal. After he had been making eye contact with me for a few seconds, I said “rhino” instead of “okay.” (Don’t ask me why I chose “rhino.” I was a little surprised myself.). Doppler started moving toward his food as if I had said “okay.” I quickly bent and picked up the food dish. He sat again. This time, when I said “rhino” again, he didn’t budge. Then I said “okay” and he pounced to chow down.

Now I can say almost anything and he won’t budge until he hears the “okay.” Sometimes when I tell him “okay” right away, he just sits and looks at me, as if to say “You’re trying to trick me. It sounded like you said ‘okay,’ but I’m not falling for it.” 

Fire and Doppler snuggling. I knew Doppler would eventually wiggle his way into Fire's affections.