Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Study in Self Control

My kitchen supervisors

If Doppler’s day today had a theme, it would be self control. It started first thing at breakfast. Doppler has to sit, un-cued, and wait for me to put his food dish down and tell him “okay.” Only then can he eat. As usual, I had to pick his food dish up several times when he dove for it before the “okay.” But when he did finally hold his sit and I told him “okay,” he stayed put and just looked at me as if to say, “You’re just kidding, right? Nope, I’m not falling for it.” I had to say “okay” several times and point to his food dish before he decided it was okay to eat.

At work, per usual, he alternated between sleeping in the crate and hanging out under my desk. However, today he started putting himself under my desk. I think he’s starting to realize that’s where he’s supposed to be. Now, if only he would stop chewing on my desk chair… (The bacon-flavored bone has been a huge help in deterring his chewing on inappropriate things.)

Hanging out under my desk

And then, a few hours ago, came his biggest test of self control. We joined the big dogs for their puppy class outing to Giant. So many distractions for the little puppy! We spent about 10 minutes right inside the door, just taking it all in. Doppler got lots of clicks and treats for looking at me. At first, loose leash walking was nonexistent. When SSD dogs walk on leash, they’re supposed to stay right next to their handlers, with the leash in a loose J shape. Doppler was pulling all over the place. He was like “Ooo, another dog! Ooo, person! Oooo, smudge on the floor! This place is so awesome!” Finally, after lots of stops and starts, I got him to a quiet aisle to really get him focused. Pretty soon, he was walking on a loose leash like a champ. Sure, I was clicking and treating every three steps, but still, it was great.

I love taking Doppler in public. We’ve only gone one other place, a different Giant, but both times, he was surrounded by smiles. How can you not smile when you see a little wrinkly-faced puppy trotting along on his chubby little legs? Even the people who had that stressed out, long-day-at-work, don’t-wanna-be-grocery-shopping look cracked a smile when they saw him.

We spent an hour walking around Giant, practicing loose leash walking, greetings, and a few sits on a verbal cue. He was very interested in the other, older dogs who were there, but whenever we had to pass one, I made sure to click before he started to pull and then held the treat in his mouth as we walked past the other dog. That way, he didn’t pull and kept his focus.

Of course, since I was so focused on training Doppler, I didn’t even think to take any photos while we were there. I will do my best to get better at that.

All in all, I call today a successful day of self control.

Last night, we had our first puppy class with his siblings and two other puppies who recently joined SSD from Pacific Assistance Dogs Society. These classes, known as early socialization classes (ESC), are where the little puppies learn many of the basic cues, like sit, down, stay, come, and my personal favorite of the early cues: go to bed. Doppler will be in ESC until May, and then he’ll join the regular puppy classes with the rest of SSD’s dogs in training.

At this first puppy class, we worked on attention and started capturing the “sit” behavior. I have to admit, I had already put “sit” on a verbal cue, so Doppler was a champ at that one. Shaping, on the other hand, turned out to be his Achilles heel, at least for right now. Shaping is a training method where you break a behavior down into tiny steps. The dog must master each step before you move on to the next one (increasing your criteria for a click).  For this first shaping exercise, we had to get the dogs to touch their nose to an orange cone.

Okay, sure, we can handle that. I started by clicking and treating Doppler for just looking at the cone. Once he had that down, I clicked and treated him for walking toward it. Okay, great, he walked right over to it. Click, treat. Next thing I know, Doppler is trying to bite and play with the cone. He was absolutely convinced that the cone was a toy. Clearly, we were going to have to work on shaping a lot, because he certainly wasn’t getting it with the orange cone.

So, today at work, I snagged an old coffee mug and put it on the ground upside down. I figured with the extra weight, the mug wouldn’t move if he bumped it and maybe he wouldn’t think it was a toy.

It worked! Doppler was much calmer this time (probably because there were no other dogs around and it was a familiar place). I clicked and treated him for looking at the mug, then for taking one step toward it, then for several steps, and finally for touching his nose to it. Every time I clicked, he looked right at me. I treated him away from the mug so he would have to move back toward it each time. We did this shaping exercise twice while we were at work, and both times he was successful. I think I’ll bring the mug with me to ESC and use it instead of the orange cone. Set Doppler up for success with something familiar.

I’m all about setting him up for success. He’s happier, I’m happier, everyone’s happier. 

"Another photo? Can't you see I'm busy?"

Monday, February 24, 2014

Walking on Sunshine...on the Grass

So sleepy after playing non-stop with Hamlet over the weekend
Doppler walked on a new surface: grass. We’ve had so much snow on the ground, that it’s only just now that he’s gotten to experience grass. And he has no idea what to do with it. He started out walking on it, and then suddenly—crazed bunny hops! After each hop, he slammed his nose into the grass.

What he really doesn’t understand, however, is that he can get busy in the grass. He’s supposed to learn to get busy on all different surfaces—snow, gravel, asphalt, cement, mulch. And grass, the perennial favorite among dogs. Except Doppler. When I took him out and tried to restrict him to the grass, he just sat, stared at the snow, and whined. Finally, he picked one of the tiny patches of snow he could reach and took care of business.

When we tried again today, he went on the grass! Let me tell you, I made a huge deal about what a good boy he was for going in the grass. Here’s hoping that the next time, he’s more comfortable with it, because let’s face it, the snow will be gone soon. (Or it better be.)

Fire, Doppler, and Hamlet
Today was Doppler’s first time in a meeting. We went to the PawsAbilities meeting for Susquehanna Service Dogs. I knew the meeting was going to be at least an hour long, so I made sure I had plenty of treats and toys to keep him occupied under the table. Yes, I brought the bacon-flavored bone. We settled at the table away from other dogs and I put him under the table with his toys and stepped on the leash to prevent him from wandering.

He alternated between sitting under the table, playing with his toys, and trying to bite my boots and chair. Oh, and he barked a few times. Overall, though I thought he did very well for his first meeting. Naturally, he fell asleep for the last fifteen minutes. We’re going to keep working on it, and eventually, he’ll fall asleep in the beginning of the meeting instead of the end. Maybe he’ll even be like Fire and snore in the middle of the meeting. (Fire is notorious for snoring during department meetings, especially when it’s a video conference over the hyper-sensitive speakers.)

Na na na na na na na na na na na na Batman!
Doppler also wore his new collar to the meeting. He’s sporting an awesome Batman collar! I think it makes him the coolest puppy on the block. (In case you’re wondering, the collar came from LabradorableCollars. Sarah, who’s a puppy raiser for SSD, makes them, and they’re awesome. Check them out.)

And now, I’m putting in a plug for PawsAbilities. It’s one of SSD’s biggest fundraisers, and it’s tons of fun. You can take your dog and play Dog Olympic Games and fun agility. There’s a costume contest, a cutest dog contest, a parade, a cake walk, and lots of vendors. Oh, and dock diving! You can’t forget the dock diving, where dogs leap off a dock into a pool. Plus, this year, bestselling author Luis Carlos Montalván is coming to PawsAbilities. He wrote Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him, and he’ll be talking about his book and his experiences. It will definitely be worth checking out. All the details can be found at

Fire will definitely be there. Doppler might. Because I have to work during the event, I got a puppy sitter for him. It’ll depend on whether she goes to the event and takes him along.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try to take Doppler on 3-4 outings per week. I tend to be a homebody, so 3-4 will be a lot for me. So far this week, he’s gone to the PawsAbilities meeting. I’m counting it, since it was in a new building. Tomorrow, we have our first puppy class, known as early socialization classes (ESC) for the little puppies. Just for this first time, I’m counting puppy class as one of the outings, since it will be brand new for him. Then on Wednesday, we’re going to join the regular puppy classes for their outing at Giant. After that, we’ll see what the rest of the week brings.

Feet make good pillows

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Crate Time, Playtime, and a Little Cleaning

So sleepy that anything becomes a pillow

Belly rubs are the greatest!

Doppler spent a lot of time in his crate yesterday, but not because he was misbehaving. He had extra crate time as part of his house training.

I sort of figured out Doppler’s “get busy” schedule. (SSD wants pottying to be on cue, and the cue is “get busy.”) He comes out of his crate? Take him out to get busy. He eats? Take him out to get busy. He stops playing and starts sniffing around? Scoop that puppy up and take him outside.

Yesterday, however, when I took him outside for his post-dinner get busy break, he wouldn’t do anything. I think he was too excited about having a new playmate (more about that in a little bit), and he just didn’t want to waste time taking care of his business. Little did he know that if he didn’t get busy, he’d have to spend some time in his crate. I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to pee on my carpet, so into the crate he went. It’s not punishment. It’s management. 

Twenty minutes later, we tried again, with the same results. Back into the crate he went. After a third round, I decided that I’d just watch him like a hawk rather than crate him. It was getting later in the evening, and I really wanted him to sleep through the night. If you know me, you know I value my sleep and I hate being woken up in the middle of the night. So Doppler got to play and wrestle with his new playmate, Hamlet, while I kept a close watch. No accidents! He did great!

And even better, he got so tired playing with Hamlet that he slept from 10 p.m. until 5:45 a.m., and I have a feeling he would have slept longer if I hadn’t decided I was done sleeping.

Now, on to Doppler’s new playmate. Before I started raising Doppler, I watched SSD Hamlet on weekends. Hamlet is in advanced training, which means he’s on the last leg of his journey to becoming a service dog. If all continues to go well, he’ll be placed in June and become a working service dog.

The dogs in advanced training live at the kennel Monday through Friday while they’re being trained by SSD’s trainers. On weekends, they go home with their puppy raisers. Hamlet’s puppy raiser, however, lives near State College, and since the kennel is in Harrisburg, it just wasn’t possible for him to go home with his puppy raiser every weekend. I became Hamlet’s regular weekend sitter.

Hamlet and Doppler hit it off right away and immediately started playing together. I’m absolutely fascinated by the interactions between the three dogs in my apartment right now. Fire tends to hang out by himself and chew on his toy of choice while the other two chase each other around. Unless, of course, Fire decides that he’s going to play, and then he’s all in, bouncing around like a giant, mutant bunny. Last night, Fire jumped in when Doppler and Hamlet were playing tug with the squeaky snake. Little Doppler tried to keep up for about two seconds, but then he scrabbled out from the eight big dog legs and sat off to the side, just watching the two big dogs tug and chase each other around the kitchen table.

What’s really fascinating to me, though, is the way the big dogs interact with Doppler. Fire will play with the little guy and let him crawl over him, but as soon as Doppler uses his little needle teeth, Fire growls. If Doppler persists, Fire pulls out the big dog bark. The puppy is usually very good about listening to Fire’s cues to back off.

Hamlet, on the other hand, lets Doppler get away with everything. If Doppler tries to take the toy Hamlet’s chewing on, Hammie gets up and runs away, which of course, only encourages Doppler to chase him. Hamlet lets Doppler nip at him and they roll around on the floor together. Poor Hamlet hasn’t had a moment’s peace because he won’t put the puppy in his place. Right now, everyone is sleeping, but that’s just because I’m giving Doppler some crate time.

In terms of training, Doppler is learning quickly. He knows he has to sit at doors and wait for me to say “okay” before he can go through. He knows his name, as well as some variations. (I’ve been calling him “Dop-Dop.” It seems to fit him, and I think it sounds much better than “Doppy.”) And, most importantly, he comes when I call him. In fact, Doppler even comes to me when I’m vacuuming.

My parents are coming to visit today to meet Doppler, which means I vacuumed my entire apartment. Doppler needs to learn that vacuums (a.k.a loud noises and moving objects) aren’t scary things. I thought about just crating him with some awesome treats, but then changed my mind. I’m so glad I did.

I let Doppler roam free. When I opened the closet to get the vacuum, Doppler came trotting right over. After all, something new was happening. I gave him some treats as I wheeled the vacuum out and continued to treat him for investigating it and then sitting beside it, all without any prompting from me. Without turning the vacuum on, I slowly moved it, giving Doppler some treats for staying calm. Since he seemed to be okay with that, I stopped moving it, bent down to give Doppler a treat, and switched on the vacuum.

Poor Doppler jumped out of his skin. He didn’t run away, though, and I kept giving him treats. In a few seconds, he was sitting next to the strange roaring monster and staring at me, waiting for his next treat. I started slowly moving the vacuum across the carpet, still giving Doppler treats the whole time. He was a champ. After a while, he wandered off. Periodically, I called him to me while I was still vacuuming, and he came running. No problem.

Doppler’s first experience with a vacuum: complete success!

I wish I could say the same for housetraining. I think he’s peed inside as often as he did outside. Totally my fault, though. I wasn’t watching how much water he was drinking. This puppy drinks more than Fire!

Here's a fun video of Doppler playing in the snow, back when we had nice fluffy snow. A few minutes before I took this video, he had sprint-flopped through the green tunnel at least six times. I had hoped to capture it on camera, but as you can see, he was done going through the tunnel.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Who's Training Who?

The famous bacon-flavored chew toy

 Today, we’re celebrating. I’ve had Doppler for three days now, and he has gone the last two days without an accident inside. Woo hoo!

When you have a puppy, you start to measure time differently. It’s no longer “3 o’clock.” It’s “one hour since Doppler peed.” Four-thirty is no longer just 4:30 p.m. It’s “quick take Doppler outside because he just ate dinner and he’s going to poop.” Now that I know Doppler’s schedule, I’m hoping he catches on to the concept of housetraining soon. He’ll be two months old on Thursday, and I’m determined to get him housetrained as soon as possible.

Training this puppy is ridiculously fun, and training opportunities are everywhere. Even something as simple as a short walk is a powerhouse of training opportunities. (And it has the added bonus of tiring him out! Yes!) Yesterday, I took Doppler for a short walk around the City of Harrisburg on my lunch break. He walked on all the surfaces, and I mean ALL. Snow, cinder-covered ice, large and small storm grates, brick sidewalks, nubbly handicap access ramps. He didn’t hesitate once, the little champ.

As a service dog, he’ll go pretty much everywhere with his human partner. (SSD calls a person who uses a service dog a “partner.”) He’ll have to be comfortable walking over any surface without hesitating or pulling. My job is to help him experience everything, especially while he’s a little puppy sponge.

While I was typing this post, Doppler came over and sat at my feet. Okay, so technically he tried to hop up on the couch next to me, but after I guided him off, he sat at my feet. I decided to start capturing the “sit” behavior.

In case you’re not familiar with SSD’s training methods, we use clicker training. It’s a positive reinforcement method of training that uses a clicker to mark a behavior, which is then immediately rewarded with a treat, usually a piece of kibble. The dog will then continue to offer the behavior that earned him the click and treat. I love it because it’s easy. Actually, it’s the only way I know how to train a dog, since SSD taught me everything I know about dogs.

Anyway, as soon as Doppler sat, I clicked and tossed his treat a few feet away so he would stand up and have to sit again, so that I could click and treat him again. That repetition would help him figure out that I wanted him to sit, and eventually I could put it on cue.

Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. I discovered, however, that Doppler doesn’t chase treats if they’re tossed away from him. He just kept looking at me. Fire, on the other hand, had no problem finding Doppler’s treats. In fact, he tried to horn in on Doppler’s training session, and since his big head is capable of blocking out the sun, I had to send him off for an extended down-stay across the room.

Oh, well. When one thing doesn’t work, try something else, right? Instead of tossing Doppler’s treats to get him to stand up, I simply held his treats out to the side so he had to stand to reach them. Bingo! He sat again, I clicked, he stood to get his treat, he sat again, I clicked and treated—it was great. A few more sessions like that and he’ll be ready for a cue.

(In case you’re wondering, SSD only adds a verbal cue or hand signal after the dog is offering the finished behavior.)

Doppler’s learning things, and I’m learning things.

And now, I’m off to stock up on bacon-flavored chew toys. It’s the only toy that successfully diverts Doppler’s attention when he’s hell-bent on playing tug-of-war with my pants and shoes. 

Om nom nom BACON!