Saturday, March 29, 2014

Doppler on the Go

Passed out at TJ Rockwell's
Doppler and Fire are over kennel cough! You have no idea how happy this makes me. Not only are they healthy, but now Doppler can come to work with me again. Since my coworker is raising a puppy, too, I had to leave Doppler at home while he was coughing, which means Doppler spent eight hours a day in a crate. Sure, he had a brief respite when I let him out at lunch, but then it was back in the crate. Let me tell you, when a puppy has been crated all day, sheer craziness ensues when you finally let him out.

The only good thing about kennel cough was that Fire got better a week before Doppler, so I could take Fire to work with me all day.

Since he had been quarantined, Doppler lost some of the ground he had gained in going up and down stairs. I took him to TJ Rockwell’s, a restaurant in Elizabethtown, and to get to our table, we had to go down 4-5 stairs. As soon as Doppler saw them, he backed away. Rather than spend half an hour trying to get him to go down the stairs, I just carried him down. Other than the stairs, however, our Rockwell’s outing was a smashing success.

My college friends and I always try to get together several times a year, at least every 2-3 months. When we were all at Etown College, we used to go to Rockwell’s every now and then for drinks. To be honest, it was really the only place in Etown we could go, but luckily it’s a pretty nice place, and they have an awesome deck, when it’s open. Now that we’ve graduated, it just so happens to be somewhat centrally located for all of us. Anyway, I decided to take Doppler with me for our dinner get-together.

We weren’t meeting for dinner until 6:30 (and my friend Allie and I didn’t end up getting their till after 7), which is right around the time Doppler starts getting really active. But I had a plan. Operation Take Doppler to Rockwell’s. Since he was done with kennel cough, I swapped dogs at lunch and took Doppler to work in the afternoon. Once we got home, I took him for a 30 minute walk. Then we did some training, and finally, I let him romp around with Fire. The last part of Operation Rockwell’s involved arming myself with one small bone, one bacon-flavored bone, and one bone filled with peanut butter.

As it turns out, our table at Rockwell’s was in the perfect spot for Doppler’s first restaurant outing. My seat was on the end, with my back to the wall, and there weren’t any tables next to us. Rather than force Doppler under the table, where it was very cramped and I couldn’t see him since I couldn’t push my chair back far enough to see under the table, I just asked him to lay down next to my chair. The sleepy little puppy just plopped himself right down on cue—something I wasn’t expecting since the verbal cue “down” is still pretty new for him. I gave him the bacon-flavored bone and he chomped away for a few minutes before falling asleep.

Let me tell you, I was so proud of the little guy. He slept or chewed on one of the bones the entire time. He didn’t even move when the waitress came to the end of the table to take our order. I was so impressed with him. Granted, I kept one foot on the leash so he wouldn’t have been able to get very far if he had tried, but he didn’t even try. He was awesome. 

Taking a moment to pose for the camera in between sleeping and chewing on the bacon-flavored and PB-filled bones.
And just to add to his awesomeness, he went up the stairs when we left. He just jutted his head forward and plodded ahead. Success! I’m going to have to start working on getting him to stop on individual steps. Although he’s still walking on a loose leash when he goes up stairs now, I can tell that he’s just plowing ahead in his mind until he gets to the top. There’s no stopping him. But for now, I’m going to celebrate that he went up a flight of strange steps.

This is going to be a busy weekend for the little guy. This morning, I went to David’s Bridal with my friends Allie and Sarah. Sarah needed to get a bridesmaid dress for her cousin’s wedding, and she invited us along. Naturally, I took Doppler, lots of treats, and spray cheese.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Doppler, but I certainly didn’t expect the perfectly behaved puppy that I got. I was ready for him to sniff at every single dress, maybe even try to bite a few of them. But he was perfect. He walked on a loose leash through the aisles of dresses while we selected a few dresses for Sarah to try on. While she changed, he sat in front of me. Since he was being so good, we worked on “down” and “leave it.” Wouldn’t you know, I was able to put a piece of kibble on the floor and he completely ignored it for the first time ever! He also did two textbook greetings with people. He stayed focused on my while each person petted him behind his service dog harness. 

This is his, "I'm a guy. Stop taking me to girly places." look. I'm so proud that he didn't stick his head up any of the dresses.
We're working on "leave it." You can't see it, but there's a treat on the floor near Dop Dop's head.
Oh, he did bark once, so I guess he wasn’t completely well-behaved. He tends to bark when he’s frustrated, bored, excited, playing… We’re working on it.

Tonight, my boyfriend and I are taking both dogs over to Sarah and her husband’s house. They have a cat, Tigger, and tonight’s the night that Doppler gets to meet him. Service dogs need to have zero prey drive, which means they can’t chase small animals, including cats. Dogs have been discharged from the program for being aggressive toward cats. So I figure it can only be a good thing to introduce Doppler to a cat at an early age.

Then tomorrow, we’re going wine tasting as a new winery that opened up, Spring Gate Vineyard. After our last two outings, I have high expectations for little Dop Dop.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Quarantined, But Still Training

Doppler and Fire snuggling while they're in quarantine

Doppler and Fire are under quarantine. Both of them have kennel cough. Fire got it first, and naturally, since he and Doppler play together, the little guy got it, too.

Kennel cough is similar to a cold in humans. It’s a virus, and hallmark symptom is a raspy cough that makes the dogs sound like geese. It’s highly contagious, so both dogs have been restricted to my apartment, although we still go for walks. Robotussin DM has worked miracles. Although kennel cough isn't the worst illness the dogs could get, it does mean that I don't get much sleep with the dogs waking up in coughing fits. Huge shout out to Becky for mentioning Robotussin and reminding me to read my puppy manual about kennel cough. I picked up a bottle of cough syrup and a syringe from the baby aisle. Let me tell you, almost as soon as I squirted the cough syrup into their mouths, the dogs stopped coughing. It was amazing.

Since Doppler can’t go to puppy class while he has kennel cough, we had our own private puppy class at home. He started learning the cue “stay.” SSD gave us homework worksheets with a checklist of things to do while the dog is in a down-stay. There’s a different checklist for each day. On day one, for example, Doppler had to hold his down-stay for 5 seconds before I clicked and treated him. Then 10 seconds. Then he had to stay while I took a step back, stepped right and left, clapped, counted out loud, etc. Well, that first day, we didn’t make it past the first item on the checklist. He could stay for 5 seconds, but after that, he seemed to lose interest and got up, sniffed the carpet, grabbed a toy, sniffed the carpet some more, and generally made it very clear that he didn’t feel like training down-stays.

It wasn’t until today that we actually made it through the entire checklist for day one. The trick? Cheese whiz. That stuff is magic. I figured out that I had to start our training sessions with power treats. Power treats are high-value treats that the dog really, really, REALLY loves. They should happily do almost anything for a power treat. Cheese whiz is the magic power treat for Doppler. He only gets a tiny taste each time I click, but that’s enough. He flops down on the ground and stays there.

He’s also making progress with the cue “leave it.” “Leave it” is the cue used to tell the dog to ignore whatever thing has their attention, whether it’s food on the floor, paper, pills, another dog, a person, etc. It’s actually one of the most important cues the dog learns, next to “come.” Both cues can save the dog’s life. As a service dog, Doppler will go everywhere with his partner, and he cannot turn into a vacuum in restaurants or movie theaters, scarfing down any food on the floor. But let’s say his partner uses a wheelchair or can’t bend over to pick things up. If his partner were to drop pills on the floor, Doppler would need to ignore them until someone else came to pick them up. A solid “leave it” would save his life.

To train “leave it,” I hold a piece of kibble in a closed fist at Doppler’s nose height. As soon as he stops licking my hand and looks at me, I click and give him the treat. Once he’s doing that reliably, I put the treat in my open palm, clicking and treating when he maintains eye contact with me. It’s funny to watch the little guy learn. He gives me such an intense look, like he’s concentrating so hard on watching me and not the treat.

Oh, I almost forgot! Doppler is conquering the stairs! He no longer barks at them, and he’ll even go down those three little steps at work! One of my friends suggested putting stairs on cue, so I decided to give that a shot. I actually paired that with Amanda’s suggestion of dropping treats at the top of the stairs, and it worked like a charm. I put stairs on the cue “steps” at my apartment, where Doppler happily went up and down the carpeted stairs. Once he was reliably doing that, I used it on those three little steps at work. First, though, I put a handful of treats down on the top step. Doppler scarfed them down, and then I gave him the cue “steps.” He hesitated at first, but then he stepped down the first step. I threw that little dog a party of treats and praise. When I gave him the cue “steps” again, he went down the next two stairs. Another party of treats and praise! I had to laugh, then, because he wanted to go back up the stairs and do it again. We did that short flight of stairs several times throughout the day, and he did it without barking each time.

We also had success with the scary flight of stairs going up to each floor of the office. Doppler was actually refusing to even enter the stairwell. I would open the door and cue him to go on through, which he does promptly at any other door. Instead of going through, though, he backed away.

I didn’t want him to be afraid of the stairwell, so I opened the door and threw a handful of treats on the landing. Although he hesitated at first, Doppler eventually went in and ate the treats. That’s all I asked him to do. As soon as he finished eating, we left the stairwell and took the elevator to my desk on the 5th floor. The next time we went outside, I did the same thing. I opened the door to the stairwell, threw in a handful of treats, and let Doppler eat them. That time, I also put some treats on the first step. After he ate, we left and used the elevator.

The third time, once he ate all the treats, I used the cue “steps.” In the stairwell, there are two steps up to a second landing before a longer flight of stairs, and I just asked him to take those two steps. He did it! We had a party of treats and praise, which I’m sure the entire building heard because sound echoes in that stairwell. No matter. I was proud of the little guy. I put some treats at the top of the two stairs, let him eat them, and then I carried him out of the stairwell. He wasn’t quite ready to go down these scary stairs.

The next time we went in the stairwell, Doppler did the stairs all the way to the second floor! Woo hoo! We still haven’t gone down, but he’s starting to at least look down the stairwell and act like he’s actually considering going down them. And every time we pass the stairwell, he pulls like he wants to go in there. Eventually, I’ll have to fix this pulling toward the stairwell, but I would much rather have a dog who’s enthusiastic to go up and down those stairs than a dog who’s scared of them. And since he doesn’t pull up or down the stairs, I’m not overly worried about it. I just hope that he remembers he likes the stairs when the quarantine is lifted. 

Doppler's getting big. He actually hulked out of his harness and had to get the next size up.

My coworkers aren’t going to recognize Doppler when he gets back to the office. He’s growing like crazy, getting that lankiness puppies get before they fill out. At his vet appointment on March 18, Doppler was 24 pounds. I’m guessing he’s probably 26-27 pounds by now. He’s going to be a big dog, and I love it. Because I’m assuming he’s going to be huge and strong, I’m not taking any crap from him. I don’t put up with any pulling on the leash whatsoever. He never gets anything if he pulls toward it. Interesting smell in the grass? He can only sniff it if he walks toward it on a loose leash. His sister Flurry is at the end of the sidewalk? He can only get close to her if he walks on a loose leash. If he pulls, I walk backward until he comes back to me. He gets a click and a treat once we’re walking forward again on a loose leash. It seems to be working nicely. Doppler is pretty good at walking on a loose leash.

I’m anticipating that our first puppy class back will be challenging, since Doppler won’t have been around other dogs for a few weeks. I’m planning to go armed with lots of power treats and patience.

Here’s hoping Doppler (and Fire) kick this kennel cough quickly!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Getting To Be a Big Dog

So many cool toys, but...can we go home now?

I love love love that Doppler now goes to the door when he needs to go out. It’s great—as long as I see him do it. There have been a few times when I only saw him walking back from the door area, and then suddenly, piddle on the floor. But for the most part, house training has been going great.

Doppler is growing like crazy. There are days when I swear he goes to bed one size and wakes up bigger. He’s now as long as his current crate. I estimate that he has about two to three more weeks with this crate, maybe an entire month. He’s the big guy of his litter, which I absolutely love. 

Little crate, big dog
His training has also been coming along nicely. It’s funny, though, how you can change one seemingly tiny thing in the environment and suddenly your dog acts like they have no idea what to do. Take Doppler and stairs, for instance. He used to bark several times before going down my apartment stairs. We had gotten to the point where he only grumbled about 50% of the time we went down the stairs at home.

Move to the three short, yet wide, steps leading from the back door at work, however, and Doppler becomes a barking machine. He pulls out his big, tough guy bark for those little stairs before he goes down them. You would think that because these stairs are more Doppler-sized, he would have an easier time handling them. Nope. He has to bark loudly at least two to three times before he’ll go down.

I realized that these stairs aren’t carpeted like my apartment stairs, which makes a huge difference in his world. Carpeted stairs? Sure, fine, whatever, only need to sometimes bark at those. Tiled stairs? WHAT ON EARTH IS THIS?

Amanda, Susquehanna Service Dog’s training coordinator, suggested dropping a handful of treats at the top of the stairs, so it would seem like the stairs were giving him the treats. Well, that didn’t work like I had hoped. I tried it a few times, but it actually caused him to bark more, and since I have neighbors in my apartment complex and people often hold meetings in the room near the three little stairs at work, I couldn’t have him barking every time we needed to go down stairs.

So I decided to shape him to go down the stairs. First, I clicked him just for looking at the top step, then for stepping forward, then for going down the first step. He continued—quietly—down the rest of the steps. Success! He got a jackpot of treats and tons of praise. He went down the little stairs at work quietly once, and so far today, he has gone down my apartment stairs silently every time. Woo hoo! (He’s also getting big enough to go down the stairs like a big dog—one foot on each stair rather than bunny hopping up and down.)

Hamlet is visiting this weekend, so I currently have three dogs hanging out in my apartment. Doppler is slowly learning how to play like a big dog. How do I know this? Fire will actually play with him. Fire will not put up with puppy nips. He asked for—no, demanded—Doppler’s respect right from the get go. If Doppler used his sharp little needle teeth, he growled and barked at him. And Doppler backed off. 

Now, however, Doppler will pay tug with a toy, instead of trying to play tug with Fire’s face. Here's a video of Fire and Doppler playing.

And he plays tug with Hamlet about 30% of the time rather than just trying to nip and pull at the fat on his face and neck 100% of the time. It’s great. Here's Doppler playing with Hamlet like a big dog. 

I especially love that Hamlet can catch a nap without me having to put Doppler in his crate. Since Hamlet is in advanced training and works hard learning to be a service dog during the week, he tends to be extremely sleepy on the weekends. Instead of having to play with Doppler the whole time (because Hamlet will never turn down an opportunity to play), he can catch those extra Zs he needs.

All three dogs sleeping, or at least relaxing

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Today, Doppler and I had a breakthrough in learning/training the cue “down.” I had thought it was going to take a long time for him to finally get it. SSD trains “down” by first having the dog sit. Then, holding a piece of kibble by the dog’s nose, you slowly lower your hand. The dog follows your hand down and you click as soon as the dog’s forelegs hit the floor. After luring the dog (using treats is called “luring”) three times, you do it without a treat, and the dog continues to follow your hand down.

Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Doppler would either pop up out of his sit and stretch his neck down to get the treat, or he would look at me blankly once I stopped luring him. I could practically hear the thoughts in his head: “No treat in nice lady’s hand. Gonna keep sitting here. Sitting gets me treats. Want treats. Gonna sit till I get treats.”

It was frustrating, because “down” seems like such a basic cue, but I kept working with him. We did very short training sessions. I would lure him three times, and then sometimes only manage one un-lured down before ending the session.

Today, however, he finally got it. On a whim, I decided to try giving him the hand cue without using a lure at all. Wouldn’t you know, he plopped himself right down on the floor! And did he ever get a party! He got several treats and lots of praise. When I gave him the cue again, plop! right down on the floor again. We repeated this about eight times. I think he would have made it to 10, if Fire hadn’t come over and distracted him. Success!

Fire was funny to watch during Doppler’s training session. He stayed in a down right by my side, but I ignored him, because I wasn’t working with him. Well, poor Fire was just drooling away, and I guess he finally decided he needed to try something else. The big guy got up and retrieved the sugar spoon I had given Doppler a few days ago, and brought it right to me. Guess he thought if he upped the ante and retrieved something, he’d get a treat. (He did, although I didn’t click him for it.)

Doppler has been playing with the sugar spoon for several days now. He loves to chew on it on the dog bed. As a service dog, he’s going to need to be comfortable putting cloth, plastic, metal, wood—almost anything—in his mouth. Since I seem to have a surplus of sugar spoons, I figured he might as well get used to metal. He loved it! The video is him going nuts the first time I gave it to him. 

Our next challenge is the play retrieve. You’d think, since he’s a Labrador RETRIEVER that he’d happily chase toys and bring them back. Well, he’s happy to do it once, but when I give him a treat to reward him for bringing it back, he then just sits in front of me, trying to get more treats. I’m going to just try verbal praise, although I’m not sure how well that will work to get him to let go of the treat. We’ll keep working on it.

Doppler is a crazy barking machine, but he has significantly reduced the amount of barking he does when he goes up and down the stairs. I’ve been giving him treats when we get to the top of the stairwell, but I suspect that it has less to do with the treats and more to do with the fact that he’s getting bigger and the stairs don’t look as scary. Doppler is definitely the big guy of his litter. People don’t really believe me when I tell them he’s 11 weeks old. When we were out and about yesterday, we saw a lot of surprised faces once people learned how old he is.

Since PawsAbilities was this weekend, I took off work yesterday and today. (PawsAbilities was awesome. If you didn’t go this year, you better plan on going next year. I can’t wait to take Doppler.) Doppler spent the weekend at the sitter, and he was wonderful for them. I’m so proud of the little guy for being so good. Anyway, since I didn’t have to work, I took Doppler to Crossfit717, Target, and Christmas Tree Shops—at least two new places for him.

At Crossfit717, we watched people work out. There was running in the workout, so we worked on not trying to chase people. Doppler quickly realized that he wasn’t going with them, and he just sat and watched them. Then we went inside and he walked on Astroturf for the first time. The little guy didn’t even hesitate, and even better, he didn’t assume it was grass and try to pee on it! Music was blasting inside, but it didn’t even startle him. He just looked around as if trying to figure out where it was coming from, and then kept trotting along at my side. I showed him the kettle bells (which Fire thinks are pillows). Doppler got to meet Coach Dan and my 5:30 a.m. workout buddy, Wayne. Doppler’s funny when he does greetings. He gets this blissful expression, like he so happy to be petted by people. One thing we’ll be working on is keeping his attention on me. He sits nicely for the greeting, but he keeps facing the other person. 

After 15-20 minutes at Crossfit717, we headed out to Target. I got a cart, since I needed to get a big container for Doppler’s food. Plus, then he could get more experience walking next to a cart. He did pretty well, although he did try to hop up on the rack beneath the cart. Next, we headed to Christmas Tree Shops to stock up on spices. He walked on a loose leash like a champ and did a pretty good job ignoring all the people who kept saying “Awwww!”

Once we got home, the little guy crashed and spent the next hour or so snoozing away in his crate. 

(In this video, Doppler is snoring at work, not at home. Different location, same thing. If I didn't hear it myself, I'd never have believed such noise could come out of a sleeping puppy.)