I still have Miss Kestral and she continues to steal my heart. Much to my surprise, we actually had a working home put in an application for her. That made for a tough call. The home sounded quite good, but I couldn’t shake the feeling in my gut that she needs to stay here. This feeling is too strong to ignore, so I turned them down. I’m still undecided about her long-term destiny, but she definitely is meant to be here right now.
Kess continues to bloom and change daily. She is showing more confidence, and more consistent behaviour, which tells me I am finally seeing the dog who was so hidden when I first took her in. She is running with my pack nearly full-time when I am home now, although I always crate her when I leave the house, both for her safety (Ross is still a bit cranky with her) and for my cats (she continues to obsess over them, although that diminishes considerably after she’s had a run and some training).
Today she lunged at one of my cats to get him to run. I don’t mind her staring at the cats (well, actually I find it very annoying but correcting her for it wouldn’t accomplish anything constructive) but I do not allow any aggressive physical contact. So when she lunged and nipped him, I jumped up, scooped her up in my arms, marched her across the living room and plopped her in her crate. Only after I did that did I remember that she had a full bladder. Amazingly, she did not empty it. I was not aggressive or angry in my actions, but it was still a strong correction and even a week ago she would have peed all over me for picking her up like that. Today she was fine. That means she is feeling a lot more comfortable and confident with me.
Just an aside, I know many people who would grab a dog’s collar to move it under such circumstances. This is not something I believe in doing. I work at desensitizing collar handling so that it is possible to grab my dogs’ collars without them reacting, but I think moving them by their collars is too aggressive. Even pulling them slightly puts pressure on the windpipe and starts to choke them, and I do not like the idea of choking my dogs. So I teach them all to follow my hand (I start with a hand touch and build from there). They will all move this way to wherever I direct them under most circumstances. If they are stubborn for any reason, and a few nose touches to my hand don’t get them moving, I simply pick them up. They seem to find this much less threatening than being grabbed by the collar. I also work at picking up all my dogs on a regular basis, and they are quite comfortable with this.
I’ve been doing a little training with Kess this week, mostly on getting her to retrieve. While she would chase a toy if I threw it, she would then run off with it, tossing it around and playing by herself. To change this, I play the following game. First, I clip an old nylon leash to a holee roller (I just love those balls!), toss it around in my hands so she gets all excited about it, then I throw the ball. Once she gets to it and grabs it, I turn and run the other way. She immediately comes running back to me, at which point I grab the leash, reel her in and play tug for a bit. Then I ask her to ‘out’, wait for a sit (without saying anything), then release and toss the ball, and start all over again. I intermingled this with having her trade the ball for some dried liver. I love that this dog is both food and toy motivated, seemingly equally. After just three 5-10 minute sessions she started bringing the toy to my feet and dropping it.
Even though I am just playing fetch with her, this exercise builds quite a few skills we will need down the road: 1) I am becoming the source of fun, rather than the toy; 2) building her recalls and desire to be with me; 3) confidence in tugging; 4) learning to turn her drive on and off instantly; 5) out-ing upon request; 6) offering the sit; 7) switching between toys and food for a reward. I do my best to make all training fun and games like this.
I brought my my favourite training books with me on this trip, to review and put together a training plan and schedule for Kess and the others. While I’m sure we’ll still get more snow this winter, I feel like we’re over the hump and heading towards spring. I’m getting training fever and wanting to get back into the swing of things. I was going to start renting that agility arena, but I won’t bother just yet if I can train at home. I need to refresh both my and the dogs skills before we start getting back onto equipment. I have plenty we can do at home for now, and once that gets boring, we’ll rent the arena.