Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happy Birthday to the Oldest Labs in our Pack

Marius and Eponine celebrated their 13th birthday on Sat., 12 June. It was a miserable hot and humid day, so the party was mostly sedate with all Labs enjoying rawhides in the shade of the big trees. Here are some old pictures of my "babies". These two lovelies were the last puppies I kept from the last litter I bred. What will I ever do without them??

Eponine was a cutie as a pup and just as cute in her prime as these photos show. She is still adorable, but a lot more gray. I love watching her swim these days. She lolly-gaggles along barely moving her feet like a slow stroll, but her proper Labrador coat keeps her floating high like a cork. She can't hear much anymore, but otherwise is in pretty good shape and has a daily "go-dog-go" run in the midst of our pack walk.

Marius was a beautiful puppy and grew into a very handsome man who got compliments everywhere we went. He hates having his picture taken and I'm sad to say I have never gotten a really good picture of his best soft, sweet expression. Here he is having fun with his big balls - as a baby puppy and still up to the same silliness many years later. He hasn't played with the ball at all this year, his back is too weak for wild games. He was also diagnosed with Pannus in April, so he has to wear Doggles to protect his eyes on sunny days now. He doesn't like them much and they are not conducive to "ball-mania". Still, with drops his eyes are stable so he can still see enough to get around and most days his back is strong enough for a leisurely walk and drink from the pond. All in all he's a happy guy.

I named these two for favorite characters from "Les Miserables" because I was les miserable myself when I decided that would be my last litter. But I couldn't be happier about the sweet souls I got to share in my life for the past 13 years. I love you 'Ponine and Man-i-kin Babycake. Thanks for being you!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Labradors Help Artist Make Dog Art

A Labrador lover friend has been having a sad time lately and I wanted to make her a special card. She has only met my chocolate Lab Nissa so far, so I let Nissa be the model for this art project. It only took about 5 minutes to clicker train her to rest her chin on my knee and peak up at me, then hold it until the pre-set camera snapped the shot. The cropped "Before" picture is on the left. I digitally added pants and took out the messy background to create the card front "After" picture shown on the right. I thought some of you might enjoy seeing how my Labs and I work together to create my OtterTail Labrador Art. My friend loved the card. It will be available in my OtterTail Art Cards greeting card shop where you can change the inside verse to fit your occasion. Look for it in my OtterTail Art for Dog Lovers Store shortly too.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Training Tips: Showing Dogs, Teach to Focus on You, Clicker Training

A friend recently asked me about training her show dog to look at her and not focus on or try to grab the bait. There are many steps to training a show dog to free stack and show herself. Here are some basic training tips and a suggestion of how to apply them to this one step.

There are lots of ways to train anything - if one approach doesn't work for you or for one dog you can make up another way as long as you understand the principles. Basically, behaviors that are reinforced are likely to be repeated. The beauty of the clicker - used well - is that it marks the moment in a clear, concise "language". So you only need a second of the good behavior or something that is closer to the desired behavior than what you are getting to begin. You reinforce that and build on it. Think of the click as a camera shutter - take a picture of the moment you want to capture. We've all taken lots of crummy pictures in a row with one or two great ones depending on the exact snap of the camera. Click the clicker as if you were taking that great picture - the one when the dog is doing what you want, even if it only lasts a split second. Catch it with the clicker, then give the treat. You can't deliver a treat or say "good dog" with the same accuracy as you can click and the click becomes extremely meaningful to the dogs -- and they love it because it is so clear. Look at my photos. The picture on the left was what was happening only a few seconds before the picture on the right. The sweet puppy sitting politely would be the one you want to capture with the clicker. It's all about your timing.

Try this for redirecting a dog's focus - put the treats on a table within arm's reach. Problem dog will look at the treats. Wait until she looks at you instead, even if just for a second - click. Then give her one of those treats. It won't take long before she only looks at you and does not bother looking at the treats anymore because looking at the treats gets her nothing. Looking at you gets her clicks and treats.

Work up to taking a treat from the table and holding it in your hand and wait for her to make eye contact. Leave your hand by your side, not up by your face. Don't move it away from her. Close your fist around the treat and don't let her take it. Bump her if you want or just wait until she backs off for a second and looks at you - click and give her the treat. You can repeat that many times a day in all different situations, not just while working on show baiting. She will quickly learn that looking at the treat does not get her anything (if you make sure it doesn't) and trying to take the treat should NEVER result in her getting one. Really, that is just rude and disrespectful anyway, so she should learn that regardless of showing. Trying to take food from your hand gets nothing. As soon as she back her nose away the hand opens and treat is delivered. Ask for a little longer time of not touching before you deliver the click so she learns to maintain the backed off behavior. Build slowly on lots of little successes, lots of repetition. You want to add a short delay fairly soon in the process or you will inadvertently teach her that bumping your hand is what you want. Keep you final goal in mind, then dissect it into little steps. Start with the simplest little step and build up to your goal. Don't worry about what else she is doing while you are working on this - sitting, standing, wagging - doesn't matter. You are only working on getting her focus and nose off of the treat.

You can only teach one thing at a time. You can work on different things, but break up the session so she doesn't get confused. Don't try to work on tail wagging, perfect stacking, eye contact and bait attention all at once. Work on tail wagging, take a little break, then work on eye contact and forget about what the tail is doing. Later you can work on perfect foot placement, but forget about where her tail and eyes are during that session. After she learns each piece you can put it all together. You can make showing fun for her by teaching these things, then giving them to her as little jobs for which she will earn that bait she so dearly wants. She will have more fun and be more focused if she understands how to play the game and knows that she can get that reward by working for you and giving you "the right answers". You are giving her control. You are also giving her knowledge. That is much more exciting to a dog than standing there trying to dive for bait and getting kneed in the chest. It also presents a prettier picture to the judge.