Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015: The year of broken glass

I planted some grass seed in October. I thought it had a couple of weeks to sprout and get a start before we had a solid freeze. But here we are, more than two months later, and today is a perfect growing day for grass!

Walking outside today, it's cloudy, and raining, and the temp is mild. I'm in a sweater, and its the end of December! No way I thought things would happen this way, but it is what it is. Come January, or maybe February, we will get slammed. I have no doubt.

But off the current surprise of the weather, I titled this post "The Year of Broken Glass". And, that is what 2015 was. Pyrex casseroles, bowls, all that. It seemed like we lost one or two a month! I didn't actually count, you know, because its not something I keep records of! But we sure swept up bits and pieces, and then vacuumed for splinters, more than once! Not to mention mopping when were done with all that, to make sure we had all the tiny sharp bits!

I don't know what it was, or why. We've gone years and years with these same pieces, and never broke a thing. All of a sudden, one drops on the floor and shatters. Another drops into the sink (a SHORT fall!), and absolutely explodes into bits! Then we take another out of the oven and it explodes. Open a cupboard, take out a round casserole and lid, drop the lid? Boom, smash! Put a nesting bowl in the fridge, then open the fridge, and the bowl jumps out and falls on the floor. Boom, smash! We lost half of our nesting bowl sets, and more than half of our casserole dishes. We lost the glass stovetop.

Had to replace the stovetop, of course, since you can't cook on a glass stovetop stove without the glass top!

Coincidence, surely. Glad that we got all thru this year without a serious splinter event!

Getting a few Christmas family newsletters, the title "The Year of Broken Glass" popped into my head. Great title! Now I only need to write a novel to back it up!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Thoughts on Amy and Andy

I've been thinking about writing a message to the adoption people locally, and in Kentucky where Amy and Andy's current journey started. I have been in touch with both, and contacted the head of the KY agency to try and discover a little background on A&A.

By the way, all in all, they are doing very well. Their health is excellent. They are happy, and their appetites are great. Their training is making progress, although sometimes it seems to be exceedingly slow. And sometimes we have moved backwards. A lot is dependent on the task.

Now that their fur has grown out, they are beautiful. I did not take them with this thought, but it is nice, when walking in a public place, and people's eyes get big, and they say "What beautiful puppies!". I can't say that doesn't do something for my ego! But they are still very nervous around strangers and in strange places. When talking to a new person on our runs, Andy will often literally hides behind me, like a child hanging on to Mother's skirts!

The reason I have been thinking about writing to the agencies is to put forth a "lessons learned". And basically, that may be this one message: it might have been better to adopt them out separately.

They are very affectionate to each other, and I suppose one could say they are "bonded". Which is certainly true. However, that same bonding, which probably kept them "sane" while surviving the previous adoption home, now works against them. When together, they have a significantly larger reaction to their sibling than they do to me, their human and their trainer. Which means that days and weeks of progress can be undone in a second.

Ideally, for me, would be to send one out to a rural family for 3 to 6 months, for socialization and training. If it were only 3 months, I might have to switch and then repeat with the other sibling. I don't exactly know. Never done the like before.

But the English Shepherd trainer that I got in touch with, second-hand? The comment I got used the word 'idiot' when talking about adopting the dogs out as a pair. Pretty harsh, eh? Well, they had not seen the dogs together, so that was certainly a generic comment. Meaning it applies in general - maybe not so much to this specific couple.

But I can see the truth in what they said. I mean, what is the most important objective here? The dogs' happiness? Or that they are happy and develop to something like their potential to work with their human compatriots? Obviously, a dog whose happiness is considered the highest priority by his humans is a spoiled dog. We don't want that.

But figuring out where the lines lie after that - that is the hard part.

Anyway, sorry, but I will have to finish this post tomorrow or the next day. See ya!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Latest photos of Amy and Andy

You can see their fur is coming in nicely! They are some of the most agile dogs we have ever had. Today Andy was squirrel-chasing and went straight up the tree when he got to it - more than the length of his body - it was amazing. I've seen little terriers do the like, but they are small! He was over 6' up that tree!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Amy and Andy, upping the training ante.

It blows me away, how much food these two eat, and don't put on the pounds. Or, at least, not in fat. As of today, Amy is up to 43.5 lbs, and Andy is a solid 48. But they are still lean, lean, lean. I have kept bumping up what I feed them by an ounce or so. They are now eating what I used to feed Klinger and Sara for maintenance.

But they do go out and burn those calories. If I ride 3 miles, they must be covering 5, anyway. Today I walk - it's raining and ugly - not primo weather for my bike. I cover just over a mile and a half. Amy goes more than 2.5 miles (she has the GPS at the moment). And some of that was at top speed, chasing rabbits.

They've been chasing after squirrels, but Amy discovered that we have rabbits a few days ago.  I will have to get control of this at some point, but they do have fun! We have plenty of rabbits, so I'm not worried about them. And so far, none have been caught (I think).

Letting them run like this does them a world of good. They really get to exercise their bodies and their instincts, and it is the only time in the day they get to do that. For sure they love it.

But I titled this post "upping the training ante". And, that is what I have been doing. I contacted some English Shepherd (ES from here on) people. The initial advice was that the best option was to separate them and put one in a separate home. Second best option was to train them separately, quote, "a LOT".

I can see why they would give this advice. They are smart dogs who need a lot of activity. They have already bonded to each other. What this means is that I am not "the boss" - they have each other, and thus I will never get them to work with me properly, not so long as they are together.

Let me give you an example. They "crib" from each other when I give a command. A couple of nights ago I told them to "leave the kitchen". Nobody is paying attention at first, and so I get nobody leaving the kitchen. I focus on Amy, and tell her to "leave the kitchen". I can see her thought pattern: "Oh, he's asking me to do something, but I wasn't really paying attention, so I'll sit. That usually works!" And she sits.  But I can see Andy's thoughts, too: "I wasn't paying attention! Whadhesay? Whadhesay?" But Amy is sitting, so then Andy sits. I never mentioned "Sit"!

They compete with each other, too. If one is going to get something, the other is right there trying to get the same thing. I've started putting them in down/stay position when I feed them. And they don't get to eat until I've put the food down and release them. I've been releasing them one at a time lately, and they find that exceedingly difficult. If one just budges a tiny bit, the other is up and dashing to the food.

The way the ES person put it: "They don't need you. They have each other. And to get good training results they have to think you are the sun and the moon and the source of all existence and anything good that is in the world." Or something like that - I do have to paraphrase a bit. I don't remember the conversation verbatim. The way some of the training gurus put it is I don't have their respect as the "leader of the pack".

The ES person also mentioned that they will not achieve their individual potential so long as they are together, as they will continue to crib, and/or follow the other's lead. And I see them "following" each other all the time.

Now, none of that is exactly true for these dogs and my situation, but there is a bunch of gold in there. I don't think anybody would be happy if we separated them - so I will have to train them separately. I've already begun to do this.

But, to get better results, I knew I needed to up my training ante. I spent literally years getting Klinger fine-tuned, and some things he never got. But we had a relationship where he would reliably work close enough to my boundaries so that I could reliably keep him safe and healthy. It has struck me that this looser target isn't quite optimal for this pair. They are too intelligent - but they still think like dogs. They are too independent - like Sara was - but they have a much higher social need than Sara did. Still, they are stubborn in that independence, like Sara was!

And these guys are adults, who came to us with a lot of habits already. Klinger was still a pup. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks, but it takes time.

So, I've been reading. Border collie stuff, Australian shepherd stuff, working dog stuff, shepherding dog stuff. All these farm collie types - the Border Collies (BC), Aus Shepherds (Aus), old Scottish Collies, etc, have a lot in common. BC are more driven, and needy that way, but they have more in common than not, I think. They are certainly none of them Labs, retrievers, hounds, or greyhound types! ES are a "landrace" breed. Meaning they were just a dog, a "farm collie", and farmer Joe over in the next town might have let in some off-breed blood so long as the pups still worked well. Or, the female got out when she was in heat, and picked the sire herself. Etc. I don't know how much free play there was, but they weren't a show breed. They were working dogs, and the personality and ability came foremost.  Some people think the Aus may be a descendant of ES bloodlines. So all these collie types are pretty closely related, with similar abilities and instincts, which is why I was going to these other breeds for training tips and behavior advice. There isn't much when it comes to English Shepherds.

As a result of my studies, I am understanding better what these two are doing - when they are being rude - when they are being insecure - etc etc. They are more complex personalities than any of our recent dogs. For instance, one thing these two seem to need to know, at least a little more than average, is "why". E.g. "You want me to sit? Why?" And anybody who has raised a teenager knows how that goes! So, if they see a car coming, they know "why", and they sit. No car coming? Forget sitting while we sniff over here. Or over there. So, I think you can see - I have to up my ante on the training front.

Back to the "separated training" advice. I have, for the past several years, only trained on an ad hoc basis. Wherever I happen to be when there is an opportune moment - we spend a minute or two on training. As it turns out, this practice  is recommended by at least some training gurus. Good for me!  :D But very difficult with these two, since they are usually together when they are with me. And they do NOT train well separately when the other is close by. I've tried that.

I have a sufficiently tolerable level of compliance to take them out off-leash. Ideally, I should start taking them out separately. However, that would just take too much time. So, I've lately been working on name-specific commands. I don't let them go out the door together - they have to sit and stay, and I release them one at a time. They don't get released together from a stay to eat dinner - they get released by name. When I go out to the shed, I might take one, not both.

Also, reading all these training gurus: Ian Dunbar, Suzanne Clothier, Nij Vyas, I've got a better handle on positive training methods. Clothier, in particular has an excellent writing technique which makes the concepts very accessible. So I'm getting better at positively reinforcing the tiny steps.

So, they are enjoying life, and they are healthy. I am enjoying them. We still have a ways to go with the training, but I do see some progress!