November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Ruby and I are thankful that we found each other this summer, for all the people who made it possible and all of you who are following along.

May your day be filled with gratitude, deliciousness and love. Lots of love. 

November 26, 2013

Semantics: A Sit by Any Other Name

In adding to Ruby's behavior repertoire, one of my biggest stumbling blocks is figuring out what cue to use, and sticking to it.  Being a great lover of words, perhaps I give it too much thought, but I want the cue to make sense, be easy to say, easy to remember, distinct and consistent.  Some tricks are even on hold until I decide what to name them!

"Sit" is an easy one.  "Down" is pretty self-explanatory, too, but one must remember to use a different cue when you want the dog to get down from the couch or from jumping up.  "Off" is a great cue for that.  I chose "paw" over "shake," because I usually don't actually shake the paw.  Ruby has a trick where she sits in a begging position with her front paws resting on my offered forearm, and this is called "arm." "Roll over" - also easy.  Some teach their dogs to "play dead" - I find this a little morbid and think that even if she doesn't know the meaning in real life, at least she can play the part of "relax" by laying flat with her head down.  For wave we use "bye-bye" in a squeaky voice - I think the voice is a must! 

My first naming mistake came when I was trying to teach Ruby to give me her tug toy by saying "let go."  A few days in, I realized that would not work since I also use "let's go" to move off formally on-leash! I thought I should distinguish between giving up something that I'm hanging on to also from dropping something to the floor ("drop it," which we've made very little progress with) - "give" is an option, of course, but it sounds a little like "leave it" to me (although the goal is similar, so is there any harm in it?).  I finally settled on "release!" but if I'm being honest I probably only remember to say "release" about half the time, instead reverting to our original confusing  "let go" command which she seems to respond better to, anyway!

While working to capture the play-bow behavior, I dismissed "bow" as sounding too like "down," and initially decided to call it "yoga" for its resemblance to the downward dog position, but because Ruby does it with such exuberance I think it needs a less meditative descriptor.   "Take a bow," perhaps?

You know that cute butt-in-the-air, pretzelly thing dogs do when they greet you, or with a toy in their mouth? Like a play-bow with a Cirque du Soleil-style twist?  My grandfather had an Airedale, Juno, who did it on the command of "do your ostrich" - how perfect is that? It's something I hope to perfect with Ruby, too.

My childhood dog, Poppy (an Airedale mix, they were a family favorite), dug on command ("dig, dig, dig!").  She was the most excellent fort excavator and salamander-finder.  Since Ruby greatly enjoys digging in the one small strip of dirt on my patio, this is not something I plan to encourage!

Even though I've taught "leave it" by encircling Ruby with a ring of kibble while she holds a watchful down-stay, this useful command slips my mind out in the real world.  When her nose is glued to the ground on a rabbit trail, I so often call "Ruby!" "No!" "Come on!" before remembering her "leave it" command, which sometimes actually works to snap her out of terrier delirium and returns her to my side, probably thinking "why didn't you say so?"

The recall is one of the most important things to train, and our obedience school teacher (before we flunked out, a post for another time) suggested that we use "here" instead of "come."  We do not have many opportunities to work on recall off-leash outside the house, and as emphasized in The Power of Positive Dog Training, I don't want to ask for it if I'm not reasonably certain Ruby will in fact come running, but I have settled on "here" as our command.  Recently though, I've noticed that I say "here" a lot when I'm handing out treats - a carrot end from my salad preparation, for example.  Is this necessarily a bad thing?   She then associates the word "here" with yummy treats, but I can't help feeling I'm muddying the cue waters.

Ruby's current vocabulary list is here if you're interested - I've limited it to cues that illicit tricks/behaviors - I've no doubt she knows a great many more words, such as "cookie," "walk," "car," and "stop pestering the poor old kitty" (notice that one is not on her list, though...) 

What are some creative cues you've used, or some trouble you've run in to picking or sticking to just the right word? 

November 22, 2013

Five Ways Ruby Made Me Proud This Week

~ Held a down-stay while the cat exited the room right behind her

~ Performed "sit," "paw," and even the newly-learned "bye-bye" (wave) for a stranger (vet tech) in a strange place 

~ Learned a new behavior - "paws up" despite initial suspicion of the step-stool

~ Walked on a loose leash wearing only her flat collar with frequent auto-sits and auto-watch check-ins

~ Did not chase all the rabbits

November 21, 2013

TbT: Bad Dogs Are the Best Dogs

I have been thinking about and missing my Norwegian Elkhound, Freya, lately (you can read a little more about her on my Pack in the Sky page).  I've even called Ruby "Freya" by mistake a few times, which is odd as they look nothing alike, and Ruby is a very different dog personality-wise.  The only things they really share in common are leash-reactivity (though Freya's was only dog-triggered and Ruby's includes anything that moves) and some fearfulness (one of Freya's many nicknames was "Afraida" as she was literally scared of flies. A moose-hunter she was not).

I lost both Freya and my other dog, Lasya, this July, only ten days apart.  I will write more about Lasya in the future - she was my first dog of my own and gave me little preparation for the larger canine challenges to come as she was so naturally good, nearly perfect.  Freya sounded like a screeching Banshee every time we encountered another dog on a walk.  She snapped at several people in my home.  She had to wear a muzzle at the vet's office.  She was the cause of two trips to the emergency room for poor Lasya.  She was not an easy dog.  Why, then, is it Freya that is on my mind more?   I feel a little guilty that this is the case, but there is something to be said for the dogs that take us out of our comfort zone - there is a saying about that being where the magic happens.

While Lasya was independent and self-sufficient, it always felt like Freya truly needed me.  The way she looked up at me with those dark brown liquid eyes - it was clear that I was her favorite, and it's hard not to be flattered by that.  Freya didn't care where she went or what she did, as long as it was with me.  Freya taught me how to creatively avoid other dogs, how to manage a dog that is wary of strangers and one with food-guarding behavior, and most importantly, how to love the imperfect dog.  She is in my heart on this first real snowy day in Colorado, and every day. 

November 19, 2013

Ruby Reviews: Cloud Star Tricky Trainers

The nice people at Cloud Star sent Ruby a selection of their Chewy Tricky Trainer and Crunchy Tricky Trainer treats to review, and she was more than happy to sample the chewy version in all three flavors (Cheddar, Salmon and Liver) and the crunchy version in Cheddar and Salmon while working on some new tricks over the weekend.

Both the chewy and crunchy versions are wheat and corn free with a small list of quality ingredients.  They are made in the USA and Cloud Star has been around since 1999.  The packaging is adorable - what is cuter than a dog riding a bicycle?

The crunchy treats are a lovely size, and while they are not as aromatic and attention-getting as the chewy treats, I find they make a perfect goodie for trick training inside the house.  Ruby especially liked the cheddar flavor, and we used them for teaching "paws up" on a step-stool, and "over" and "under" with my foot propped on the stool.  With a mere six ingredients, the first being dried cheddar cheese, I feel confident that these are a healthy way to get that tail wagging. 

Ruby considered the chewy treats, particularly the liver flavor, of high enough value for taking on the road and using for leash-walking rewards.  They can be broken into even smaller pieces if needed.  Ruby was very focused on earning as many as possible! They are sweetened with maple syrup and the first ingredient is chicken liver.  The other two flavors have similarly outstanding ingredients.  They don't contain any artificial colors, flavors or byproducts. I think they will be making a regular appearance in our treat jar.

This post has been updated - the original version contained a giveaway which has ended. 
Disclaimer: I was provided Cloud Star treats in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own and I only publish reviews for products I feel comfortable using in the day to day life of my pets.

November 12, 2013

The Dog You Need

To celebrate Ruby's maybe-birthday yesterday, I decided to take her for a hike.  Initially we planned on just going out to a rural area where we could walk some wide, gravel roads with pretty scenery, but I ended up stumbling across a hidden gem of an open space area, really almost too good to be true.

We met only one other person at the start, a woman walking a three-legged buff-colored Pomeranian.  I could tell that we were likely going to intersect, but I wasn't sure which way was she was going so I didn't change our course, just kept Ruby on the opposite side of the road as they exited the open space area.  They turned our way so we were walking parallel for a short time, although I picked up our pace to get ahead.  I was so proud of Ruby as we passed - she was interested but not reacting - but after we got in front the Pomeranian started barking  and Ruby could no longer contain herself.  She started straining at her leash and barking, and I broke into a jog and led us off the road. 

It was then that I noticed the county sign that designated the area as public access, so in a way we have the yappy Pomeranian to thank for our discovery.  I kept feeling like we were trespassing, that this beautiful respite in its transitory shades of rust and gold under a brilliant Colorado blue sky couldn't possibly be ours alone for the wandering... A little footpath gently wove around the edge of a ravine, into a pine forest, over a slick rock ridge and across a meadow with a cattail marsh at the bottom.

Ruby was a different dog in this setting.  I didn't ask much of her, as I wanted her to be able to relax and enjoy herself. Her terrier side definitely took over as she kept her nose to the ground for most of the time.  We listened to the calls of red-winged blackbirds from the reeds and dogs barking in the distance.  I truly felt she was in her element, not worried about traffic or strangers or the constant noise of the suburbs, and began to fantasize about a life in the country. As Ruby panted happily and explored the terrain with all her senses, I felt my own stress melt away.

Driving home with her curled contentedly in the back seat I realized that if Ruby were the "take anywhere" dog that I had initially hoped to adopt, we would not have traveled off the beaten path to find the swath of land that felt like our very own for an hour or so, that reminded me how much I love following my feet into the woods behind a wagging tail.  

November 11, 2013

Happy Birthday(ish)!

Ruby was around nine months old when I adopted her in August, and I love the number eleven, so 11/11 seems like the perfect day for Rubilee P. Underfoot to turn one!

November 8, 2013

Five Things I Love About Ruby

  • the little beauty mark on her eyelid on the white side of her face

  • the gleeful way she runs through the house with a pair of socks she's stolen from the laundry

  • the quiet "boof" she uses when I ask her to speak - if only this was always her indoor voice!

  • the way she crawls under the covers and curls up by my side every morning

  • her sweet pink freckled belly

November 5, 2013

Fall Back

The return to standard times means weeknight walks in the dark for Ruby and I.  While my neighborhood is fairly well lit, we'll probably be staying closer to home as it gets darker and colder.  We will likely see fewer triggers, particularly bikes and skateboards, but the rabbits are out in full force! (Although she wants to chase them desperately, I don't really consider rabbits a "trigger.")

On one of the first chilly evening walks, I noticed Ruby was shivering.  Coming from the south as she did, and with a fairly sleek and thin coat, I decided she would need a winter wardrobe.  She hates the sound of the Velcro on her waterproof jacket, but got the hang of getting her legs through the leg-holes of her sweaters very quickly.  She's quite sure that the sweater inhibits walking normally in the house, but soon forgets about it when we head outside.

Abbreviated walks mean extended indoor training sessions!  Ruby can now ring her doorbell on command ("ring ring") but has yet to associate it with asking to go out.  I have no doubt we'll get there, and she already gets my attention with a distinct whine, so it wasn't even a necessary tool, just another thing to teach this sharp, busy girl!  "Roll over" seems to have regressed - she gets so excited that she sort of flings herself around and scoots in a circle.  We are working on a more useful cue, "relax," which means lay flat on her side with head down.  As with most of her tricks and cues, she continues to impress me by having a grasp on it after only two or three days.  We have also started "bye bye," a wave with her paw.  She is very "handsy" as it is and it is not at all difficult to get her to touch or paw at things.  She really enjoys her new trick, "over," in which I tip a dining room chair on its side and she springs back and forth over it.  If we could just tap in to more focus, this girl is a shoe-in for agility.  I still want to get a hula hoop and build a some sort of little jump for her.

As we gear up for winter, Ruby and I will be cozying up to stay warm and expanding her trick and training repertoire.  How does your routine change with the season?