Saturday, 31 March 2012

Long Lake

Yesterday afternoon we decided to take the dogs out to Long Lake, one of Nova Scotia Provincial Parks, to walk the dogs. We've been to Long Lake on a couple of occasions, twice shortly after adopting Scout and once when Kobi was a puppy. Normally we walk in down the path from the parking lot along the trail, but quickly get a little disappointed because of how short it is. The beauty of Long Lake, and also it's downfall, is it's more about trekking through the trails in the woods than it is about walking along a path. So if you want to explore and wander in the woods with your dog, Long Lake is the place for you. If you want to walk along maintained paths and not have to constantly watch for roots and puddle and rocks, than somewhere like Point Pleasant or Shubie Park in Dartmouth is the way to go.
This picture was from when we went when he was about 4 months old.
Because Long Lake is through wooded trails, it is much easier to explore if your dog is already capable of loose leash walking, or reliable off leash. Scout remained on leash the entire, but mostly because of his declining sight it's harder for him to navigate on his own. Kobi started on leash. We weren't comfortable letting him off leash around some of the other dogs there, also we wanted to be far enough in away from the road before letting him off. Because Kobi is still learning to walk off leash, trying to not let him pull in a stimulating new environment was tough. We also never let him completely off leash, we allowed him to drag his leash, reason being, Kobi and water are magnets. Even in the dead of winter, Kobi must go in water. We're starting to think getting him to swim so young wasn't the smartest choice. At one point I was taking a shot of a fallen tree with some incredible roots and Kobi slipped off through the woods, followed by splashing, he was in the water.

So if you're looking for an off leash adventure and don't want to walk the same old paths, Long Lake is the place to go. I'm hoping to go back there more when Kobi is a bit older and more reliable. Also do keep in mind parking is very limited at Long Lake. On an off day (weekday afternoon on a foggy/rainy day) the parking lot can get full leaving the only available parking along the side of St. Margrets Bay Rd. which can be nerve racking enough without dogs, but do use extra caution when getting them out of the car, being aware of the very close traffic.

Happy Walking!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Therapy Dog at the NS Safety Conference

Scout is back to his usual self again. So much so that when a last minute call went out for volunteers to help out at the Therapy Dog table at the NS Safety Conference we jumped at the chance. Since Scout retired from Therapy Dog work last year we've be diligent about continuing to attend the promotional events, I love them and Scout loves them. Scout loves them so much he often becomes a traffic speed bump by laying down right in the middle of an aisle of exhibitors in an attempt to say "Ha! You want to continue walk? First a tummy rub is required, then you shall pass!" For this particular event Therapy Dog was in attendance with the rest of St.John's Ambulance, normally Therapy Dog focuses on dog or pet specific event as well as some senior wellness expo's as most the facilities we visit cater to senior care. Regardless of the event, I enjoy getting to tell Scout's story and show him off, well actually he's pretty good at showing himself off.
Scout after a couple hours of Therapy work snoozes happily for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

First Portrait in Over a Month!

Yesterday I worked on and finished my first portrait since breaking my collar bone. (It may not be a pet portrait but it's a portrait none the less). It took me about 6 hours to complete and aside from small breaks I worked on it the entire 6 hours. It was done for a friend of mine for her grandmothers birthday today. It's a picture of her grandparents at the train station in Montreal on their way to Halifax in 1947. The original picture was tiny so blowing up the image to a 5X7 took a lot of care and attention to detail.
I always find this halfway stage interesting, especially when drawing two figures, having one come into the 3 dimensional world while the other is still flat and cartoony.
This is the finished image, just showing the difference between the drawing size and photo size.

The final scanned drawing. I always find the scans never look as good, it has a tendency to bring out the grain from the paper, but short of a new dedicated scanner, it's fine for now.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


Scout seems to be feeling better. He's eating small amounts, taking treats from us again and drinking small amounts of water. He is peeing just fine (smaller amounts than usual though) but still has yet to poop. We're keeping a close eye on him. There is still a little bit of grunting here and there but his face has come back to life, he isn't an uncomfortable lump on the floor anymore, that being said he's still reluctant to get up unless there is a good reason. He's interested in getting outside.
Kobi and I went to class again last night, last night was the night where we work on the side lines of another class and work on keeping him calm and quiet. Sunday night and the last couple of weeks he's been amazing, I've been very proud of him. Last night though was a disaster. He was showing a lot of behaviors I have never before seen from him and really wasn't sure how to handle them and didn't do a very good job at handling them. He was much more riled up and playful than he's ever been before. He kept running around with his leash in his mouth, he would bark mostly out of frustration rather than barking at other dogs. I got him to do some nose touches to my hands and he was violently ramming his nose into my hands and barking as he did it. I had a friend come with me last night to help and I'm wondering if that's what caused all this new behavior. He's not used to working for people other than me and having someone else giving him treats may have been confusing for him. I'm very appreciative for the help but maybe I'll try again on my own next week and see how he is.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Yesterday was an intensely long day. Sunday's we always go to Point Pleasant park in the mornings, usually we go with my fiance's father and his dog Beau, but this week they couldn't come. Kobi was a little lost without Beau around and needed to get leashed for the remainder of his walk, but we turned it into an opportunity to work on his loose leash walking and he did incredibly well.
Once we got home we settled down to work on our new kitchen island (bye bye training space...), but noticed Scout was grunting a lot and couldn't seem to get comfortable. He is usually the type to flop right on his side and stay there. We also noticed he was drooling profusely, and this is a dog that never drools.
We called the emergency vet and they said it sounded like "Bloat", so we headed over and spent about 4 hours there. We left with no certain answers about his discomfort, they noticed he had a very enlarged prostate but did not appear cancerous and was not connected to his abdominal discomfort. They also noticed his stomach was still full with breakfast which may indicate a blockage so we were sent home with a very very sleepy and confused Scout and told to closely monitor his food input and output.
After all that Kobi and I still had to go to class last night. He surprised me with how well he did, very little barking and pulling towards other dogs, even when coming in and out of class. What impressed me most was Kobi let our trainer walk right up and pet him! All three times he popped his back foot up in the air as she came close to entice her into rubbing his tummy, then he would flip right onto his back and get his tummy rub.
When we got home Scout had a small pee and did eat some food, but I did notice he managed to eat it without chewing a single piece. I'm wondering if he's been doing this a lot and that's what caused the problem. He still hasn't used the bathroom, not last night or this morning, but he seems to be more comfortable and we just need to keep a close eye on him.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Puppy Photo Shoot

A couple of weeks ago I decided to finally redeem a free photoshoot I had won with Wyse Photography at the seniors expo last summer (I was there promoting Therapy Dog).

Let's just say it was an interesting day. I wanted more pictures of Scout where he is aging, but Scout was only interested in sleeping. 

 My shoulder was still very sore when we got these done, so trying to get the dogs to come and sit with me was very difficult. Scout would flop over then Kobi would get up and run to the photographer whenever she made funny sounds to get their attention.
In the end I do love the photos. I knew this would happen in that I had only won a single 5X7 but left with 8 8X10's because there were so many shots that I loved, but my wallet didn't.

 I thought the team at Wyse Photography did a fantastic job, they certainly know the tricks for getting great shots of pets. I've taken photography classes from them and have worked many of the same promotional events and always loved their work and working with them. I actually have a 15% discount offered to any clients of Wyse Photography of off a customized pet portrait.

As much as I did love the quality of work they did, I will admit I was a little annoyed at their package options. They do not have them posted online and they will not discuss them with you prior to the shoot knowing full well you'll want more shots than you planned and opt for a bigger package. They give out promo material stating packages start at $20 but when there I couldn't even find that option. I was looking at spending no more than $100 and even that was double what I wanted to pay, in the end I left having pad $150 and had to really haggle to get what I wanted and still fell like I left with a ton of prints I will never need. I prefer to have digital images as I have high quality printers to print my works. Also I have very limited space on my walls seeing as how they are currently covered with artwork so I have no where to put these 8 prints that I now have. I plan on framing a couple of the ones with Scout and maybe one day doing a painting of the shot on the bottom, otherwise into storage they go.

Friday, 23 March 2012


My plan of sitting on the porch and doing some "look at that" exercises has failed again. I got everything set up and ready, had his mat on the porch, had a huge bowl of cut up cheese and hot dog, had my clicker, had his leash attached to the railings so I didn't need to worry about holding his leash, and gated off the doorway so that scout could look outside and not feel left out. Sounds great. Wrong. Got him outside and settled and that was fine, however I didn't realize how windy it was today. So the gate fell down with a big slam and Kobi flipped. Then mailbox lid started flapping up and down making him freak out more. Than to make things worse the landlord of the building next door decided to choose that moment to play 20 questions while Kobi is barking and freaking out and Scout is escaping from the fallen gate. After this, it was ruined, Kobi was beyond his threshold and there was no getting back,  every person that walked by was another freak out, the mail box kept flapping and the gate kept falling. I was outside for less than 3 minutes and I managed to ruin Kobi's entire demeanor. He went from being sleepy and calm to now back to being anxious and flipping out at every small sound, regardless of us now being back in the house.

I find it so frustrating when I take the time to set things up right and things totally out of my control just seem to go 100% against me. I want to work with Kobi, I want to help him, but there are just some days when it seems too hard and why do I bother. I know there are good days and bad and based on my posts lately there have been lots of good days and I need to remember them, but sometimes it's not enough, sometimes I just feel like I fail at training, that I fail Kobi and most of all that I fail myself.

Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Puppy Parent Failure

Yesterday I had spent the entire day working on this sign and Kobi happily slept the entire time I was painting indoors. Once I finished painting I needed to spray paint the letters and arrow on the sign with a reflective coating for greater night time visibility. So I decided to move everything outside and take advantage of the gorgeous 30 degree weather and work on tapping up the letters (which took hours!) so that I could spray paint them outside.

 Of course the dogs came outside with me. Scout slept either in the shade on the deck or just inside the doorway on the cool tiles. Kobi normally loves being outside, running around with balls and sticks and lying and chewing on things, but yesterday he was anxious. I wish I could have figured out why he was so anxious and I fully admit I was a bad puppy parent yesterday, I was more focused on getting these signs done that I wasn't actively paying attention to him and often had to do damage control rather than being proactive. Kobi has always barked a bit when out in the yard but has gotten much much better, yesterday was bad. I tried rewarding him for silence but would then get caught back up in what I was doing and he would bark again. So I brought down a rawhide bone AND a kong full of peanut butter. The kong maybe worked for a minute then he went back to pacing, growling and whining. I openly admit that I did fail him yesterday, he was uneasy and I didn't pay enough attention to him. I spent more time yelling "Enough" trying to get him to stop barking rather than working on keeping him from barking in the first place.

I'm sure I'm not along though in that we can't all be 100% vigilant at all times, sometimes we just want to relax and not have to worry about getting up every few seconds to respond to something your dog is doing. I plan on making up for yesterday by actually sitting out on the porch like I had planned to yesterday. Hopefully I can keep him quiet for most of the time. Yesterday also made me aware that if at some point this summer I want to just sit and relax in the yard, I'm going to have to do some serious work to get him to relax in the yard.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Capturing Calmness with a Mat

I had started teaching Kobi a "Go Lie Down" cue to get him to go lie on his bed, worked on it a little, need to be far more diligent about it though. After reading control unleashed I decided to teach Kobi  "Mat" cue as well. This way "Go lie down" would be when we're at home and we want a few minutes peace, but he can choose to leave his bed when he wants. It's his bed (along with Scout's) and they can lie on it or not lie on it. It's there for when they don't want to curl up on the cool floor, or as Kobi prefers the hearth tiles.
Beds around our house need to be big enough for two sprawled dogs.

 The "Mat" cue would be for a new mat, a large bath mat actually, that is most portable than his bed, so in the future I could take it places like the vets and have him lie calmly on it. However, with this mat, he will need to be released from it, so I need to get him to love this mat and want to lay on it for long periods of time calmly in distracting environments. I'm going about teaching it to him in the way that is laid out in control unleashed, so he now knows that lying on the mat gets a better reward than standing on it or sitting on it. I have yet to add the cue word to it yet, I want him to really associate it with being a calm happy place before I do.

 I started working with the mat in a training session, but since my post the other day I decided to scrap that idea and incorporate it into more daily activities. So for example yesterday I was working on painting a display sign for a local restaurant called Chez Tess, and decided to put his mat next to my chair and just toss treats down at various times rewarding him for just lying there.

This morning since it's been so gorgeous here (26+ C in March!), I decided I wanted to eat breakfast out on the balcony. Kobi like coming out on the balcony simply because I'm out there, but normally within a few seconds he notices sounds or people going by and barks very defensively. So this morning I brought the mat out with me, he laid down on it after a few minutes and I treated him randomly. He stayed on the mat the entire time which was great, but he wasn't quiet the entire time. Though I was trying to calmly eat breakfast, I had to keep a close eye on people walking by so I could make sure to increase his rate of reinforcement for staying quiet. He did have a lot of growly chewing an if he noticed someone before I did he would start barking. It's something to work on, but with this gorgeous weather, I am happy to sit outside and just feed him treats, it's still training! This afternoon I may go down to our porch so he can actually see people walking by and do the same exercise.

Here is a video of me teaching Kobi to use his mat. I took this video before I changed my morning routine with feeding him a little before going for a walk then training so as can be seen there is a lot of frustrated barking from him to try to get some food. What I was trying to do was treat rapidly for a few seconds then wait silently for the same amount of time before giving another treat. Didn't work, what I should have been doing was using a random rate of reinforcement so that he never knew when he would get a treat.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Training time is anytime

Last night before bed I was reading the end of Control Unleashed where the author tells her story about her dog named Snap. Nothing was particularly new seeing as how most of it is covered in the book prior to this point, but I had read somewhere a few days ago (can't remember where) about how they got better results by throwing training into their day at random points rather than having designated training sessions.

Usually our training takes place in the morning before Kobi gets breakfast, he has to earn his food. But lately he's started getting frustrated as we worked on harder things, he would bark prior to preforming a task. I asked my trainer about this and she suggested that he might be hungry and is getting annoyed that he isn't getting treats as quickly. She recommended giving him a third of his breakfast, go for his walk then train then feed the rest of his breakfast. This seems to have stopped the barking issue, but I've been finding this way Kobi is less motivated to work for the rest of his breakfast, and if tired from working on loose leash walking.

This morning I tried something new. I decided I would do a designated training session, but it would be broken up. In Control Unleashed the author talks about building a tug drive by tugging for 10 seconds, take a minute break, tug for 20 seconds, take a minute break,  and so on continueing to build the time during the session followed by a break.

This morning I was working with Kobi on getting him to lie down while I was in motion (one of the skills we're learning in advanced life skills). I broke this session up by tugging to get him interested, getting him to sit once he's given the cue to "give", then walk from behind him, tell him "down" while beside him and continue walking before going back to treat then tug again. Then instead of getting him to do this again, we stopped. I went about my morning routine, washed my face, then went back and trained, got dressed, then went back and trained, did my makeup, went back and trained, and each time adding another repetition before taking the break. I worked on the same skill yesterday and had more success in 15 minutes today than I did in multiple training sessions yesterday.

The second thing I am doing differently is making anytime training time. When I was doing a couple of dishes I got Kobi to do a Sit Stay. When he came to say hello to me at the couch I made him do a nose touch. When working on some art I got his Mat out and dis mat work with him, tossing treats down at random intervals. This morning alone I have already done more training than I do in an average training session or day.

So break up training sessions by taking breaks and throw training into everything. Sitting on the couch can now be a training session!

Building Calmness

Last night we to our training class, not to try, but to sit and watch. Our trainer has been very kind in allowing us to continue attending our monday evening class to simply just work on keeping Kobi calm.

The way the space is laid out there is a larger area where the classes take place, with a hallway running alongside it and on the other side is a smaller fenced in area. This smaller area is where we were last night. We started off for the first 20 minutes just sitting on Kobi's bed, playing the "look at that" game and just staying quiet. I tried to give him some massage as best I could which reminds me I want to order a book on how to use Tellington Touch to help calm Kobi.

We also worked on the premack exercises where I let Kobi wander but would reward him with cheese whenever he came to check me out and then would send him away again. After a few minutes Kobi was more focused on me than ever before. I then decided to take the opportunity to do some loose leash walking. Thanks to doing this exercise before hand he was glued to my side, moving perfectly with me even as I did twists and turns, figures and coming to random stops!

After working on that for a while we stepped things up a notch. By doing this I had to go back and increase his rate of reinforcement by pez dispensing treats to him. We left our fenced in area to walk up and down the hallway between the two pens. This forced Kobi to walk beside the dogs working inside the class but was still separated by a fence. He did very well with this but it was still very difficult for him and his focus on me was greatly reduced.

Overall I was incredibly happy with him last night. It seems like taking things back a few steps is really working. He is under threshold more often and I've noticed that his confidence is growing thanks to the "look at that" game. It's moments like this that really remind me of why I'm working so hard to try and turn a reactive dog into a calm  and confident dog.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Last night was our second Advanced Life Skills class and the difference in Kobi over the two classes was like night and day. He was silent for the majority of the night, only barking if dogs came in or out of the building. When we walked in there were several barky dogs in the previous class so we dashed into the side pen and started pez dispensing treats to him right away. Once I got the bed down I sat down on his bed with him still giving treats like crazy as the other dogs made their way out. When working on exercises  Kobi was still quiet but very unfocused. He was still more interested in looking at the other dogs and what they were doing rather than focusing on me and the work we were doing. I'm going back in tonight just to work on keep him calm and quiet so I will probably try to do some attention work as well. If he manages to stay silent raise the criteria by getting him to look at me before he gets a treat.

Walks have come a long way as well. I'm still treating a lot when his lead is loose but he is choosing to stay at my side more and more. The "look at that" game is coming along very well also. He's beginning to figure out that when I say "Look!" he needs to turn back towards me to get his treat. I'll start telling him to "look" at something any time he begins to focus in on something. I can always tell by the position of his ears. When we first got him it was hard to tell when he was nervous because even when relax he holds his ears back (just the way they flop). They also have an abundance of fluff surrounding them so they get lost. As soon as his ears prick forward, that is when he's unsure of something and is focusing to find out if he's nervous or excited about it. So the second his ears pop forward I'll say "Look" then good a half second later and give him his treat. This method is working very well when something is at a distance, not so well when things happen out of no where. For example on our walk last night before their supper we walked by a car with a few people inside when suddenly the back door of the car pops open and a girl runs towards Kobi in the awkward crouch with her eyes staring directly at his and making the most horrendous screeching sounds I have ever heard. Kobi of course freaked out! Got very scared and defensive barking aggressively and backing away. Of course the girl then also start freaking out because Kobi has a very low and loud bark, and even more so when he's nervous. The whole walk was destroyed because of this incident. After that he was nervous about everything, went back to sniffing and pulling on his leash. Going slow does seem to be working well though aside from random girls running out of cars.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

What Trick to Train?

Each time I tag along to my friend's agility class I pick up more and more tidbits. Which is great! The problem being  is that I have so many things I already want to keep working and building on. I have at least a half dozen started tricks and behaviors but I need to start focusing and working with one at a time to get it reliable then start using it on a daily basis.
So far I have on the go:
  • Step Up: Getting Kobi to put his front feet onto a textbook and working on higher objects.
  • Rear End Awareness: Getting Kobi to pivot his hind end once on an object.
  • Touch: Getting a high drive touch of his nose into the palm of my hand.
  • Mat: lying down on a specific mat and remaining there silently until released.
Things I have taught but are not refined:
  • Turn left: making a circle around me to the left.
  • Turn right: making a circle around me to the right.
  • Doggie Push Ups: Sitting then lying down then sitting up again repeatedly.
  • Speak: Kobi barks enough as is so I tend to forget to work on this one.
  • Roll Over: Kobi does not like rolling over on our kitchen floor so I often avoid working on it to work on something else. 
With the warm weather returning I'm hoping to get some more motivation for training. It'll also be nice to work on proofing some of Kobi's more well known commands.

And in going along with St. Patrick's Day here is a picture from last year when Scout went to visit the kids at the IWK for St. Patrick's Day.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Scared of Snowmen

I decided to take Kobi to the field near our house this morning to let him run around in the snow, one of his favorite things. As we walked up to the field someone had made a small snow man. Kobi noticed the snowman from about 20 feet back and immediately got nervous.

 I took my time walking him into the field, giving him pieces of bread (his new favorite treat). Within 5 minutes he was right next to the snowman and even smelling it. Kobi sometimes get nervous of the strangest things, I never know what they'll be. Apparently when my fiance's parents were taking care of him last week he did not like his father's banjo. Kobi used to be very afraid of bikes and buses passing by but had since gotten used to them. He mostly get nervous around objects such as folding chairs, wheel chairs or anything  else unfamiliar to him. We always try to work with him the same way, giving him lots of treats, throwing some on the ground close to the object and letting him take his time to check it out.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Remembering the Victories

Sunday evening I started a new training class at Sublime Canine, Advanced Life Skills with Jane. This class extends on the basic obedience learned in their Basic Life Skills class to teach you the steps involved with the Canine Good Neighbour test. I will be honest that I have very little interest in actually doing the canine good neighbour test, however, the test has some similar components to the Therapy Dog evaluation and simply provides that next step up in training. Sunday was the first class that I've had with Kobi since breaking my collar bone so there had been about a month since I finished basic life skills. I knew that getting back into the training environment was going to be tough so I was allowed to go in early to try and get Kobi settled down. Good effort, didn't work so much. As I expected Kobi was overwhelmed by everything and just barked and barked and was distracted by everything! I managed to calm Kobi in another area of the room and work with him separated from the other dogs. I will admit I sometimes it very frustrating to see everyone elses dogs paying attention to them and staying calm and quiet while I am struggling to keep focus with Kobi and to keep him quiet. Once the class was done I had a quick chat with Jane to get her opinion of the work I have been doing and her biggest suggestion was to work on his threshold level. This is a concept I learned from reading Control Unleashed, that dogs, just like people have a threshold where if crossed, everything just becomes too overwhelming. Many of the exercises in control unleashed deal with keeping your dog sub threshold to maintain focus and for them to maintain the ability to learn. So I am familiar with the concept, but it is sometimes hard to apply what you have learned to real life situations. So what was suggested was to step back my expectations in training with Kobi. Stop trying to get him to meet new people and dogs, don't take him to the grocery store and get him to watch people walk by, to simply take it back to square one. Choose the times I take him out for walks so that there are fewer people around, if I notice Kobi's ear's perking up and him focusing in on something, move him away from what ever it is and increase the reward rate. The goal is to never have him bark, ever. By doing this if he is never presented with the opportunity to get above his threshold and start barking, barking becomes a less familiar behaviour. Essentially, the fewer opportunity he has to bark, the less he will choose to bark. It will be tough going into the summer months since I've been looking forward to taking him to crowded places to work with him, but her point is valid. Make sure he succeeds in  his training, that going three steps back will allow me to take more solid steps forward. Kobi has made leaps and bounds lately and I need to remind myself of his victories and try not to get bogged down by his bad days. I need to remind myself that he is not Scout and he may never be like Scout, but that does not stop him from being an amazing dog. He is his own dog with his own personality and I will do my best to help him cope with his stressors, but I need to celebrate all that he is.

Friday, 9 March 2012