Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Settling In

Have you ever had something big and new in your life? (Rhetorical question, I know. :-)  At first, you're excited, full of energy, it's easy to pay attention, etc. Then, you hit the hunker down stage. The time when you need to get serious, conserve your energy, and figure out a way to get through the whole thing.

Hunkering down. That's what I feel like today at the end of Day 3. Now, we have to settle in and keep going even though we're even more exhausted than yesterday, even though Rosalie has had a horrible couple of nights and days, even though we're not doing everything perfectly with Bomber, even though the reality of this situation (both good and bad) is really sinking in.

Don't get me wrong. Today went very well. Bomber is an amazing dog!

We started our day with our first tracking practice! We will be able to use the dogs to find our kids should they ever take off (or elope) from home. Almost all the dogs in our class are trained to track. The dogs think it's a big game. The trainer "talks up" the dog to get him excited and the dogs receive a valuable reward (hot dogs) at the end of a successful track. Valuable rewards are reserved for big tasks.

On the way to tracking practice.
We went to a local park. Rosalie was first to practice because she was having a hard day already. (She has had a lot of seizures during her sleep at night. Today, after tracking, she had another five this afternoon.) Bomber was able to find Rosalie quite quickly!

Some dads socializing during tracking practice.
I'm in a weird place emotionally about tracking. I feel like I don't remember much about it from today. It's kinda fuzzy much like the heavy moist air was today. I don't know if it's fuzzy because it went so fast or because it seemed so easy for Bomber or because it was really muggy for the first time today. I know tracking is super cool (and I know we'll use it) but I'm not all worked up about it. Other parents, including Corey, were very excited by tracking.

Bomber and "his girl" after tracking practice.
After tracking practice, we went back to 4 Paws to work more on "sits" and "downs". This time we added even more distractions; clapping, snapping, patting the leg, pretending to have a treat, actual treats, toys, etc. We have a goal to find our dog's most distracting thing so we can work with them on it. The idea is to work really hard on the thing that most excites the dog because, if they can ignore that thing, then they can ignore anything.

Next, we practiced "heeling" around other dogs and people. Bomber did much better today! We also practiced "heeling" in the parking lot later in the morning. Corey struggled a bit outside, at first, but we figured out the problem. He wasn't giving enough slack on the leash. Our instinct is to keep a short, taut leash to keep the dog where we want him. It is interesting that the dogs do much better when given their "head." By the time Jessa (the other main trainer helping our class) observed Corey and Bomber, she said they were doing great.

The thing is, these dogs are all fully trained. They know how to do what we're asking. They just need to learn to listen to us and we need to learn how to utilize their training.

We also practiced "jump" onto a grooming table and "off" to get back off again. We will use this in the car, Rosalie's bed, the couch, etc.

We went out for lunch today, so Bomber stayed at 4 Paws in his kennel. The place we went was slow so Corey and I had to rush. We had to decide to leave Virginia and Rosalie at the restaurant with the van and walk back to 4 Paws. It was only about 1/2 a block, but, oh man, the humidity! I was hoping to be refreshed after lunch, but I was tired instead!

After lunch, Jeremy asked each of us to share how the previous night went with our dogs. We talked about some different things. I asked how much we needed to pick up and keep up from Bomber. I wanted to know if I had to watch cords, toys, stuffed animals, socks, and clothes. Jeremy said we just have to supervise them right now and tell them "no" when we don't want them to have or do something.

"No" is the only command for undesirable behavior. Someone said, "No is the only appropriate response for inappropriate behavior." Dogs can only understand one definition for each word they know. Sit means sit, down means lay down, jump means jump up, off means off. Down does not mean lay down and get down. Everything is very simple. It makes it easier for the dogs and us!

I am truly impressed by the training methods 4 Paws uses. The dogs are well behaved and happy. I'm talking about A LOT of dogs. I haven't counted, but I would guess there are at least 30 dogs at 4 Paws right now. I really think it's more. I may even embarrass myself with my low guess. :-) The facility is as clean as it can be with all those animals. It is well organized. There are staff there from at least 8 am until midnight. The more I learn about 4 Paws and the more I see from them the more I love them.

In fact, one of the biggest problems any of us are having with training is actually retraining ourselves! A lot of us have had previous experience of some kind with dogs. Tonka, my family dog as a kid, was a very well trained dog. However, some of the methods we used for training are not the same as 4 Paws uses. Some of the words are not the same either. We are having to catch ourselves quite a bit. I caught myself saying "drop" the other day instead of "down."

Jeremy and Jessa do a great job explaining why they do what they do. I look around the room and see head nods. I hear mumblings, "Mmm, that makes sense." Lots of preconceived notions are being obliterated. A true education about dogs and our interactions with them is happening!

Back to our day. :-)

I mentioned earlier that there are some highly prized treats. These are used for important tasks that the dog doesn't understand the importance of. Dogs don't know why a seizure is so serious. However, they do know that if they bark when a child is having a seizure, they will get a valuable reward. Maybe it's a tennis ball, hot dog, or Pupperoni. Maybe it's a special toy only used for that task. Seizure response, tracking, and "come" are highly valued behaviors. Therefore, highly prized rewards are given in practice with those. Very early seizure response was introduced yesterday. Tracking was started today. "Come" was explained this afternoon.

We want our dog to come IMMEDIATELY when called. The dogs won't be perfect all the time. They are dogs after all. :-) However, there are situations when we need to know the dog will absolutely respond to us. "Come" is like how you would want your child to respond if you called out "Stop." You need something that you not only use everyday, but can also use in a dangerous situation. The importance of "come" makes it worthy of a highly prized reward (hot dogs).

We learned how to ask our dogs to "place." "Place" is what you use to ask the dog to go to their mat. While they are on their mat, they are allowed to do what they want with one exception. They can stand, sit, lie down, or play with a bone. The rule is they must keep two paws on the mat at all times.

Bomber showing how well he knows how to "place."
The last thing we went over was how to use the training collar verses the gentle leader. Most people call training collars choke collars. They are not being used correctly if they are choking the dog. A correction with a training collar is a quick snap and release of the leash. It is not a slow drag. As some of us started to overcome our poor usage of the training collars, you could see amazing response from the dogs.

Dogs won't pull on a gentle leader because it controls their heads. They will pull all day long on a training collar because their necks have strong muscles. Jeremy wants us to use the gentle leader outside our hotel rooms and the training collar inside our hotel rooms for now. This just goes back to the fact that the dogs still don't know us that well. We have to become a team. I respect Bomber and think he's a pretty awesome dude! He likes me well enough for having spent 45 hours with me (13 of those he was sleeping). :-)

I don't feel like I was unknowledgeable about dogs before coming to 4 Paws. I just feel like my knowledge is getting deeper and wider. WAY deeper and WAY wider.

So thankful for this opportunity and this place.


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