Tag Archives: Training

Oscar’s Adventures in Agility: Week 4

We decided to put Oscar in agility class for a few reasons. Cooper has been getting a lot of attention with his TTouch sessions, and his own round through agility and other training classes. Poor Oscar, being the perfectly calm confident good boy that he is, has been getting left a home alone, bored out of his gourd, while Cooper got to go out and have all the fun! No freakin’ fair.

Bored Oscar

“Le sigh….”

The second, and if we’re being totally honest here, probably the main reason we decided to put Oscar in agility class is that even though on the whole he’s a pretty well-adjusted guy, he does have his kryptonite: the kitchen floor. For some reason the tile just freaks him out. He’s fine if he has his next non-tile surface in sight – he can go from rug to rug in a straight line, no problem. But if he has to round a corner, fuhgeddaboudit. It simply cannot be done without plenty of whining and whimpering and “COME SAVE ME!” panic.  Seriously, it’s embarrassing.

Oscar peering

So our goal with agility was to help Oscar gain some confidence on unfamiliar surfaces. For the first few weeks, as we expected, Oscar did great jumping over and running through things. But the obstacle we just knew would give us trouble was on the horizon – the dreaded teeter totter. Thankfully, dog trainer extraordinaire Kat Martin is no dummy, she knows that you don’t expect (most) dogs to just jump up on something like the teeter totter with no preparation. So, we work up to it. Enter: the wobble board.

The idea with the wobble board is for Oscar to associate the wobbley-ness with Very Good Things (i.e. hot dogs). Oscar was pretty nervous starting out, so at first anytime he just put his foot on the board he got rewarded. There were other dogs in the class who just walked right over top of it and off the other side completely unphased – obviously, we’re not quite there yet.

Luckily, as much as the wobble board (and eventually the teeter totter) will take some serious work, Oscar seems to be a natural at the rest of the obstacles. After just four weeks, we could not be more proud of his progress. Check out our boy:

Of course we’re not flawless, but he’s totally killin’ it, and that tail never stops wagging. Oscar and Dad and I all had a total blast during this class, and we can’t wait for the next session to start!

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“Imma make that wobble board my b*tch, just you wait and see…”

For more information about Agility or other training classes with Dogs and Kat, visit www.dogsandkat.com.

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Oscar Goes Agili-doggin’!

Hello blog-o-sphere! Oscar-man here. I know, I know, it’s been awhile since I shared my wonderful bloggings with you, and I’m sorry for that – really, truly I am! It’s just that I have had a very busy 2014 so far. So very much to accomplish!! First, I had to do some serious snuggle-hiding through a Polar Vortex,

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Then, I got my vicious chompers cleaned at the doggie dentist, and I had to get a needle in my arm! Ouch-a-bunga!

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I’ve spent lots of time perfecting my “insisting” face. This is the one I make when I simply must have something from the human-folk.

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I must be getting good at it, because they’re starting to catch on.

Also, I had to turn FOUR!

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Not to mention, my hosting duties were called into play when I had to entertain various guests this spring, including my Aunt Amy.  Don’t we make a cute pair?

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Don’t let her face fool you, she loves my sweet kisses.

So as you can see, my year has been jam-packed with activity so far. Surely I would be ready for a break, wouldn’t you think? Well THINK AGAIN! This Oscar-man is ready for some FUN!  And I knew exactly what sort of funs I wanted. I had to listen to my silly brother go on and on about all of his funs he had during his agili-doggin’ last year, and I just knew that being the older-bigger-smarter-taller-better-looking brother, not only could I do anything silly brother could do, but I could probably do it way better. I So I begged Momma and Daddy to take me to agili-playground so I could have some fun too. And guess what?  This Oscar is taking to the Agility Course!!  And kicking it’s tail, if I do say so myself.

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Well I mean, OK, maybe I am a little bit scardy-pants about that weird tube thing, but after I saw that my Dad wasn’t scared of it, I put on all my braves and I ran right through there!

By the end of my agili-class, I am going to kick my silly brother’s tail and jumpings and runnings, you just wait and see!

For more information about Agility Class with Dogs & Kat, check out dogsandkat.com.

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Touch Me, Babe

Just because we’ve made Cooper a permanent resident around here doesn’t mean we’re about to slack off on his training. Our job as Cooper’s People is to help him be the absolute best Cooper he can be. Let’s catch up, shall we?

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As you may remember, Cooper has anxiety. He had über separation anxiety when he first joined our household, thankfully that’s subsided substantially – I would even say completely, if I didn’t believe in jinxing myself. Cooper also has anxiety about the vacuum cleaner, the blender, the paper shredder, the lawn mower, the mailman, and the guy who walks past our house on the way to the bus at the exact same time every single day.  Those things would be manageable enough, but the main issue of Cooper’s anxiety lays with two Very Scary Things: other dogs and children.

Cooper has been through Basic Obedience, Relaxed Rovers (twice) and even Agility classes. The idea was to give Cooper confidence as well as to give Dad and I tools to help Cooper trust us and learn that when he gets nervous, there’s no need to freak out, the People have everything under control.

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Recently we added a new weapon in our arsenal to battle Cooper’s anxiety: Tellington TTouch.  Linda Tellington-Jones developed TTouch in the 1970’s while working with horses. Since then, the technique has been found to be helpful on companion animals as well. According to their website, TTouch has been known to help in cases of:

- Excessive Barking and Chewing
– Leash Pulling
– Jumping Up
– aggressive Behavior
– Extreme Fear and Shyness
– Resistance to Grooming
– Excitability and Nervousness
– Car Sickness
– Problems Associated With Aging

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Miss Penny offering some nice soothing touches for Cooper.

There are hundreds of certified TTouch practitioners all over the world, and one of them is right here in Nashville. Miss Penny is an animal lover and Agape Animal Rescue volunteer and foster mom. She’s donated her time to help other Agape foster dogs, like Operation Freedom veteran Angel, overcome their demons. When Miss Penny heard that Cooper was having a hard time learning to relax, she though that TTouch might be the perfect thing to help him figure it out.

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Think of TTouch as focused doggy massage. Miss Penny works with Cooper rubbing his muscles in specific spots and targeting pressure points with light repetitive touches and circular motions. An important aspect of TTouch is for Miss Penny to build trust between her and Cooper – she encourages Cooper to engage with her, but she never forces the relationship. If Cooper wants to take a break, he’s allowed to walk away.

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Now I’ve only recently heard of TTouch so I’m no expert – I don’t know what’s going on inside Cooper’s little body and mind when he’s working with Miss Penny, but I DO know that Cooper has never looked more relaxed in all the time I’ve known him than when he’s under her healing hands.

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Miss Penny has been involved in TTouch since 1982.  She says, “Through decades of exploring healing practices, I have never found a single modality as powerful and effective as Tellington TTouch.  Simple, gentle touches and movements affect the receiver on mental, physical and emotional levels.  TT reduces pain, speeds physical healing, promotes soundness, releases anxiety, changes behavior, leads to self confidence, improves bonding…so many things.  With such a long list of benefits, it can sound like snake oil, but like good nutrition, TT affects every aspect of an animal.”

Cooper has now had about half a dozen TTouch sessions with Miss Penny and every time she leaves, he’s diminished to a big pile of Cooper-mush for the rest of the day. Is it helping with his anxiety? It’s hard to say.  Time, training, and practice will tell. What I can tell you is this – Cooper has now made it through two entire episodes of Pit Bulls and Parolees without going berserk at barking dogs on TV. That, my friends – is growth.

Have any of you worked with TTouch? Has it helped your pets? Please share your experiences below!

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Cooper Says Relax

As we mentioned a little while back, Cooper is temporarily off the market. No, he hasn’t been adopted, but the Cooper-monster is in limbo for now while he continues “working on himself.”  We started his second round of Relaxed Rovers class this month. We first went through the class last year when Cooper started showing some reactivity towards other dogs when we’d be out and about. Cooper’s reactivity comes from a classic case of anxiety, he just doesn’t like what he doesn’t know – that includes strangers coming into the house, scary two-legged three-foot tall monsters (aka “children”), and other dogs.

"Go 'way go 'way!!"

“Go ‘way go ‘way!! Look, I’m ferocious, RAWR!!”

Kat Martin of Dogs & Kat teaches our Relaxed Rovers class.  We worked with Kat for Cooper’s Basic Obedience Class, as well as Agility. In Relaxed Rovers, “we work on helping dogs learn to be calm and focused on their people in distracting environments. This class if for dogs who have a hard time being calm, whether due to excitement, reactivity with other dogs or people  (especially when on leash), anxiety, or just plain lack of focus. This class is also very beneficial for dogs who compete in sports like agility.”In other words, this class is right up Cooper’s alley.

"Yes, I simply must learn how to relax."

“Yes, I simply must learn how to relax.”

When Cooper encounters a strange pooch on a walk, or at the vet, or anywhere in public, he puts on his big boy bark and puffs up his little chest and starts yelling at the offending canine: “HEY! YOU’RE TOO CLOSE! I DON’T KNOW YOU AND YOU’RE FREAKING ME OUT! GO ‘WAY PLEASE!!”  He’s not misbehaving, he just doesn’t know any other way to communicate to us that he’s uncomfortable. Unfortunately, when a Cooper freak-out happens, our first instinct is to pull Cooper out of the situation STAT – which unintentionally reinforces his “bad” behavior. Cooper learns that if he tells us with his words that he’s scared, we’ll take him out of the situation. And so the cycle continues.

What we need to do is teach Cooper that he can trust his People to take care of him if he gets nervous. When a strange dog or scary monster appears out of nowhere, Cooper needs to know that his People will take care of the situation, and he doesn’t need to worry. Part of this learning experience is on us, as Cooper’s handlers, learning how to read his cues so we’ll know when he’s starting to get nervous, before we enter full on freak-out mode. Us learning how to read Cooper, and managing the situation to keep it below his “threshold” helps build trust, and ultimately let’s Cooper know that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Cooper practicing "Look at That" like a bawse.

Cooper practicing “Look at That” like a bawse.

Cooper is crazy-smart, like freakin’ Mensa level smart. He gets it, he really does. The hardest part of this class will be training foster mom and foster dad (OK, mostly foster mom) to keep their cool in “scary” situations – easier said than done at times!

Cooper is off the market for now, but Agape Animal Rescue has lots of other wonderful, adorable, adoptable pooches searching for their furever families! Check ‘em out, here.

For any of our Nashville readers who are interested in Relaxed Rovers or other training classes with Dogs & Kat: Dog Training & Behavior Counseling, visit their website for class descriptions  and schedules.

….oh, and don’t forget to mark your calendars for Glitter and Glam this weekend!

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The Agili-Coop, week four

As we shared last week, Cooper has started Agility classes with Dogs & Kat to help work on his confidence.  Coop is a total natural on the Agility course – he’s constantly upstaging Foster Dad and me and reminding us that we’d better be on our toes if we’re going to keep up with him!  Check out his latest video from our fourth and final class of his first round of Agility classes…

We’ve already got Coop signed up for the second round of classes, where we’ll focus more on training his handlers (ahem, that’s Foster Dad & me) what to do with our bodies to guide him better.  We think that whoever Cooper’s furever family is, they will have soooo much fun with him if they continue him in Agility classes.  He’s a pro!

If Cooper’s your man, please fill out an adoption application with Agape Animal Rescue.

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Introducing the Agili-Coop!

It’s no secret that Cooper has had his fair share of behavioral “issues” that we’ve been working through since he joined us in January.  He had severe separation anxiety, which lead to Houdini-antics and destruction. Potty training was slow and tedious.  I can say with a pretty high level of confidence that we’ve worked through these things pretty darn well so far.  However,  Cooper’s one issue that seems to stick around is going to be the hardest one to work on – and is probably the one that has kept him from finding his furever home so far: Fear

Cooper is still not a big fan of other dogs who he doesn’t know.  Since Coop has been looking for his People for seven months now, Agape thought it might be a good idea to try something new to help Cooper work though his anxiety.  So, we called dog trainer extraordinaire Kat Martin once again, and enrolled Cooper in Agility class.

The theory behind using Agility as a tool to help with anxiety is two-prong: 1) We’re putting Cooper in a situation that makes him a little uncomfortable, but we’re giving something to focus his energy on instead of the other dogs in the class, and 2) We’re hoping that Coop will learn to associate having fun with being around other dogs.

So how’s he doing so far?  Spoiler alert: he freakin’ ROCKS at it.

These are video clips from Cooper’s third Agility class.  As you can see, he’s a natural!  It’s funny that Kat, Foster Dad and I all describe him as “fearless” on the obstacles, since Cooper is in this class to deal with his fear!   Even more impressive to me and Foster Dad is how relaxed Cooper was by the end of class, even when he was in close proximity to the other dogs.  He still has a “threshold” of closeness that he can tolerate, but we’re noticing the distance getting smaller and smaller.  And, by the end of the most recent class, Cooper was so relaxed that he decided to lay down in the grass and chill. 

I wouldn’t be more proud if Cooper brought home a hundred Agility medals.

If Cooper has leaped and bounded into your heart, please fill out an adoption application with Agape Animal Rescue.

…and don’t forget to VOTE for COOPER!

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The time we yelled at Cooper

It’s never been our style to punish our dogs.  We believe that being firm and consistent, along with reward-based training is the way to go.  There are plenty of folks out there who are much more qualified than I am to go into the details of dog training, so I’ll leave that to them. I only bring it up now because I recently found this excerpt from the book “The Culture Clash” by Jean Donaldson.

Even though I’ve never been a “yeller,” those few short paragraphs hit me right in the gut.  I immediately thought of our young Cooper, and the only time we ever yelled at him. 

Cooper is a sensitive soul.  It was not too long after he joined us at Foster House, and I don’t even remeber what he did wrong – maybe he chewed up something he shouldn’t have?  Who knows, that’s not the point of the story.  Whatever it was, once we discovered his indiscretion we scolded him sternly – I wouldn’t even necessarily classify it as “yelling,” we just put on our “you’re in trouble” super-low voice and said something along the lines of “Cooper!  What. Did. You. Do?”  Poor little Cooper promptly rolled over on his back and peed on himself.

Foster Dad and I vowed then and there to never yell at him again.  It’s not necessary, and it’s not effective.  Cooper wants to please his People with every ounce of his being – sometimes he tries so hard to figure out what you want with him that he actually quivers.  Coop is smart.  He is loyal.  And he will do anything his People ask him to do…as long as he can understand what it is he’s being asked to do.  

And Cooper still chills out on his back sometimes, but now it’s more like this…

…and this…

…and sometimes this…

Cooper is still looking for his furever family!  If you’d like to add this sensitive soul to your family, please fill out an adoption application with Agape Animal Rescue.  Gorns need not apply.

…and don’t forget to VOTE for COOPER!

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A Play Date with Olive

Guess who’s still up for adoption?

Sweet little Olive, rescued and fostered by my good friend and neighbor (and fellow blogger), Jen.  Jen and her husband Jason are first time foster parents who just couldn’t look the other way when they saw Olive suffering at the end of a short chain, tied out in the heat with no food or water.

     

The other day I bribed Jen with cocktails Jen was kind enough to lend us Olive’s services, so we could practice “Look at That” with Cooper.  We met at a nearby park where Jen and Olive hung out and practiced Sit’s and Down’s and leash skills, while across the way Cooper worked on not going bananas while Olive was in view.  I gotta say, he did amazingly well.

As a reward for their hard work, we brought Olive back to Foster House for a play date.  Cooper was ecstatic to have a puppy to play with again, and Olive was totally jazzed to make some new friends. 

This is the weird thing about Cooper’s nerves – they completely disappear with his leash.  As soon as we unclipped his leash and turned him loose with Olive (under strict supervision, of course) his fears evaporated and he pounced on her with a play bow, wiggly waggy tail, and classic Cooper smile. 


I’m sure the fact that we were “on his own turf” may have had something to do with it, but it does give me hope that, with time and continued practice, we’ll be able to overcome his fears completely.

Do you need some puppy love in your life?  If you’d like to add Olive (or Cooper!) to your family, please fill out an application with Agape Animal Rescue.

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No People Food

We have a very strict “no people food” rule in Foster House.  This does not mean that the dogs never get food that people would eat – they get veggie Kongs, special holiday meals and recently in this heat wave, frozen yogurt-peanut butter & applesauce treats.  However these special treats are always delivered in their own food bowls, or out of their own toys.  It’s really more of a “no people food from people plates” rule.

It’s not so much the fact that we don’t want our dogs to have people food.  Even though a lot of times, that is the case – some people food can be very unhealthy for dogs, and we want to be able to control their diet to make sure they’re only eating things that are good for them.  However even more than that, we don’t want them learning where these yummy treats come from.  If they get fed from our plates, or from the dinner table, or from the counter top, they’re gonna learn real quickly that that’s the place to hang out.  They’re also going to figure out that if Mom or Dad turns their back for a quick second, it’d be really easy to grab a french fry from their plate. 

At Foster House, this is why we have the “no people food” rule:

Yes, that’s our dinner, yes it’s take out, and yes we’re eating on tray tables in front of the TV (don’t judge us, it was a rough week).  The point is, yes those are our dogs, laying quietly within easy reach of our dinner, while we were in the other room.  Didn’t even sniff at it. 

How do we accomplish this amazing feat?  The main thing is that they just never get fed from our plates so they know that begging is futile.  When Oscar was a puppy, we’d give him a Kong or an antler to chew on while we ate to keep him occupied.  Occasionally if they start sniffing towards the plates, a quick “No!” then a redirect (usually “lay down”) does the trick. As with any training, consistency is key. 

If you’re interested in adding Cooper to your family, please fill out an application with Agape Animal Rescue.

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Calming Cooper’s Quirks: Reactivity

While enrolled in the Basic Family Dog Manners class, it became clear that Cooper was going to need some specialized attention to help with his reactivity.  On the first day of class, Cooper got pretty vocal with another dog.  What we thought of as “reactivity,” our trainer, Kat Martin, immediately recognized as fear. 

Cooper’s behavior was especially confusing  to us because it was a new behavior – he hadn’t always acted this way.  When Cooper first joined us at Foster House at the end of January, we went on walks at the park and around the neighborhood…

We attended adoption events at pet stores…

…and as recently as April, we were regulars at the dog park. 

However recently, encountering another dog during any one of these activities has been enough to send Coop into a tail spin.  Naturally, since we follow our own rules about dog park etiquette, our trips to the dog park are a thing of the past.  Our neighborhood walks have to be strategically planned to avoid any off-leash dogs.  And adoption events?  Not recently.

Now suddenly, when Cooper gets nervous, he immediately lets other dogs know, “Hey back up!  I don’t know you and I don’t like you in my space!”  And he does this vocally.  Cooper’s not a big dog, but his bark is definitely intimidating.  As soon as Coop started exhibiting this behavior we knew it had to be addressed – STAT. 

So after Cooper graduated from his basic obedience class, we promptly enrolled in Relaxed Rovers.  The main goal of this class is teaching Cooper that when he gets scared or nervous, he needs to look at his People for reassurance instead of going bananas.

We learn to read our dogs’ behavior, and watch them for signs of stress and how to redirect them before they react. We learn about calming signals and how to recognize them.  Calming signals are universal dog language, physical behaviors that they show to calm themselves down or to calm dogs around them.  Some examples are blinking, licking lips, and yawning (more examples and explanation here).  Exhibiting calming signals in class earns Cooper LOTS of treats!  

The “shake it off” – the mother of all calming signals!

One game we play in Relaxed Rovers is called “Look at That.”  In “Look at That,” Cooper is rewarded for looking at another dog and not reacting.  We stand at a good distance from another dog, and as soon as Cooper looks in the other dog’s general direction, we click and treat.  Eventually, we start withholding the click/treat a little longer when Cooper looks at the other dog.   Since Cooper is used to getting a treat now when he looks at another dog, when he doesn’t get the treat right away, he looks at us.  As soon as he looks at us, he gets a click/treat.  Looking at us combined with a calming signal earns extra payoff. This teaches Cooper that good things happen when he looks at another dog, then back at his People.

Cooper has been doing pretty well so far, but the key to his continued success is going to be practice, practice, practice.  We’re still a few classes away from graduation, and of course taking his skills out into the real world and more distracting environments is going to add another dimension to his training.  For now, Cooper remains a “work in progress,” but he is workin’ it every step of the way!

If you’re interested in adding Cooper to your family, please fill out an application with Agape Animal Rescue.

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