Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pupdate #8 (Progress report)

Here I am, conspicuously not creating a performance calendar and budget for an imaginary theater in San Francisco; nor am I outlining a plan to determine how the Executive Director of my semi-hypothetical nonprofit organization will be hired, trained, and evaluated.

Yeah, you are so jealous of me right now. With exciting projects like these, who wouldn't want a Master's degree in arts management?

Anyway, it's been a while since we've checked in. Linus is still doing swimmingly. This morning in the park we ran into Soccer Coach Guy and his temporary-but-probably-about-to-be-permanent stray dog Micah, a Lab mix. Coach Guy and I turned the dudes loose in our favorite tennis court and they gleefully dashed about and pummelled each other. Linus acquired several tough-looking scrapes in the process of skidding and tumbling on the concrete. He is practically bulletproof, so they didn't faze him a bit. Then Linus's Godmother, Munchkin Girl, took us to the vet's for some preliminary bloodwork in preparation for his upcoming operation (snippity snip snip!). His looks and behavior were universally admired. I was especially proud of him for not flinching, snapping or howling when the needle was stuck into his leg. He came home with a tummy full of turkey and a dashing white bandage that last 0.07 seconds before he gnawed it off. See on his front left leg:

Here is how the training is going:
The Good:
  • Housebreaking. Knock on wood, he finally seems to understand that it's not okay to go potty anywhere in the apartment. We moved through several stages with this. First, there was "going potty outside is good!" (The urinary tract infection was unexpectedly helpful in teaching this concept, as he was going outside several times an hour for almost two weeks). Then there was "going potty in the living room is bad, but the bedroom is okay because it's not really my 'den'." Linus and I lived almost exclusively in the living room during his first six weeks with me (hence the sleeping bag that's STILL on the futon), so it took a while for him to include the bedroom in his no-go zone. After that, we got to "go outside when you can, but if you have to go potty inside, go in the bedroom." This stage lasted the longest and is responsible for about 50% of my gray hairs. Thankfully, we finally seem to have reached the "going inside is NOT okay; tell Mom when you have to go outside!" stage. So he knows that if he lingers around the door, I will take him outside. A fun corollary of this process is that he knows the words "Go potty!" and I can brag about having a dog who pees on command.
  • Roommate skills. Sometime during the summer, the kids and I will move to either New York City or DC. We will probably have to have a roommate, so I've concentrated on teaching him habits that will make him easier to live with. These include the commands "Leave it," "Give," and "Settle" (requiring him to go to his cushion, lay down, and stay). He is making decent progress with the first two, as long as the object in question isn't too enticing. I'm still working on getting him to figure out that "settle" refers to both the place and the action.
  • Catch. Linus is a tennis ball genius. He can catch a ball before it hits the ground about 50% of the time and overall, manages to snatch the ball from the air 2/3 of the time I throw it. That's better than I can do! He also thinks strategically: if the ball is bouncing, he will run up to it, watch how it moves, and wait for it to reach the right position. It's almost eerie how quickly he picked up the skill. Plus, if I throw the ball low and it rolls, he will run in front of the ball and stop it with his feet before picking it up. Four and a half months, folks. Provided his joints hold up and aren't damaged by all this running around on concrete, I plan to train him for agility or flyball competition when he gets older.
  • Vocabulary. Here are the commands he really knows: sit, down, wait (= stay. I'm really proud of that one! It's hard to teach!), touch (hand targeting: he bumps my hand with his nose), go to bed, go potty. He comprehends, but has about 40 - 60% reliability with the following: come here, leave it, give, settle, easy (the no-pull command). I think we're doing pretty well!
The Bad:
  • Fear aggression. There are a couple of extremely dominant puppies in class, notably a spiky German Shepherd and a Bull Mastiff who won't take "no" for an answer. If either of these dogs pins Linus or gets too much in his face, he snarls and snaps. Even if neither of those dogs is approaching him, I've noticed that he shows signs of nervousness -- raised hackles, flattened ears -- during the socialization period of puppy class, even though he likes to meet other dogs and plays nicely with most of the other puppies. He gets along well with older dogs, though he demonstrates more enthusiasm than manners in greeting them. I predict that he will be fine with the vast majority of dogs; however, it's essential that he be as well-socialized and as confident as possible. Not only is it an important life skill, the ability to be calm around other dogs is a component of the Canine Good Citizen test that many clubs require dogs to pass before they can train for competitions or become therapy dogs.
  • Leash walking. Same old, same old. His leash walking is... okay... certainly better than some of the other dogs that I've seen in the neighborhood, but just okay isn't good enough. When he hits his full strength, he will be able to drag me down the street effortlessly. Plus, I love walking and am looking forward to having him as a companion and a guard (true he's a pussycat, but he can at least look dangerous!). I need to work on this in myself, as I am sometimes inconsistent about enforcing the limits of acceptable behavior. My goal is not a perfect competition heel -- his shoulder aligned with my knee at all times -- but a looser heel in which some part of his body is parallel with my leg. Walking ahead of me isn't really okay, but I permit it sometimes and I shouldn't. We've begun some attention exercises in which I reward him for making eye contact with me. I hope that will help.
  • Cats/litterbox. Not as bad as it was, but he has mastered the art of the quick lunge and the innocent look as soon as I've grabbed the spray bottle. He has also discovered kitty crunchies, that doggie delicacy. In the picture above, you'll see two crates. The smaller one holds the litterbox and almost succeeds in preventing him from stealing the odd snack. Blecch. At least he responds to "leave it" most of the time.
The Funny:
  • Snore. I don't call him Mighty Linus for nothing!
  • Zoomies. Like cats do in the middle of the night, Linus sometimes feels the urge to race madly around the apartment as if chased by invisible demons. I have a video of one of his fits, which I will post here as soon as YouTube starts cooperating.
  • Oh, a million things. The way that carrying a toy stretches his mouth into a big ol' doggie grin. His luxurious, lethargic exits from his crate after a satisfying nap. The fact that he runs to his crate and waits expectantly when he sees me put my bike helmet and sunglasses on. As frustrating as the present situation is, he's still a joy to have around.


alphabitch said...

A neighbor of mine has a bell on the back door that she somehow taught her dogs to nudge when they have to go outside. I'll have to ask her the method; it's very helpful, and they don't seem to do it when there is no real need to go outside (e.g., during the Zooms).

Good luck with the leash walking. It really does make you feel safer at any time to have a good-sized dog. Plus, carrying a plastic bag of dogshit makes me absolutely fearless. I mean, go ahead, make my day, punk. I will smear dogshit on your face. I especially miss my beloved Kuba (pictured here) when I'm out walking at night. She and I used to walk around Hanes Park at three in the morning, and if anyone approached us they'd cross the street. Of course, she was an 85-lb Rotweiler-Husky-German Shepherd mix, and did not take shit from anyone. She was not overly friendly at all. But really well-behaved on the leash (unless another dog barked at her). When people approached us and asked does your dog bite, I'd just say "she's unpredictable." She was actually fine with humans, but she never did play well with other dogs, bless her heart.

Anyway, Linus is adorable, and I applaud your training efforts.

Megan said...

Dog poop: the secret weapon.

Why did I never think of that?!