Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Going Swimmingly

On every walk, we practice “stay” at least once. Learning to honor the command in different environments helps dogs generalize the skill for more situations and helps deepen the habit of obedience in the face of serious temptation.

I’ve found that this kind of stay can be self-reinforcing if they’re released in an exciting way. When you first build the skill, you do it with one dog at a time and reward him for gradually longer periods of holding position.

Once he has the hang of it, you can try it in the “wild” and set up all three to stay together. Then, you say “ready......OK!” and praise effusively when they all run to you. It’s so exciting that it reinforces itself.

If you’re careful (or set to quick shooting mode and hold the button down), you can catch them in the instant they break.

Today was another opportunity for Ojo to practice his swimming. If I throw a stick really far, the other two will dash out and chase it. Ojo, however, is still splashing himself in the face instead of making efficient forward progress.

He’s already a good bit better than he was the previous time, but he’s not quite there yet.

At the shake, however, Ojo is already a master.

Two minutes later, something clicked for Ojo and he stopped splashing so much. As Comet came back with the stick, Ojo (center) swam out and joined the pursuit with Jax.

Comet is still the untouchable king of the water. Whether from experience or from something structural, his waterspeed is noticeably faster than Ojo’s and Jax’s. Still, both younger dogs put in a valiant effort here.

With a little more practice, though, Jax and Ojo may still offer a serious challenge. They’ll have plenty of opportunities, culminating in our vacation with Kate and her family at the end of August.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

We Borrowed an Ojo

Ajax’s brother Ojo belongs to my sister’s family, and we visit them regularly in Boston. For the next several weeks, though, Ojo’s with us. Since I have this summer off (no work, no Master’s classes), I offered to take him on tons of walks and to get to some classes with him.

So, this summer, I’m essentially the head counselor at Dog Camp.

Ojo has taken to the frequent swimming like, well, a water retriever. This is from one of his first swims with us, and he still hasn’t gotten the hang of keeping his front paws underwater. The result is that classic photo of a Golden pup splashing himself in the face instead of making forward progress.

He quickly got better and better, since it wasn’t his first time swimming, and pretty soon he was keeping up with Jax and Comet, who often co-retrieve sticks.

We hit a couple of locations over a couple of days. We hit our new river spot, the salt marsh, and the quarry trail. This Black-crowned Night-Heron was perched quietly above a stream. I’m not sure why he was out, even though it was the middle of the day, but he’s a striking bird nonetheless.

This summer, I’m drilling all three dogs on recall, stays, and giving attention, the three crucial skills of the woods dog. Sticking your face in streambed mud is an optional elective at which Ojo excels.