Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No Bloody Weather, All Right

I'm so bloody tired. I've been getting something like 3-4 hours of sleep a night in the last few weeks. My house is a mess, my head hurts (bloody, bloody sinusitis, may you die a thousand painful and humiliating deaths!), my mother's turned up for a sudden visit, next week The Kid is going in for a week long medical exam, I have a ton of apples rotting on the lawn, there is still no fence around the yard, I've run out of clean clothes because bending down to fill the washer makes my brain implode from the pressure and run out my nose, Tin Can is making a very discouraging noise when you drive over 40, and that bloody mouse gnawing on the walls just will not die!

Right, yeah, poor you, I'm really concerned, etc...

So excuse me if I don't make any bloody Sunshine/Cloud report of our day, and instead go and set my hair on fire just to have something else to think about, OK?

Yeah... What can I tell you - she's whiny and nuts, nothing new.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Today's Cloud

Aaaaaand, nothing lasts for ever, right? On that same walk (Sunshine post), just a couple of minutes away from home, Monster and I met a couple of boys. They were perhaps 10 years old, presumably heading home from school. Monster and I didn't spot them in time to avoid the meeting, but I thought we had a chance to make it without Monster going full monster on us (I was probably high from the truck-success, cue eye roll). But as they were getting closer they started a little playful scuffle, raising their voices and waving jackets and bags around. Monster = monster...

OK, you're starting to hurt my feelings now...

He lunged toward the boys, snarling and growling, hackles up... I held him as the boys walked past us, apologizing to them and telling them to not worry - he's just playing silly buggers. Fortunately they didn't seem the least bit worried, one of them never even looked at us or stopped talking to his friend, and the other just glanced at us and looked slightly confused about all the fuss before moving on. It's not OK to scare children!

Awww! I just wanted to play!

As I said, we got lucky. Those boys could just as easily have been terrified... No more getting close to children, even if that means climbing over a hedge into someone's garden.

Today's Sunshine

Today on a walk we first met a moving van. It was backing out into the road right in front of us, on a steep hill, and then drove right past us. Meaning it was doing a lot of things Monster doesn't handle very well when it comes to cars. To begin with, it was rather large - that on its own can be enough to set Monster off. Secondly, it went from cold to running with us right there - also an almost certain trigger. Next, it was behaving erratically (going one way then another, stopping, starting, etc) - yet another thing to make Monster lose his mind. And the sharp incline and heavy load meant the driver was revving the engine quite a bit - in case you haven't yet spotted the pattern this is also a sure thing for Monster Madness.

I don't get it...? Are you questioning my sanity? Why?!?

But nothing happened. Monster did watch the truck rather curiously as it was passing (body slightly arched, ears forward, mouth nearly closed and so on), but made no attempt to kill neither me nor the truck!

Me? Kill???

But then! Another truck! This one a giant DHL trailer, turning onto the road far down the hill, meaning Monster had almost a minute of solid staring time! Considering whatever tension he'd already built up with the first truck, considering we'd only just started our walk so he was pretty wound up to begin with, considering there were cars parked in the road so the truck would have to pass us on our side of the road, and considering there is no chance we'd get lucky a second time, I started looking for a way out. Unfortunately there was a woman with a child approaching us from the side road and a couple with a dog coming up behind us. No way out! Since trucks are a lot harder to terrify than people and dogs, we kept walking - the lesser evil, you know. And Monster did fixate on the approaching truck (fortunately he hadn't spotted the other triggers), shortening his steps, closing his mouth, and raising his head. Uh-oh. And as the truck Monster tensed up, pulled forward - and took a step to the side, away from the truck, and calmly watched it pass! How awesome was that!?! Pretty awesome, people.

Uh-huh. First she insults me, then she compliments me. No wonder I'm all messed up.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Today's Cloud

Today we've been training distance targeting, which is a struggle for me. I find myself expecting Monster to more or less think like a human, and I can't seem to snap out of it. I know dogs don't generalize things the same way we do, but I can't seem to wrap my head around it in this particular exercise.

I keep telling people she's stupid, maybe now you'll believe me...

We're working with a mouse pad as a paw target. I put it down, Monster steps on it, click, treat. No problem. I move the target so he'll have to walk away from me to target it - he has no idea what to do. He starts experimenting with anything else he can find and completely ignores the mouse pad. We move closer to it again, Monster targets, click, treat. I leave the target where it is and walk away myself to create distance. If I move more than three steps away (give or take), Monster again has no clue what to do. We move back to the mouse pad, I begin sloooowly moving it, just a few inches between each repetition (which is of course what I should have done from the start, but as I say I seem to have some sort of weird, unshakable expectation Monster'll think like a human in this exercise), which goes fine. Until, that is, we reach an invisible border where Monster yet again can not figure out what the exercise is about. I try waiting him out - eventually he'll stumble on the target if he keeps trying anything he can spot, right. Oh, he does. He does indeed... He focuses on the mouse pad, makes the connection that this is an item to be targeted, picks it up with his mouth, carries it back to where it was when we started, puts it down, and proudly, with great emphasis, targets it...

Done! Fork over the goodies!

The thing is, this is kind of brilliant in its own way, right? It's just not what you'd expect - or at least not what I'd expect. And it's not at all the result I'm going for. It's not right, sure, but it's also not exactly wrong. He is targeting it, after all.

Exactly! I earned this carrot.

Now, my point isn't "Oh, woe is me, I have such a stooopid dog!". No, Monster is just fine - the cloud this post is about is my stubborn difficulty to understand that Monster can't think of things the way I do. I keep getting surprised when "problems" like this turn up, and I can't figure out why that is. Why do I expect him to think of the target the same way when it's in a different place, or when we're approaching it from a different angle or distance? What else am I looking at this way without even being aware of it...?

Today's Sunshine

Got nothing really positive to report. Today's been a dark, wet, cold and windy day - we've not spent much time outdoors, and neither has anyone else in the village, meaning there have been zero trigger events.

I'm bored...

Hey, maybe that's sunshine in itself!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Today's Cloud

Today as we were leaving the yard some people with another dog turned up behind a hedge. They were walking past us / away from us when we spotted them, but Monster still lost it. He had his hackles up, he was bouncing and lounging, yodeling and growling, air snapping and shaking... We had to wait for them to move about 150 yards away before he could stop focusing and follow without losing his marbles all over again.

I'm gonna get you!

I know you have to expect setbacks, believe me! But it's still disappointing when they happen.

Today's Sunshine

Today my sister dropped by while Monster and I were outside. I'm still not feeling very well, but we were out in the garden with Monster on a long line and me staggering around trying to do something about the tons of fallen apples on the lawn (armed with a snow shovel). I was wheezing and coughing and generally disoriented and had decided to give up and go back inside, and when I went to put the tools away I discovered my sister was in the garage. Now, I hadn't heard her but obviously Monster had - but he hadn't raised any fuss about it! Further, as we were walking around the garden (looking at the massive amount of work I've left undone) we of course got within reach of Monster, but all he did was calmly sniff my sister, look at what we were doing, and generally be a really good boy!

Of course I am.

Again this may not sound like anything to brag about for those of you with... simpler dogs, but Monster's tendencies to wind himself up beyond reason, guard our home from people entering (although I will say he's very good once people are actually across the "border"), greet people by head butting them, and generally make him difficult to have around people - including people we already know - are not only hard to deal with but also a symptom of the general problem. Him dealing very well with an unexpected visit from my sister is something great, and shall be so commemorated here. So say we all.

Yeeeaaahhh... Did I ever tell you Mom's a total nerd..?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Today's Cloud

Today on a walk I'd been revving Monster up pretty good with the tug toy. A little distance ahead of us a person left their house wearing a ginormous fur hat and carrying a backpack, to get into their car parked in the road. Monster fixated slightly on this, but we were still pretty far away and I judged that we could safely keep walking as the car would be long gone by the time we got there. Parked just ahead of us was another car, this one with tinted windows. As Monster was weaving around to find a good view of the weirdo (his word, not mine!) with the hunchback and the fuzzy head, he must have spotted our reflection in the dark windows of the car we were approaching and he switched focus. Suddenly, he wanted to rear up against this car and look inside - at the same Fur Hat had gotten into their car and was driving toward us. I veered out into the road away from the parked car Monster was focusing on, in order to pass it without leaving Monster claw gouges in it (I'm broke enough already, thank you). This meant we were trapped between the parked car and the passing car as Fur Hat drove by... The road could easily accommodate both dog and pedestrian, and passing car. Not so easy when the situation was Monster, Monstermom (I'm specifying myself as other than generic pedestrian, because clearly I'm exceptionally stupid!), and passing car.

Something is getting a talking to, right now!

Already wound up from our play, further tightened from the weirdo and the reflecting car, Monster had zero chance of not lunging for the car as it passed so close by us... Why did I do that? Why not just stop and wait for Fur Hat to pass before walking by the parked car? Even if Monster tends to get more reactive when asked to stay in one place (nothing to do, nowhere to put his focus), at least there would have been much more space. There was plenty of room to walk past the parked car while meeting another car. Not so much for trying to control a hundred pounds of lunging Monster.

Yeah, that car was cloooose... Why was that, Mom?

As per usual: I suck.

Today's Sunshine

Today we've been working more on impulse control, and I think I'm starting to see some payoff!

Nah, I'm just messing with her. But shhh, don't tell her...

While Monster still isn't a marvel of focus when we're out walking, he has been showing some improvement. There's not much in the way of spontaneous contact, but he'll snap out of his personal reverie much easier when asked. That's progress! (I think...)

Hee, hee, hee! This is going to be the funnest reveal ever!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Today's Cloud

Today we spent about 90 minutes standing out in the field in the middle of the village, doing some relaxation training. Back inside, Monster is more sensitive than ever to the sounds of life around us. Anything from a car passing on the road, a door closing four houses down, a child laughing, will set off a barking fit. I'm going to have to rethink this approach I think.

Huh? Why? Weren't we out here claiming territory?

And as an added bonus, I have sinusitis. Cheers all around, I think I'll just stay sick until spring comes around - then my pollen allergies can take over for a while.

Yeah, yeah, she's whining, what else is new? At least you don't have to live with her...

Today's Sunshine

Today's been a difficult day... I suppose it was at least partly sunny when we encountered a Great Dane, a stroller, some sort of really tiny dog, and a small child around a corner. Monster stared, pulled a bit, and went up on his hind legs (not in a lunge, but in a meerkat position - balancing upright, front paws tucked in T-Rex style, scouting the action), but while that's not ideal it's not a full scale Monster Meltdown.

I'm such a good boy!

Of course, once they moved out of sight he did throw a wobbler... Still, it's something, right?

What? But I couldn't see them anymore! They could've been up to anything!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Today's Cloud

Today everyone in the neighborhood seems to want to mess with me! I've made note of the activity patterns around here long ago, finding the best times to walk Monster with as few triggers around as possible. But today lots of people who shouldn't be out at that time have been walking their dogs when we've been out. I don't know what's changed or why, but it's stressful.

Yeah, for you and me both!

I hope it's only a temporary aberrance, I'm worried we'll be in for a hard backslide if we can't find more space than today in the future. Monster did pretty well all things considered, but these things pile on and I don't think he can handle much more now...

Today's Sunshine OR: The Cesar's In The Nuddy!

Alan Titchmarsh becomes the one bright child to point finger at the emperor and speak. Indeed, little boy, he isn't wearing anything at all:

No other Sunshine today, folks. Nothing to outshine this...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Today's Cloud

First, let me start with a disclaimer:

I like cats!

There, with that out of the way:

Oh my god, I hate cats!!! They're everywhere, and they're suicidal! There are hundreds of cats, just popping up all over the place! Please, please, cats of the world: go away!

What? No no, all cats must come here!

Yeah, that's why. Cats make everything so much harder. People are fairly accepting of a dog who hates cats (Monster doesn't really hate them, it's more like he obsessively fixates on them, but tomato - tomato to everyone else really), so some say I shouldn't worry about that part - it's a luxury problem, to be dealt with if and when his more serious issues are resolved. But, when Monster sees a cat his stress levels just skyrocket, meaning everything else in the world becomes a lot more difficult to deal with. He may see a dog 20 yards off and just look away these days (if he's having a particularly good day that is)... But if he's seen a cat first, then he's likely to go into full Monster mode for a dog at five times that distance!

What are you talking about? He had it coming...

I know, I know, cats have to live to. Sure. But do they have to run up to us and scream in Monster's face!??!!?

Oh, be nice. That cat just wanted to play. Next time maybe it'll get even closer...

Today's Sunshine

Today I finally managed to start some of the training I'd been planning! Monster and I did three sessions today focusing on impulse control. Obviously we've trained in that area before, but I've decided to put more focus on it for a while. I've sort of just been skimming the surface, mostly because Monster is surprisingly difficult to "tease" like this. Since he doesn't really care all that much for food rewards, putting a treat on the floor (or on his paws or nose) and asking him to not go for it until given permission isn't that big of a challenge. We did it once when he was a puppy, he figured out the basic idea, and since then he knows what it's about and pretty much just sits there and waits. Tug toys and similar are more of a temptation, but even with them he gets the basic principle and it's not much of a challenge. Also, due to his general lack of focus (on me...) while out for a walk, we've mostly been doing this training at home - even easier!

Wait, are you trying to say I'm not this good because I'm smart!?

But, again, looking closer at this it's all just a bunch of lazy excuses, right? Right. Impulse control is important, Monster is good at the training we've been doing but he's not so good at actual impulse control when it counts. What this means is that I have to use my superior intellect


and think of ways to make it more challenging for him. So, today I've put the harness on him for a walk, brought out a high value tug toy, and just stressed him out and wound him up to the point of actually biting my hands to get it (see?! lack of impulse control!), and then quickly taking him and the tug toy out for a walk. Whenever he seems to start to wind back down, we do a bit of impulse control with the tug toy (dangle it in front of his face, throw it away, play with it myself, put it down between his paws, leave it behind as we walk away, etc), and make sure to reward with some stressing tug of war. It's a bit too early to say if I can see any general results from it, but I can say that it at least works in the sense that it's a lot harder for him to ignore the teasing. See, I am smarter than him!

HAHAHAHA, oh please stop! You're killing me!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Today's Cloud

Dentist's appointment. Don't get me wrong, the dentist is very nice - it's just what she does to me I don't like so much...

Is she mean? You want me to have a talk with her?

I couldn't leave Monster at home what with the workers in the house, so he had to come with me and wait in the car. And after the appointment I was pretty much knocked out. Boring day for poor Monster (again).

You know what, I hope she was mean. You deserved it.

Today's Sunshine

We've been having some workers in the house again today. It seemed like a good idea to have windows which actually close before winter comes...

Yeah... I remember winter...

They're unfortunately terrified of all dogs, so you can maybe imagine how they feel about Monster. Poor guys...

But, Monster's actually been pretty good about it! I've kept him on leash at all times, and made sure to move off to the side whenever one of the guys are coming in our direction. We've spent a bit of time just sitting out of reach and watching them work, and Monster's actually relaxed and ignored them! Even more impressive, he's actually taken an interest in them when they've made some particularly strange noise - and then he's just sighed and turned his back on them again! For Monster it's pretty impressive to wind back down again once something has triggered his interest - I'd consider it far more normal to just keep tensing up and driving himself off the edge. Even when one of the guys repeatedly turned toward him, stared and said "Wooof-woof-woof!", Monster just looked at him and didn't react! (The guy was just trying to deal with his own fear, so I couldn't get too mad about it. Plus I don't speak Polish so it would've been practically impossible to ask him to stop. At least in a polite way.)

Actually, I thought he was kind of funny!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Today's Cloud

This is getting ridiculously repetitive, but it remains the big cloud in our sky: I'm sick. I am feeling better today, my head is a bit more in the game and I want to do stuff. But my body hasn't caught up yet, and trying to do anything challenging knocks me off my feet completely. Poor Monster, seriously!

Yeah, no joke.

Having a dog is responsibility. If you're too weak to exercise and train your dog appropriately you need to find someone else to do the job, right? A friend, a family member, a neighbor's kid, someone who can just walk the dog at least, while you get back on your feet... But with a dog like Monster that's just not possible. Taking Monster out is a far greater responsibility than I can ask anyone else to handle. So what do I do when I can't manage? Just let him suffer my cold along with me, that's what...

It's not fair, but I really don't see an option.

Today's Sunshine

Monster and I spent some time outside today, standing on an abandoned field in the village and doing some relaxation training. It wasn't what any of you would consider advanced - no one walked by in the time we were out there, certainly no dogs! The only things happening were a few cars driving by and some people within sight working in their gardens. But for Monster that's not so easy to ignore...

You can't trust them, but don't worry - I'll keep watch!

But he did slowly relax, and when he lay down on his side and sniffed the grass I counted it as a win and went back home. Eventually we'll be able to hang out there on a Saturday afternoon, with kids and dogs running all around and Monster not caring one bit. Eventually...

Calm enough for you? Now can I get up and attack?

It's a lot easier to get Monster to offer "relaxed" as a rewardable behavior than it is to get him to actually relax, though. That's on me, for trying to guide him into what's expected of him, and for giving up too soon (and picking far too great challenges). I'll work on that too.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Today's Cloud

Let me share a little story with you:

The day after my post declaring the blog live again, I dragged my diseased carcass over to my main computer (remember, pretty much everything else computerish I owned is by now broken), thinking that even with a cold making me useless I could at least manage to work on the computer. I'd gotten a CM 4-in-3 hd bay, and a new 3TB drive delivered, and even with a cold I can hold a (small) screw driver. So I installed the bay, moved my existing hard drives into it and added the new one, cleared up the kitten-in-a-knitting-store nest of cables in there a bit. Closed the case, rolled my eyes at how exhausted I was, and turned the computer on...

Oh man, I remember this bit. Pardon me while I go hide.

Only to be greeted with a PXE-error (check cable). Blind panic, no idea what that means, no way of getting on the internet to find information, too late to drive over to someone with a functioning computer, and zero chance I won't do something stupid. So I open the case up again, start checking the relevant cables and connections, can't find anything wrong but hope I may have jiggled something right without noticing it, start the computer again: PXE-error. Open the case, pull all cables and reset them, start again: PXE-error. In most of these retries I've also been going into the BIOS to try to find some clues to what the hell a PXE-error could possibly be (meaning, in retrospect, I've been looking right at it - I can even remember seeing the drive boot order and thinking it was the wrong SATA port in first). Completely nuts and frantic, I open the case yet again, pull everything off the motherboard - just so I can try to read all the text on there to see if I can find something relating to PXE. Finally I give up, by then actually crying, computer in pieces around my feet, Monster anxiously trying to push himself between me and whatever's upsetting  me, and stagger off to snuggle with my dog on the couch and try to hold on to my sanity (yes, I'm aware that it was long gone by then, but I didn't know that then) until dawn when I could crash my sister's house and use her computer to find out what had gone wrong.

I have to deal with all that crazy, and all I get is a lousy carrot...

After about half an hour of intense Monster therapy (consisting of him snoring on my lap, drooling on my pants, and generally sharing his abundance of wonderfulness), I'm finally calm enough to realize two things. One: I was not in shape to be tinkering with the computer to begin with. And two: I know what PXE-error means! So, in spite of Monster's objections, back to the computer we go. I reassemble the poor thing, turn it on, correct the hard drive boot order in the BIOS, and hey! Working computer!

I don't really care either way, but at least it meant I could finally get some sleep!

So what does this story of idiocy have to do with Monster? Well, it nicely illuminates two things relevant to dealing with a reactive dog: Firstly, trying to do more than you can actually handle is just stupid. There's no shame in sneaking around in the middle of the night just to avoid triggers. It's not the right thing to do to confront a situation you're not 100% percent sure will go in your favor, it's not a game of he who dares wins. Smart people win, and smart people know their limitations and work around them. Don't let people tell you you need to push it harder in training: if you're cautious you may progress a little slowly, but if you push it too hard and put yourselves in a situation where you've made a mistake and your dog goes over threshold you lose a lot of ground. Much like an idiot who can't accept that being sick isn't the same as being idle, and tries to find busywork for hands whose brain pilot's off on vacation.

And second: Never, ever lose your cool. No matter how bad a situation you find yourself in, don't panic and react. Cut your losses, get out of there, calm down, regroup, think it through, and then make adjustments for the future. If your dog is suddenly over threshold surrounded by triggers with no way out, don't try to manage him, don't try to find that magic fix ("Where's the ball?! Want a treat?? Find the ball! Sit, sit!!! Oh god, please calm down - and shut up!"). Deal with the situation instead ("Back up and give us space."). Or you'll make a bad situation worse and it will all spin out of control. Remember, nothing is so bad you can't make it worse! Much like a fever dazed idiot scattering computer parts all over the floor looking for the mean pixie...

In case you're wondering what's with this looooong and tortured simile, I've spent nearly four months surrounded by people who have no idea of what it's like to have a dog like Monster, no idea why I train like I do, and an extreme reluctance to learn about it (it's so much easier to just have uninformed opinions after all - less work). Meaning I've had some serious training in taking the long way around, and it seems like it's taking a while to wind back down. Sorry about that.

Not half as sorry as some of us. Here, have a blanket - and shut up!

Got you. Nightie-night.

Today's Sunshine

This evening I played with Monster a bit. That may not sound like anything noteworthy, but I've been really struggling with this cold and Monster's been paying for it unfortunately. Us goofing around and wrestling for a couple of minutes tonight is a big change - even though I soon collapsed into a wheezing heap and had to crawl off to get my asthma meds.

Everyone who thinks Mom's a wimp, raise a paw!

If I can just manage to get a couple of hours of sleep tonight before waking up in a panic because I can't breathe, by tomorrow I should be back on my feet. No more coughing huddled under three blankets for me! I had big plans for Monster's training, starting the moment we got back home. Now they've all fizzled and it feels like I'm fighting a hopeless battle again. But that really does make me a wimp!

Well, if the blanket fits...

It doesn't really matter if we wound up losing time to some stupid cold (due to a punk ass immune system, which is about to get the performance review of its life), tomorrow is a new day and all that syrupy positive smarm. It really is, and it will contain some serious Monster training time.

Riiiiight... I'm keeping a blanket on stand by for you - just in case.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Monster Is IN!

So. After another grueling 14-hour drive (where I got lost twice, once only 20 minutes away from home!) we're back to civilization. Just before we left I dropped my e-reader, while away I crashed a 2 TB drive, my laptop gave its final breath, I had to have Tin Can in for repairs four (!) times, and I arrived home without my camera. Shortly after setting foot in our (smelly) house (there was a DEAD BAT in the bathroom!!) I was down with a nasty cold I must have picked up along the way (I knew that Subway place looked uncharacteristically shabby...), and staggering about in a fever daze after an attempted Monster walk (do not walk reactive Monsters with a high fever, you'll soon find yourself face first in the mud with no idea what happened) I dropped my mobile phone on the floor and then promptly stepped on it producing a satisfyingly crunchy sound... Welcome home: gas tank, wallet and immune system all pointing to "empty". Awesome.

Aaaaanyway, Monster is fighting to break down the walls to get out and have some fun, while I'm fighting to get some air into my congested lungs. I'm too wiped out to do more than the bare necessities for him, which is stressing both of us out. I hate being sick.

You hate it!? I'm the one suffering - you're practically unconscious.

And with the loss of both camera and hard drive there's going to be some serious recycling of already used photos for a while (like until I win the lottery). Good thing Monster's so handsome you never get tired of looking at him!

I fully intend to have killed this cold tomorrow, so count the blog as live again.

(Well, maybe the day after that...)