Happy 8th Gotcha Day!

It’s hard to believe how much time has flown by. Eight years ago today, we brought home the amazing Miss Dahlia. She came home a sweet dog lacking confidence and has grown into a sweet dog with the confidence to tackle everything from moving houses to agility to silly tricks to being able to go outside during a thunderstorm. She’s just the best.

So, this year I bring you, 10 things Dahlia has learned this year. It’s been quite a year for our girl!

1. That sharing my house with another dog is really not as bad as I thought. It might actually be kind of fun.


2. That having another dog to play tug with is kind of awesome.


3. That even though my Mom was told not to shove toys in my face to get me to play, I will try that with my brother. Sometimes it even works!


4. That having my own yard is kind of awesome.


5. That barking at the dogs in the yard behind me is the best.


6. That I don’t really mind (that much) when my brother leaps at my head.


7. That I can share my toys and treats and even the same bowl of water.


8. That I am still the best fun policing dog around.


9. That the “wait and come game” is even more fun with a friend!


10. That nothing gets me down, not even vestibular disease.

From this...

From this…

...to this.

…to this.

She’s one of the seven great dogs (there are only seven at a time, you know) and I hope for many more years to come for my girl!

Happy Valentine’s From Pongu!

This year, since we’re on hiatus from Rally/obedience and the weather has wreaked havoc on our agility plans, Pongu and I put together a goofy little trick for Valentine’s Day:

My original concept for that trick was to have Pongu drag his butt over the remains of Crooky’s Valentine’s card, but it turns out that (a) it’s really hard to shape a butt scooch when your dog doesn’t want to do a scooch (at least with Pongu, who is a very clean dog and super conscious of not making messes); and (b) the closest approximation I could get — a hover-butt Sit with a couple of squatty steps forward — was a tough workout for Pongu’s core muscles, so he could only do it about 5 times per session, which was not nearly enough to get the number of repetitions we needed to build the entire trick.

So, since I realized with two weeks to go that we weren’t going to get that version of the Valentine’s trick done in time, I went with a remix of the Birthday Box trick. The one new behavior that I built in for the Valentine’s trick is the selective shredding of the card, and that is the topic of today’s post.

Before starting this project, Pongu had a very strong foot targeting behavior and a moderately strong retrieve, but I’d never asked him to destroy things on cue. Thus, most of our time was spent modifying those two starting points (foot target + retrieve) to build the shredding behavior.

Thin-slicing with a clicker got us there pretty quickly — if I had sufficiently good timing to catch the moment where Pongu’s existing behaviors overlapped with the desired one, I could communicate what I wanted with pretty good efficiency.

Initially I was using an actual store-bought Valentine’s card for this, but it turns out that cardstock is tougher than you might imagine, and it took Pongu way too long to destroy it. Figuring that nobody really wanted to watch my dog struggle with shredding cardboard for a minute and a half, I switched to regular paper to speed up the destruction time. I used the same markers and colored pencils on the “demo cards” as I planned to use on the final version, just in case Pongu might need to get used to the smell/taste of those.

Here’s a sample session to show how we did it.

This is a speeded-up version (because nobody wants to watch the 45 minutes or so it took us over the course of a week to get to the final version in reality), but it shows the steps in accelerated format: (1) click for knocking the card over + nose touch to card; (2) click for nose touch while holding card down with foot (this is important because it distinguishes the behavior from a retrieve — Pongu can’t retrieve the card to me while stepping on it); (3) click for rumpling the card with a foot (partial step toward destruction) + open-mouthed nose touch to card (I would have clicked these separately but Pongu happened to offer them together on this repetition); (4) click for stomp/scratch of card (distinct from but overlapping with the mouthing — I wanted Pongu to get in the habit of using his feet to scuff up and hold down the card for easier ripping — so I rewarded that too); (5) click for open-mouthed nose touch while holding card down again; (6) click for biting/tearing the card (I could have clicked the first one at 0:30 instead of waiting for the second at 0:31, but I wanted a slightly more vigorous tear since Pongu didn’t actually need to learn the behavior at this stage. If he were still in the learning phase, absolutely the one at 0:30 would have warranted a click).

Once Pongu grasped the basic concept of “wreck this card,” it was just a matter of building in duration, speed, and intensity — all of which came naturally with increased confidence and use of more desirable reinforcers.

Then we added in the other pieces, and — voila! — the trick was done.

Happy Gotcha Day Dahlia!

Five years ago today Dahlia woke up at her foster home, ate a stick of butter, and then was transported to meet up with us. I still remember her foster Mom telling us the stick of butter story (she hopped up on the table and ate it while she was out) and that she was a “little bit farty.” She did not lie.

We fell in love with her anyway.

I cannot believe it’s been five years already.

Today, Dahlia presents to you, 10 things that she will never ever learn. Continue reading

The most awesome Christmas card I’ve ever made

typewriter4I love making Christmas cards featuring Dahlia.  Ever since I’ve gotten her the cards I send out to people feature my dog, usually in a Santa hat, once in front of a typewriter “writing” her letter to Santa.  But last year I was truly inspired and what I came up with still makes me giggle like mad.  Because it was awesome incarnate.

So what was this super awesome amazing card and how did I do it?

Well, I was inspired by a pair of Doggles that I bought Dahlia.  It was just a silly purchase I made at Petsmart one day and decided that I needed photos of Dahlia wearing such a thing.  Little did I know that the moment I put them on her, I would have my entire Christmas card planned out in my head.

My inspiration: Snoopy as the Red Baron.

How to make it happen?  Well, here’s how it goes.

Continue reading

Middle Child Molly

Rest assured, you will be seeing a lot of helpful training posts on this blog.  Interesting posts.  Heart warming posts about the love that Team Unruly has for their dogs.  This is NOT that post.

I have three dogs.  I love two of them.  But my Molly?  She is downright rotten.  And guess what?  She couldn’t care less!  Sure, she has her Canine Good Citizen certification.  Sure, just a month ago she walked two Rally Obedience legs with scores of 190+.  She is a gorgeous athlete.  A relentless charmer.  The reason that pitbulls are nicknamed “french kissers”.  That doesn’t change the fact that my Molly?  Is a bad girl.  Molly has way too many of my family and friends fooled.  So, please view these ten examples (of the one thousand that I could provide.) and I will set the record straight once and for all.

You talkin’ ’bout me?

1. In The Beginning…

Molly came from a shelter in Lancaster County, PA.  As I walked in the door, I saw a young couple tearfully surrendering a sweet widdle pitbull puppy.  They had adopted brother and sister, but couldn’t handle both puppies.  So the story goes.  I should have known then.  The rotten puppy was returned!  The deceit continued further when I asked to meet Molly and she quietly curled into my lap and sighed.  This was a complete scam.  Molly does not curl up and sigh.  She prefers to be galloping across the ceiling or backs of my couches.  Molly is so impolite that she even peed on the floor while I filled out the adoption papers.

2. Molly is a terrible house guest.

I don’t mean to compare.  Actually, I do.  When I take my other two dogs to visit someone, they are charming.  Social, playful, charming, perhaps begrudgingly taking the odd treat here or there, and NEVER acting like an unhousebroken hooligan.  Not Molly!  Molly will muscle homeowners off of their own couch.  Maybe send a lamp flying here or there.  And on one absolutely shameful visit to a very dear friend’s home…Molly ran into my friend’s bedroom and peed on her bed.  Why would any normal dog do that??  And of course she has peed on someone’s floor.  I say she is an expressive pee-er.  But really?  She is kind of a jerk.

Molly hollers at me for cruelly restraining her to a tree.

3. Molly is LOUD.

The Shivering Yips Video. << Go ahead.  Click that weird link.  When Molly does not get what she wants, she talks about it.  Loudly.  In this instance she wanted to pounce on a well behaved cattle dog and owner minding their own business.  Crate Molly at the agility building?  Forget it.  Tether Molly on a hike so that I can compose a photo?  Prepare for the Yips.  After a long drive to a hiking trail, I may want to leave Molly in the car so that I can use the bathroom before hiking.  OUTRAGE.


4. That Couch Issue.

We have a green couch in our “den” area.  It is not for people.  It is for Molly.  Just two nights ago, Molly was sprawled out on the couch while I had to lay

Oh, so cute. No co-snuggling, though!

on the L.L.Bean dog bed on the floor!  If the couch is full of humans, Molly will pace back and forth and stare.  She snorts and snuffles.  She searches for an angle in.  Then she will dive on top of the weakest of the human herd.  And heaven forbid that she cannot secure a spot on the couch and she has to resort to the terrible armchair or … not the dog bed.  And just go ahead and fall asleep on the green couch.  You will wake in the wee hours of the morning with a spoiled brindle pitbull on your chest.  Staring at you.  Either that, or you will find yourself slowly and quite literally pushed to the floor.  There is an eject button for the green couch, and it has four feet.


5. Rudeness to Siblings.

My corgi, Ein, has a personal bubble.  Seriously, you can almost see it shimmering around him while he walks.  Molly has no respect for bubbles, personal space, or other beings whatsoever.  Molly prefers to yank Ein around by his furry neck ruff.  And when that isn’t fun anymore, she enjoys body slamming my poor standard poodle, Perri.  Harmless game of chase?  No way.

No one likes a pool splasher!

Molly likes to spice it up, and by the end of her games, everyone ends up belly up with paws flailing in the air.  And Molly just waits for them to get back up so that she can do it all over again.

And there was that time that Molly blasted Ein in the back of the skull with a large tree branch that she was hurtling down the trail with.

6. Did I Mention Rude?

Molly is a dirty filthy dog humper.  She humps Perri, she humps her golden retriever cousin Everett, and she used to hump Ein before she became too tall.  But the worst of all?  If she is frustrated in agility class she humps ME.  And as though that isn’t bad enough, she might start playing tug of war with her leash or my sleeve.  All of this has resulted in a strict time out schedule and more intelligent clothing choices.  But really.  I hate to compare. (No I don’t.)  Do I have this problem with my other lovely dogs?  No!

7. The Ball.  Ball.  Ballballball.  BALL!BALL!BALL!

What is more relaxing than a nice game of fetch between owner and dog?  Not much.  With Molly, however, it is a life or death situation!  A military operation!  When the ball is thrown, any people or dogs in Molly’s path will be plowed over, aside, or away. (Just ask Ein the corgi.)  That is irritating enough.  But Molly cannot play fetch with a normal ball.  She chews the ball

A ball-crazed expression on the face of Bad Dog.

in mid-run so that it is broken down to pieces within five minutes of play.   It has to be a special Chuck-It Ultra Ball.

But it gets WORSE.  WORSE!  When Molly runs the ball to me, she drops it 20 feet ahead of me.  Or maybe where she picked it up.  Or maybe she loses it entirely.  She might go for a swim with her ball and leave it fly downstream.  But the end result is the same.  She eventually returns to me – WHY? – wanting me to throw the ball.  If I don’t throw it, she rushes me and jumps on me.  Then she licks her lips and snorts and jumps again.  THROW MY BALL!  And she is the imbecile that lost the ball in the first place! Oh, do I sound like a raving lunatic?  Sorry about that.

8. Molly eats stuff.

And if she doesn’t eat it, she rolls in it.  I’ve got the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline hanging on my fridge for a reason.  The short off-the-top-of-my-head-list: earthworm. possum poop.  deer poop. rabbit poop.  homeless guy poop (this is true!). dead fish.  dead cat.  dead rabbit.  dead everything.  deer heart.  deer entrails.  deer skin.  water filter.  cough drops. squeakers. compost pile. xylitol laced gum. any food item left unattended for 1/10th of a second.
Special Discussion 1/SQUEAKERS.  Let’s talk about squeakers.  Molly is not allowed to have squeaker toys.  And you know why?  Because she eats the squeakers, and they sit in her stomach.  And then all at once she does a System Purge and vomits at least five yellowed and foul smelling squeakers into some corner of my home.  Once she system purged on my foot while I was on the phone with the “Cable Guy”.  (this is also true!)

Special Discussion 2/FIRE PIT. My husband and I burn non-recyclable /

Molly roots through a fire pit on the Appalachian Trail.

compostable trash.  We have a nice little burn pit in our yard that doubles as a campfire.  If given the opportunity, Molly enjoys rooting through the charred leavings in search of morsels.  She also does this on Appalachian Trail hikes.  It is not uncommon to find campfire rings along the Trail and Molly never misses an irritating opportunity to snorfle through the ashes.  (Safety Disclaimer – Molly does not snorfle through anything that could burn that angelic face or terrible lips.)  Now, I HATE TO COMPARE.  But I enjoy that I don’t have to micro manage the other dogs to keep them out of the fire pit.  As always, Molly creates an extra chore.

9. Molly has a bad hind end.

Molly can clear a room with her farts.  She is famous for farting in my tiny Honda, when no escape is to be had.  Bonus if it is a freezing cold day and window lowering is not an option.  Her farts vary from loud and long to completely silent, and all paired with that same condescending expression that she always fixes me with.

And if that is not bad enough, Molly has a bum set of anal glands.  On a normal dog, the anal glands will express with normal bowel movement.  Since Molly is completely disgusting, she has to express her anal glands manually by licking them.  This often happens in the car, or on the couch, or in front of company.  Sharing makes friends, right?  And the only thing that smells worse than a Molly Fart is a Molly Anal Gland Expression.  YUCK.

10. Mind Control.

The worst part of all is that even though Molly is rotten?  Everyone loves her.  And they act like *I* am the one who is out of my mind.

My sister is Molly’s self-proclaimed lawyer. (to defend her of all naughty things that dear Molly could never have done.) My friend wants to write a story book about her.  My husband’s work clients invite her into their homes and give her snacks.  And my husband is the worst lost-cause Molly lover that there ever was.

Here is where I sum it all up by saying that I really do love Molly. (sometimes.)  That I accept the naughty with the good. (ugh!)  That she is both a challenge and a joy to train and live with. (argh!) That she makes me laugh more than any other dog. (bitter laughter.) That I am completely proud of her strength, independence and personality. (gag.) That I have a million fond memories for every ten bad ones.  That I adore my bad, smelly Molly-Moo.

Mind Control is clearly at work here. I don’t love this dog!



My Dog + Positive Training = AWESOME

Amelia Doghart, ready for liftoff!Sometimes I’m really struck by how awesome my dog really is.  And not only that, but by how much the training we’ve done with her has helped her with her confidence level.

Last year around this time I took her out to the park for a Halloween photo shoot.  I had big plans for this one, much more than just a costume.  I was inspired by the purchase of a pair of Doggles (goggles for dogs, if you’re wondering what they are) and the video of Weird Al Yankovic’s Dare to be Stupid (which you can see here).

The idea required that Dahlia stand up with her paws on a keyboard while wearing a yellow t-shirt with the atomic symbol on it and a pair of Doggles.   Yikes!

I worked my way up to it in the following way, rewarding her heavily for each step.

First, I had to get her to stand with her front paws on a flat park bench.  This goal was accomplished pretty easily.  Once she would stand with her front paws on it, I had her hold the pose long enough so I could step back and take some pictures.

From there I had to get her used to standing up with her front paws resting on an electric keyboard (which I had sitting around the house, thankfully).  This may seem like it’s the same thing as the first step, but dogs don’t really generalize all that well and the feel of the keyboard was different enough that this required the same method as I started with.  Copious rewards for standing up there and then adding a time element.

Then she needed to stand with her front paws on the keyboard while wearing a ridiculously ill-fitting t-shirt.

And finally, she had to stand with her front paws on the keyboard while wearing the ridiculously ill-fitting t-shirt and the doggles.

For each step, she was rewarded and then she was rewarded even more heavily by holding the pose long enough for me to step back and take a few photos of her.

It took about a half hour of working with her and resting between things to get the final product (green screen added afterward; you can see the original background here).

dare to be stupid 

Not once during this process was she upset or worried (notice her ears are up!).  She knew she was getting rewarded heavily for doing all this silly stuff and so she did it happily.  She really is such an amazing dog!

When Good Dogs Go Bad

I arrive home one day from work and am greeted with a happy wiggly dog.  As she dances around me I keep catching a glimpse of something.  Finally she settles a bit and I can grab her around each side of the face so I can take a closer look.  That’s when I notice it.  Right there in the middle of her face.  Smack in the middle of her nose.

The Cut.


Oh Dahlia, I think.  Not again.  You see, I have many such pictures like this.

There was the one from March 2011. And the one from December 2011.  And yet another one from back in October 2010.  In fact, I have photos dating back to at least October 2009 showing this very same phenomenon.

How does it happen?  What does it mean?

The first time I had no idea.  I remember speculating that she cut it while sniffing the rose bushes down the road.  Or maybe she scratched her face with a dew claw.

The second time I didn’t quite make the connection between the nose cut and what I discovered later that evening as I crawled into bed.

The third time I realized there was a pattern.

I would arrive home to the cut on the nose.  In the bedroom I would see a pattern of bloody nose splotches on our sheets or comforter.  Those bloody splotches would lead me to my pillow.

And there…

Beneath my pillow…

I found it.

The butter.

That’s right…that wonderfully salty creamy substance you can’t quite imagine dogs going crazy for.  It was still in the wrapping, though it showed much evidence of being chewed on.  There, tucked safely away until I crawled into bed and noticed the blood leading to it, it sat waiting for her to dig it back out and enjoy the remainder of at a later date.

Unfortunately it was discarded immediately.  The Butter Thief was thwarted! But she has vowed to return again and again to find that stray stick of butter accidentally left out on a counter.  And maybe someday she’ll even find a way to do it without leaving behind the #1 most incriminating evidence: the cut on the nose.