Show ’em who’s boss – Obedience Training 101

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I love my dogs – I tell myself so at least three times a day.

Who's In charge? Dog pulling owner on lead.
Rather than me walking the dogs, the dogs were walking me.

When, for example, they jump on my work clothes and leave muddy paw prints that tell everyone just how much they missed me in the five minutes they were outside to potty. Or, when we are “walking” and they are barking at every blade of grass, butterfly, or gust of wind while attempting to pull my arm from its socket.

Yes, I dearly love my dogs.

You might have read my last blog post (from a few months back – lazy me!) where I raved over how cute they were (while sleeping) and expressed my enthusiasm for training at home. Right. Three weeks after we started learning “sit” we were still working on it and decided we really needed reinforcements.

After shots galore and a quick trip to the S.N.I.P. clinic, we enrolled ourselves in obedience training at Shamrock Acres Training Center here in Louisville.

On our first night, Zeus, as you can probably imagine, was barking and growling at everyone and everything, pacing back and forth and jumping on us. Basically, showing off just how untrained he was. Mom and I are desperately trying to calm him down and get him to sit still, when this woman calmly walks over and sprays Zeus in the face with water, saying “Stop. Stop it.”

Meet Ms. Nancy.

I won’t bore you too much with details of the training itself. That’s not my intention here. I do, however, want to express a few of the benefits we have already begun to see from our short two weeks of obedience classes.

Training at home is fine and dandy if you can be consistent about it. Chances are your dog will do exactly want him to do – as long as you are at home and no other dogs or people are around.
Going to a training school will give your dog the opportunity to meet other dogs and people and will send a message that you still expect the rules to be followed when there are others present.
Zeus, for example, has learned it is not okay to bark at others and, he still has to listen to me despite distractions.
My sister’s dog Gunner, on the other hand, has not learned this lesson. I work with him at home and he forgets what we are doing to bark at the neighbors. It may not sound like much, but I notice the difference.

It’s easy to read a training book and think you know exactly what to do, but obedience is just as much about training the owner as it is training the pet. Having someone to point out areas that need improvement or things you are doing well is great. I, for one, don’t always notice when I am reinforcing a bad behavior in the dogs. A good example – when trying to get Zeus to stop barking we tried calming him by stroking his head and using a soothing tone of voice. Ms. Nancy pointed out that this was reinforcing the behavior, telling Zeus that if he barks we are going to pet him. She showed us how to correct the behavior properly.

Linda, the primary trainer at Shamrock,  is great about letting us know what we’re doing well, reminding us to praise our dogs, something that’s easy to forget. She also helps us learn when it is appropriate to feed treats and when not to.

It is also wonderful to have someone to answer questions. I wanted to know why my dog showed progress at home, but not at the training site. I could  Google it (for the record, I love Google), but I know I can trust Linda’s answer because she has over 35 years of experience training dogs. I know I can trust Nancy’s answer – I may not be able to trust Bob C. from Anywhere U.S.A.’s answer that I come across on an Internet search.

There are days when I don’t want to do anything. When I get home from a long day at work and just want to crash, the last thing I want to add to my to-do list is training the dogs. If I were training by myself at home, there would be no one to hold me accountable for that.
Linda has set a timeline for us. She told us that we and our dogs will have to perform, off lead, in just a few more weeks. She expects progress from us, and to get that, we have to work with the dogs 10-15 minutes every day. I don’t want to be the owner of the one dog who, after three weeks, still cannot “sit stay.”

There are many other reasons why training classes are great, even if you know the drill and have been through it before. A couple of things to keep in mind when choosing a trainer include:
– How much experience does the trainer have. Were they trained in a six-week course, two weeks ago? That might not be ideal for your situation.
– Have you heard of them before? Ask around – friends, family, co-workers – who did they use? What was their experience? Would they recommend who you have in mind?
– How much does it cost? There are a number of options out there. Retail stores, like Petsmart, might have a name, but can be more expensive with less-experienced trainers. The Humane society offers classes too, but may have age restrictions or limited classes available when you want them.  I’m not saying that these programs are inferior in any way, but they may not be what you need for your pet. Before you enroll, find out if what you’re getting is worth the cost, and if the program fits your needs.

We did a lot of looking and asking around before we chose Shamrock Acres. It has only been two weeks for us, and every day there is a little more progress. I can’t wait for the day I can walk my dog without having to ice my shoulder when I get home.


New Dogs, Old Tricks

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Those who know me know that 6 weeks ago my family and I adopted/rescued two wonderful, adorable puppies. They were three weeks old at the time and could fit in the palm of my hand. (Side note: if possible, never separate puppies from their litter before seven weeks. In our case, neither the mama dog nor the owner could feed the pups – eight in all).

Two sleeping puppies
Awww... so cute and cuddly - but not for long!

They are nine weeks old now and the days of tiny cute and cudliness have long past. These 15 lb balls of energy are all over the place – running, jumping, barking, biting, and don’t let me forget “going.” Our older dog (14 years old to be precise) has given up dodging the puppies and generally stays pretty passive as they both frantically lick his face whenever they are let out.

I love my dogs, don’t get me wrong. The thing is, I am used to a dog who at least pretends (half the time) to care what I say. If I say “sit” he’ll think about it and eventually do it. If I pat my leg, he comes. Not so much with the young rascals.

I know they need training and between 8 weeks and 20 weeks is the ideal time for things like housebreaking and basic obedience. As a broke college student lessons from trained training professionals is a bit beyond my budget, so I’ve hit up the library and a used book store for some ideas (as well as good old Google).

I have a training book called Training Your Puppy in 5 Minutes (Positive Training).  I found mine at a used book store, but you can find it on Amazon for around $10. I love it. It has a ton of background information you need to get ready for a puppy (or used to the one you have) and really easy to follow instructions on basic obedience.

One of the things I have learned from this is that puppies need a schedule. We are crate training ours and it is going wonderfully. As opposed to my older dog – let’s call him B – who whines in his crate. B is not crate trained, so we don’t leave him in unless there is a special case. But I’m working on him slowly. Z and G (the puppies) whine for a bit in their crates, but then they both fall asleep. Ah, the wonders of puppyhood.

On the other hand, B can walk with a leash and harness and the puppies don’t even wear a collar. It is surprising how much I take for granted when it comes to dogs.

Puppy fighting leash
Puppies do not understand leashes. Mine fight the leash like this one does.

They have a schedule they follow and woe unto us if we don’t stick to it. Bissell has great cleaning products for removing pet stains – in case you’re wondering. They know (for the most part) to “go” outside, so it’s time to bump up the difficulty.

Today they practiced the simple command “sit.” I used the five-minute method from the training guide and it worked pretty well. I put all dogs in their crates and took them out one at a time for a little “play training” as it’s called. B was first and although he didn’t really understand what was happening he did his best. It was difficult for me to withhold the treat until he got it right, but I know that’s what needs to be done.

I had the most fun with the puppies. They were so happy to be out that they climbed all over me and chased the hand that held my stash of treats. Eventually they got the hang of following the treat they were offered and did well with “sit.” I’m going to keep working on that for a few days before moving on.

I have read that at 12 weeks they are able to process more.  By then I am guessing they will weigh close to 20 lbs, so I want to make sure they really understand some basic commands by the time they get too big to handle.

For all of you out there with new puppies, or old dogs who need training – I understand your pain. I am learning, however, that patience is more than a virtue – it’s a hard-won battle and not for the faint of heart. I remind myself every ten minutes that it will be worth it when I have the best behaved dogs in the neighborhood (well, I can dream can’t I?)

The Hunt Begins – getting started on the pre-graduation job search

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Saturday was graduation day for many students at the University of Louisville. Sadly, I was not one of them.

While part of me may sigh and say that I wish it all were done and over so I could move on, the more realistic side says “Hey girl, slow down. You don’t even have a job lined up yet!”

The whole point of college (for most people) is to earn a degree and obtain a job that actually pays a decent salary. There are many jobs that do not require a college degree, but everything I have in mind does. So when I catch myself eyeballing retail stores and fast-food restaurants as a potential second job, I really have to take a step back and ask myself a few pertinent questions.

1) How will this job help me reach my goal?
I may be looking for a quick way to earn some cash, but in the long run, I know I’m going to have to make connections between all the jobs I have held and where I want to go in life.
If my goal is to own a chain of fast-food restaurants, then working in a burger joint would be a great (and essential) first step. But, if I wanted to be an astronaut (yeah, right!) it wouldn’t make much sense would it?

2) How does this job incorporate the skills I have learned?
Reading and talking about some random theory in class is one thing, but applying it out in the real world is something completely different.
While writing up a contract for my internship this last semester, I realized that I have learned quite a bit (imagine that!).

After studying for over four years now, I would be selling myself short if I took a job as a receptionist  who just answered phones and filed all day (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
I would much rather work in a job that uses those skills I have paid so much to learn.

3) If I get this job, will I love it?
My current job has very short shifts – 3 hours at a time –

and some days it can be very stressful. On those days that three-hour shift seems to last a year. Other days, it goes by too fast. I have been at this job for several years now and while it may not pay the big bucks, I love what I do. I have said many times that the best way to find a job you’ll love is to think of something you already like to do and then figure out how to make a living doing it.

Personally, if I get hired on for a job I hate I am going to be miserable all through my shift, but more than that, I will be miserable as I am getting ready to go to a job I dislike and will even be upset at the end of the day thinking that I have to go back to that awful job the next day.
No, that’s not the life for me.

So I may not have graduated on Saturday, but my time will come. When it does, I’ll be ready to find the job that leads me to my dream career. Will you be able to say the same?

Dog Days Are Over

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Today is officially my last day of classes for the Spring 2011 semester and it hasn’t quite sunk in  yet.

After this, I have a full summer working not-quite full-time and taking two online classes. It’s pretty exciting, but it starts to get scary when I realize that in the fall I have only one class and then I graduate. I have always heard people talking about how time passes so quickly and before you know it things are over. Well, that’s not really the case with me.

I have been a senior at UofL for three years now and I have to say, graduation is taking it’s time getting here. One thing I have learned though is that time is relative. I could have finished my original degree in Biology and graduated in 2010, but I don’t think I would have had any clue what to do with it. 

I started out believing that I wanted to end up in medical school. While my motives were the right ones, wanting to help people make the best of their lives, my method did not hold true. Science is a subject I enjoy when I can leisurely explore different topics at my own pace. The pressure of learning it quickly and being tested over such vast amounts wasn’t for me. It may have taken me four years to pinpoint this, but once I did it changed everything.

After a few trips to the University Career Development Center, I found out a lot about myself and decided to switch the focus of my undergraduate career. I was minoring in communication and loved it, so I made that my major.

At that point I decided it no longer mattered that I graduate in the standard four years (which I have since heard is more like six). I have decided that I have years to work ahead of me, so I should take my time figuring out a career field that I will actually enjoy.

It seems like so long ago that all this started. I can’t help but thinking back to how not-ready I was to graduate a few years ago and how much more prepared I am now, even if I am a little nervous about facing the big-wide world after college.

Relay for Life 2011

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It’s 4:30AM on a beautiful night. Music is blasting, frisbees are flying. This is Relay for Life at the University of Louisville. 38 teams comprised of over 500 people gather to celebrate life and to raise money to fight cancer.
We walk all night to represent the fight cancer patients go through as they fight for their lives. At this point in the night we are all exhausted and count down the hours until this is all over. Knowing that we get to go home and relax in just a few hours if a relief. As I walk I think that if only cancer patients had it so ready. They don’t get to tag team someone else to fight for them. That don’t get to decide they’ve had enough and go home or fall asleep in a tent for a few hours break.
My walking had left me with a blister that may take a day or two to heal. That’s two days of hobbling around in pain, but then it’s over and done -a short-lived reminder of my own fight against cancer- if only cancer followed the same schedule.

Headed to California…

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How many songs to do you know that have something to do with running off to California?? As I write a multitude of songs run through my head. Pink, Sara Bareillis, Jo Dee Messina… the list goes on and on. Just for kicks and giggles, I Googled “songs about California” and I must say, I was surprised at how many showed up on a list on wikipedia. So many songs singing about the ups and downs of that state. Listening to any one of them makes me wish I could take a vacation.

Something about a steady, predictable weather pattern is vastly appealing right now. In my small corner of the world it has flip-flopped from freezing temperatures to balmy breezes from one day to the next. Some may call it global warming. Others call it Kentucky.

Even without the unpredictable weather,  I am so ready to pack a suitcase and be off. Don’t get me wrong, I love all that I’ve gotten myself into, but sometimes enough is enough. It has been years since my last vacation – and I’m taking a real vacation here- not a working trip or a visit to friends and family – as much as I love those trips. Yet, I have to imagine a real vacation being more about relaxing and unwinding than worrying about being somewhere on a deadline or dividing my time between wanting to see everyone in a short span of time.

I was being interviewed for a class project once and although I do not remember the specific question, the topic of vacations came up. At the time I said I could never be happy on a vacation where I had nothing to do. I told my classmate that I would get to antsy and not be able to relax. That was back in January. Four months later I’m saying “bring on the lounge chair.”

Graduation is my first priority right now. I’ve still got a bit of work to do and I have  decided to plan a great vacation for my post-graduation celebration. I have not decided where I want to go or what I want to do, but I am almost positive the highlight of my time will be doing nothing. It may be a year away but already I’m selecting a playlist of vacation tunes and the Beach Boys are high on my list. 

Road Rage Uncensored

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It’s 5:20 PM on a Tuesday and I find myself standing in the middle of a busy road and praying that no one hits me. If I had a list of top ten places I never want to be again this would make it somewhere around 7.

But, how’d you end up there? Why would you do something so crazy as to stand in the middle of the road in rush hour traffic you ask? Let me go back a bit.

I've given up parking in the garage. It's always full and I don't have time to circle.

Parking at UofL stinks around 11 AM. I have long since given up parking in the Floyd garage, although that was the whole reason I coughed up the $126 to buy a green parking pass. Instead, I park in a lot that is a bit of a walk away from my first class, but close enough to my last class of the day. 

Normally, this would be ideal. I don’t mind a bit of a walk. But recently, construction in the area has made what should be a five minute stroll into a hellish 15 minute nightmare.

To get to the lot students must walk – let’s estimate about a block – in the wrong direction (as in away from the lot) then cross the street. So now students are walking an extra two blocks and are on the wrong side of the street. Great start.

Most times, there is a crossing guard to help students cross the busy roads, but not during rush hour!

Now, once we get past all the yellow tape and orange cones that warn unassuming pedestrians of the catastrophe that was once a sidewalk, we must cross the street. No problem. Sometimes there is even a handy-dandy crossing guard.

But  not during rush hour.

So, my question is this: why on earth would the crossing guard, who sits in the car during the slowest parts of the day to stop traffic for students leave when needed most??

I am not a brave person. I will walk out of my way to find a cross walk and wait for the traffic light, even if the street is empty. So, imagine my peril when not only is there no cross walk to speak of, but traffic is constant and the crossing guard I was counting on is not there.

I wanted to cry. Instead, I waited until one side of the street was empty – thank goodness for traffic lights even if they are a block away. I walked purposefully into the middle of the road and stopped.

Holy cow!

I kept looking over my shoulder waiting for some inattentive driver to slam right into me. Traffic in the final two lanes I had to cross just kept going on as if I wasn’t there. Wonderful. So much for pedestrian right of way. I half expected the TARC driver to let me cross, since surely he or she must be used to students having to cross the street at this location. Nope. Thankfully, the car behind the TARC stopped and waved me across, and just in time.

The lane I had been standing in was suddenly in full swing again. I still shudder when I think of it. I would like nothing more than to avoid that parking lot for the rest of the time it takes the workers to get the sidewalks straightened out, but unfortunately for me, this isn’t going to happen.

The next best thing would be for a crossing guard to stick around and make sure no students get hit by the cars racing through the area. Let’s put it this way – I’m not holding my breath, but I will be writing to public safety.

I’m not keen on breaking any bones in the foreseeable future. Any suggestions?