Thursday, October 27, 2011

More Indoor Games

I've been trying to figure out more indoor training activities to do with the dogs this winter. It's not here yet but I can definitely feel the chill in the air and there is no doubt that the days are much shorter. So we're trying to figure out new routines that will keep us all sane and healthy. Plus, one of my primary goals for the cool season is to get Gata in great condition before it gets hot again. Hopefully, all her collapse issues will prove to be an acclimation issue.

So what am I going to do about all of this?

Longer term goal: Get the garage set up for training activities. What does that mean? Get all the rest of the stuff put away and the empty boxes out of there. Get some sort of padded and less slick flooring - it is just a regular cement floor in there. Get a small space heater to help take the chill out of the air.

I also signed up for one of Silvia Trkman's remote training courses. I decided on the puppy class since it is unlikely to interfere with any of our other training activities and I think it will be just plain old fun. Plus, I really like her philosophy and can imagine continuing to take her remote classes. We're just auditing but that should be more than adequate and I'll probably do most things with both dogs just to reinforce the training concepts in my mind. I'm of the opinion that going back to the basics is always good.

The layout of the course is as follows. Every two weeks a set of exercises is provided. People that are active participants are allowed to post videos to the training site and Silvia and others can view and comment on them. Auditors have full access to everything but can't post video, which is fine with me since I am technologically challenged when it comes to video anyway ;-)

1) Load the Clicker - both of the dogs are very fluent in the use of markers but I have been using "Yes" more than a click recently. So will definitely do some of that with both dogs.

2) Recalls - Can you ever do too much work on recalls? I wasn't intending to turn it into a game of hide and seek but did move to other rooms in the house to make it more fun (faster) for the dogs. They definitely like the game :-)

3) Step Pad - Silvia recommends using a plate but I just went straight back to the step pad for this. Both dogs know it well and I can use it for many more things with them, e.g. positions changes while reinforcing the idea of not moving forward or back, rear end awareness work, Braille heeling, etc.

4) Food Refusal - This is definitely something that I want to do with both of them. I just need to figure out a better way to do it than what Silvia recommends since I am using their dinner raw meat mix as their reward but that might be as simple as putting it on a plastic lid or something to keep it from staining the flooring.

5) Standing in a box or drawer - I need to find the right sizes of boxes for this but until I do I started with the round rubber feed tub set right side up. The dogs are already used to using it as a step pad so the challenge will be to get them to step into it with their back feet. So until I find a box, we'll just work on getting the pairs of front or back feet in it at the same time. That should take a few days to get it comfortably for each of them. Though, I actually got Tor's two left feet in it tonight. I think this is going to be a great back end awareness exercise.

6) Frog Stretch - This is something that a lot of puppies do but neither of my dogs do any more. So I think that I will skip this one.

The dogs are really enjoying their evening dinner training sessions. They are totally up for it and are working hard at pretty simple exercises, which means they are getting rewarded quickly and that only makes them work harder. So it is all good.

Now, I just have to get better about getting up early enough to make sure that they get an opportunity to chase a ball in the morning most days. Sigh ... 4:30 just comes too fast. Oh well, that's the price I pay for these two :-) 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Silly Games can be Training, too

We continue to do stuff in the bedroom at night. There's not much room but that works out fine for very precise heeling position work. I barely move my left leg up/back; rock forward/ rock back, twist/turn, etc. and the dog has to stay in heel position. It is really hard, detailed work for both of them. Gata likes this game and knows it well. Tor is just starting to play this game but is definitely picking it up very quickly. Every now and then I made a move that he didn't respond to but he definitely got it about 85% of the time. Which I think is quite good considering he's not done this before.

We also continue to work on the take and hold of the wooden dowel. Tor finds this boring. I am not at all surprised by that ;-)  But yesterday morning I emptied a roll of paper towels and he wanted to grab the cardboard tube. So being just a slight bit cleverer than he is, I decided ... Ah, hah, we will practice the take and hold. I didn't have any treats or anything, just my voice and hands. It didn't really matter - Tor likes those just fine :-)  So we practiced the take and hold with a cardboard tube. He really wanted to play tug with it but was quite accepting of the game. Mostly, he's just happy to be playing games at pretty much any time. Silly boy!

Both dogs are doing better and better about waiting in the crate. Gata totally gets at this point. Tor gets it but wants to lay closer to me so keeps breaking his down and coming out of the crate when I am "too happy" with Gata - his definition. He really is quite the character.

On other fronts, some of the dynamics at home are shifting and I will definitely have to keep an eye on them. Tor has clearly overwhelmed Gata a little too much in ways and things that I have not noticed. Even when she tells him off for something she sort of ducks away from him at the same time. So now when I have them loose just hanging out with me, Tor is close and Gata is hanging back. I can tell that Gata is unhappy with this arrangement. So I am attempting to institute an arrangement where both can be close most of the time and neither is allowed to own me. Don't know if I will be able to get this right but I am going to attempt it. I just can't stand to have Gata staring at me dolefully from 10-feet away.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Good Times

Poor dogs, they probably think I am torturing them. They liked our old routine in California much more than the new routine that we are getting into here. More just crazy, flat out fun and exercise for them. They like the yard fine but Gata returns to the door within 10 minutes waiting for me to come out and play WITH her. Too much time spent at work and too few remaining daylight hours to go outside and play with her all the time :-)  Though I do try to sit out on the deck with them in the evening and eat my dinner out there. The changing weather may put an end to that soon, too.

Anyway, so last night I worked them in my bedroom. There's not as much empty space as in the spare bedroom but there is a crate. I thought the crate might make it a little easier for the dog that isn't working to recognize that and turn off for a few minutes while the other dog worked. I can't really say that it was dramatically better right off the bat but it was easier to have the second dog out of the way. 

Though I think both dogs would still prefer to go work for the ball in the park, they definitely like working for their dinner. I used a locally-produced raw food, Aunt Jenni's, last night for the first time. It was kind of runny and a little difficult to work with as a result. I mixed it with some of my other meat, just in case. The dogs liked it just fine and they didn't seem to have any problems with it. But I guess I should wait until I get home this evening to decide about that. It definitely has more non-meat stuff in it than they are accustomed to.

Anyway, just did little stuff - positions, heel position and very small movements with perfect position, out of motions, and holds. Tor would rather mouth my hands and try to lick the food residue off of them than take the wooden dowel. So, I decided I'm not going to force it, he knows this part. If he chooses not to do it, that's fine, but he has to go back in the crate and he misses his turn. Gata also thinks that this particular exercise is kind of boring but she is more than happy to do whatever. So she came out and worked holds very nicely and got lots of rewards while Tor stewed in the crate and kept trying to sneak back into the game. Then it was Tor's turn again and he said "Nah, I'd really rather not play this game". I gave it 2 or 3 tries and back in the crate he went. Gata's turn and she said "Oh boy, let me at that dowel". Love that about her. Tor's turn and he said "Oh boy, let me at that dowel". Great, the start of him understanding that when he plays the game the way he has learned it he gets to continue to play. If he chooses not to play by the rules he doesn't get to play. This is going to be a core concept in protection work for him. Love it when a plan starts to come together :-)

Took them to the elementary schoolyard park this morning. Played the 4-corners game (but only did 2 corners, 2 throws/corner for G and 3 throws/corner for T) with each of them to get a little of the edge off then did about 5 minutes of OB. It was pouring down rain but they don't care about stuff like that. Love the "Whistler Ball" from Chuck It since they are both very good at following it by ear in the dark and I rarely have to help them find it. We were all soaked when we got home. Tor is so easy to towel off, Gata isn't much worse - more hair but she still dries quickly. Then towel off my hair and get ready for work, feeding the dogs on my way out. I give them their RMBs in the morning so they have a little something to occupy their time while I am gone.

I was also very thankful for my new muck boots (free of all holes) this morning. Nice to have dry feet after working in the rain again. It's been too long since I could keep my feet dry while working dogs - LOVE my new job :-)  Hopefully, it will be a more peaceable kingdom tonight :-)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

More Info from U of MN

Just got off the phone with the folks at U of MN. Super nice and helpful folks there; can't say enough good things about them. They have answered all my questions and sent me PDF files of their articles. Pretty much anything I could have thought of. I'm going to try to jot down the highlights of our conversation very quickly, perhaps in a less organized manner than usual, so I don't forget them or get called away to something else.

1. EIC, of all forms studied, is generally characterized by an increased sensitivity to heat and humidity. It has been known to occur in colder conditions and even in retrievers doing water retrieves in cold water but that is in the minority of cases.

2. A current working hypothesis is that there may be a variety of different mutations that result in a similar phenotype across different breeds/types of dogs. The underlying connection being that these mutations increase the temperature sensitivity of processes involved in neurotransmission, specifically in the CNS and not at the NMJ, of affected dogs resulting in a similar collapse phenotype. The differences between the specific breed/type syndromes being more specific to the actual mutation involved as opposed to the collapse. In general, dogs' ability to thermoregulate and dissipate heat is reduced compared to other mammals.

3. There are some identifiable differences between EIC in Labradors (for the duration of post EIC_L refers only to Labs) and what has been termed Border Collie Collapse (BCC):
  A. EIC_L results in a collapse involving relaxed, almost flaccid muscles, particularly in the back legs
  B. BCC results in a stiff-legged, rigid movement and ultimately collapse
  C. In almost all cases of BCC studied so far, the dog shows some evidence of disorientation, e.g. does not respond to name or other commands or may actually lose consciousness in more severe cases
  D. EIC_L results in a loss of patellar reflexes upon collapse

I also asked them specifically about one of the observations the vets made the other day when I worked Gata between cardiology evaluations - the constricted pupils and slight delay in return to normal function (reactivity to light stimulus). At this time, that was not a feature that they recognized as being characteristic of either of the collapse conditions that they have worked on.

We talked about potential treatments a little. They are encouraging people to try a low dose of Phenobarbital with their dogs. Two lines of reasoning for this - 1. in BCC it is looking like a seizure disorder; 2. it is the only thing that has worked in a few EIC_L. We talked briefly about other options and she suggested "calming drugs" but said she wasn't sure about which or the appropriateness of that since she is a bench scientist and not a vet. Maybe that's why I enjoyed talking with her so much :-)

Talked more about a video. They feel that they have everything that they need on her case. Dr. Eeg's office sent them the entire file on all the diagnostics that we have done so far. She said that they are always happy to have more video but not to "go out of my way to cause a collapse just for a video". What a nice thing to say after some of the "crap" that I've gotten from other folks. We both agreed that if it is some form of EIC that there will be plenty of unavoidable collapses to get video of in a few months.

About the BCC study: The have nearly completed the physiology portion of the study and are preparing a manuscript for publication. They have DNA samples from over 100 dogs but they do not have the funding to start the full genome analysis to identify the mutation. So it will probably be quite awhile to get that work done.

Catching Up and Moving On ...

OK, now that I know Gata is not a Labrador, and does not have the Labrador version of EIC what am I going to do?

With the weather cooling and the days shortening it is not really all that hard to avoid collapses and probably won't be for the next 6 months or so. During that time I plan to have a blast with the dogs and bring Gata's conditioning level as high as I can. With my landlord's permission, I hope to buy a pool in the spring. That should help to keep us all active during the heat of the summer.

Last night, we played games in the spare bedroom. Did little position types of activities with both dogs for their dinner. While one dog works, the other is in a down stay. We've been doing this for a few days in the kitchen/dining room area. It's a bigger area with a clear separation between the two areas - kitchen cabinets/ breakfast bar. But it is a little harder to work on because of the hardwood floors. So we moved to the spare bedroom, which is smaller but has carpeting.

Both dogs found it much harder to maintain a down stay with me so close giving position commands to the other dog. But both started to get the hang of it and I'm sure will continue to get better. I actually think this is a great exercise for both of them - impulse control and having to discriminate between cues. Both are fully focused on me the entire time but have to differentiate between when I am focused on them and when I am not. I suspect that this is a difficult concept so am definitely just repositioning them quietly when they break and reinforcing for good behavior with more of their dinner.

Also worked on the "hold" exercise with both dogs. Gata really doesn't need much work on this but I've decided that it never hurts to reinforce the basics so don't mind repeating stuff with her as I work on it with Tor. Plus, it helps me to recall things that I have done with her that worked and make sure that I incorporate them with Tor.

Tor wasn't really all that excited about holding a wood dowel in his mouth to earn part of his dinner. That doesn't really worry me. I've only started working them for their dinner in about the last week or so since it is quite dark out by the time I get home. He prefers to do more active stuff so finds the hold work kind of boring.

That reminds me of something I was thinking of last night. I have noticed, both in horses and in dogs, that the Germans (in particular, but maybe other nationalities that I am not as familiar with) have a tolerance for repetition that is quite amazing. In horses, I always thought that they could get away with it because they tended to work with a different breed/type of horse than I did. But, I'm pretty sure that's not the case with dogs, at least not with Belgians. So what is it that they do that allows them to do the kind of repetition that became so obvious as a key element when I attended the Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl clinic? Hmm, I have to think about that. Is it that the dogs get bored with repetition or that I get bored with repetition? And, either way, how do I make repetition a more normal part of our training plan??

Unfortunately, this type of work is not really a good outlet for all of their physical energy ;-)  So I continued to get mauled throughout the evening by one or the other of them ;-)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gata is Not a Labrador Retriever

And neither does she have the Labrador version of Exercise-induced Collapse. Got the notification from the U of MN this evening. It would have been nice to know what she has but I guess that is not going to be the case. I have alot of research and thinking to do ...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jumping Jiminy!

Got home early yesterday, while it was still daylight. So I quickly loaded up the dogs and our "Clip & Go" agility jumps and went to one of our favorite local parks. It is this HUGE soccer field - room for about 4 or 5 soccer fields laid out end to end and wide enough for 2 or 3 soccer fields. There are 3 or 4 sets of goals to avoid but it's really not a problem. I've never seen anyone else using it except when they were setting up for the big parade in town a few weeks ago. I've certainly never seen any evidence of soccer being played there.

Anyway, I set up the 4 jumps in a big (roughly 20 - 30 meter) circle for Gata. When I let her out of the car, she was in ecstasy at the mere sight of them :-)   We did a bit of distance and change of direction control work and she was just flying. She was SO happy :-)  Then I switched them around and did a line of 4 jumps at roughly 12-foot intervals. She could barely contain herself.

She tired quickly since she has had quite a bit of time off to try to avoid any complications with the heat and her "EIC". I went to put her through one last time and she dropped 3 of the 4 poles at 20-inches. I decided that was enough. She was getting tired and I don't want to let her continue when she is dropping poles so I decided to end it. But, for a change, I didn't end it by putting her back in the car, I put her in a down near the bag for the jumps. I was a little concerned that she was too hot to go back in the car and wanted to keep an eye on her, but it is also something that I want to be able to do with both dogs - put them in a sit/down stay while I am working the other dog. It makes a lot of sense to start with her first, especially since Tor has serious self-control issues ;-)

So I brought Tor out and let him do a little work on the jump line. He is nowhere near ready to jump a line of 4 jumps so we just started with 1. I've done very little jumping work with him but have done some. His problem has been that sometimes he is having so much fun running that he forgets how to jump and looks an awful lot like an Ox when he takes the jump. Well, he didn't have that problem yesterday. His physical coordination has come a very long way in the last 3 or 4 months. And, boy oh boy, did he look pretty jumping. He gets himself so streamlined and aerodynamic that I swear he accelerates in the air. And talk about FAST.

We did 1 jump in various positions in the line from both directions and he did fine. Then a woman came onto the field walking 4 or 5 Greyhounds. I was very pleased with both dogs - they noticed but really paid no attention to the distraction. That's a very good thing since both dogs were off leash. Tor isn't always friendly with other dogs but he won't usually instigate anything. But I was really THRILLED with his desire to keep working and his complete and total focus on me. She stopped a little ways away to watch for a little bit but it  was totally fine with my dogs.

I set up a 2nd jump in the line for Tor at about 24-feet. He's not really ready to start pushing control too much. I want him to enjoy the activity and build his technique and if he has to do that with a little speed for now, I'm OK with that. Anyway, he did that beautifully in both directions. I don't think he dropped a single bar on any of the jumps. He is freakishly athletic so once he figures this out he should be an amazing jumper.

I really don't know very much about agility at all. But, if Gata can't do Schutzhund anymore because of the "EIC" but can sustain the intensity and drive for agility for the brief period of time it takes to complete a course I may have to learn more about it. One thing is for sure, both dogs would be incredibly good at it.

I have to say though, I find it a little weird and discomforting that Tor is better at almost everything than Gata is, so far. Well, except for being friendly. But, I really want her to be best at something. He is now faster than her, is freakishly athletic when he figures out what the heck he is doing, and has (if anything) an even higher desire to please me than she does. I feel disloyal to my sweet and AMAZING Gata Sombra ;-)  What is wrong with me???  How many people feel guilty for having 2 such fantastic dogs?  Oh well, that's me ... guilt stricken :-)

Bleepity, bleep Video!

This videotaping a collapse episode is turning out to be much more difficult than it sounds. It might not be so bad if I had help but since I am trying to do it by myself most of the time it is a big PITA. Yesterday, everything was perfect. I took her to one of the nearby school yard parks. I had everything set up. The camera was on a tripod pointed at a nice shady area where I thought she would go to collapse. And, she did collapse, but by that time there was more shade (about 20 minutes after I set up the camera) and she decided to collapse in a different shady area outside of the view of the camera :-<   This is turning into a major pain!

I may have to try to hire one of the neighborhood kids to help me with the videotaping over a nice weekend afternoon. Hopefully, we will have a few more of those to come before winter really settles in. Otherwise, it will just have to wait until the weather warms up again.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cardiology - Solid as a Rock

Poor Gata, she goes from working to collapse, to not working, to working twice within a few hours, and then being poked and prodded on top of that. But she continues to be that dog with a super solid temperament and took it in stride. Though this time I made sure that the techs would be a little more relaxed around her by putting a muzzle on her. She didn't mind the ECGs and blood pressure readings nearly as much as being held down for the chest x-rays. But she did great.

She had 2 vets today - our excellent diagnostician, Dr. Peter Eeg, and a visiting cardiologist, Dr. Weise. We started out with a round of ECG, cardiac ultrasound, and blood pressure. Then I worked her pretty hard in obedience with lots of long throw rewards. Both were impressed with her movement and conditioning (and her obedience work). Then we checked her overall status, eyes, temp, movement (a little less free but definitely not collapsed) and took her back inside for another round of ECG, blood pressure and finally, chest x-rays.

Her temp was back over 105 again. Dr. Eeg and I have gotten used to that but it definitely freaked out Dr. Weise. Her pupils were very constricted after work and stayed that way a little longer than we expected. It was a sunny day but we expected them to relax a little more quickly and become more responsive to light stimulus. We kept her in the shade for a couple of minutes outside and they remained constricted. Once we took her back inside they returned to normal.So, kind of hard to tell if that means anything. Her patellar reflexes, though hard to find with all that hair, were normal.

Anyway, we have sent blood off to the U of MN for analysis using the Labrador EIC DNA test. We have also sent enough blood for them to use in the BCC project. And, now, we just wait. We all agree that it is most likely a CNS issue but which one and how do we treat it? I guess I have the upcoming winter and early spring to try to figure that out. So, there will probably be infinitely more musings on EIC and CNS conditions on this blog than anyone would ever expect from a dog training blog :-)   Oh well, my blog ...

To make matters worse, on the way in to work after that, I had a very small fender bender. But the man I hit has had 2 previous neck surgeries and wanted an ambulance. So, that definitely was not a welcome addition to the day. Barely scratched his bumper but there you have it ...  Sometimes when it rains it pours.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weather - 3, Collapse Video - 0

It finally stopped raining but the sun never came out. The temp stayed about 45-degrees Fahrenheit all day. So though Gata had a nice working session, no collapse. However, even though it was a relatively easy session, just some heeling, out of motions and stays with relatively few rewards her temp still exceeded 105 when I took it after we were done. It may have been somewhat higher earlier but we finished up with stays. I wasn't planning to do a temp study today so only took it at the end of our session. I'll keep hoping for a warm, sunny day and a chance to get a good collapse video. Hopefully that will actually happen on a weekend or I will have to take some time off work to get the video. Gata, Gata, Gata ...

Another Spectacular Video Failure

The weather was raining and cold (45- to 50-degrees Fahrenheit) yesterday so no collapse. However her temp still got up to 106.3-degrees Fahrenheit. A friend of mine was there to help with the video. The only thing any of us got was cold and wet! I'll wait until it warms up as much as it is going to today and try again then. Hopefully I can get video of something other than a dog working in the rain :-)