Ember Training Updates - videos included!
I will have had Ember 9 months on the 14th! Yikes! I've had a ton of time to reflect on life with my little girl. If it wasn't so darn hot, we'd have another photoshoot. Maybe later this week.

I wanted to share some breakthroughs I have had this month.

Advice was followed in that I have begun just talking throughout the day, especially when I'm moving about. At first, Ember seemed offended by this, often opting to leave the area to the crazy woman. I worked on tone, voice, choice of words - usually without an audience.

As of these past few days, If I'm in another room and start talking, she comes to investigate. Her tail now almost consistently wags when I start talking. She is even getting pushy with her sister-cat Anya - if I speak to the cat, Ember comes over and gets right in my face or between us (but only with Anya, not with any other humans).

The Cat/Squirrel Thing
This is the hugest breakthrough. She is no longer fixating on cats/squirrels/birds she can see! She notes them, and it's obvious, but we can now walk right past them, tail wagging, and attention only divided but not stolen. Last night, I took her to meat my aunt's mini-collie Bonnie, who is board with her Aussie sister boarded for the week (Family is out of town, Daniel is house sitting). They have indoor/outdoor cats way too many to count. And they are, naturally, dog friendly - especially if they think the human the dog is walking might be headed indoors. We got swarmed by felines.

I felt this tug on the leash as I went to knock, and looked back with a quick "Leave-It" on my tongue. Thankfully, I never said it - Ember was sitting on the steps, looking at me, while an orange tabby cat was pouncing, biting, and tugging on the leash.

When I knocked, I startled all the cats. A few of them scattered, and again Ember noted them, even standing - but then immediately looked back at me. I never had to say a word. I was so proud of her! This was new territory she had never seen, with strange animals.

We still have the occasional startled-thing-darting-out-of-bush-as-we-pass. Those she chases immediately, and I think this is a fear-reaction. It is harder to call her off these (she drools heavily), but on leash at least, she stops before she hits the end on command.

Training: Commands
I am starting to come off of the no-training hiatus as I have found a very happy solution. Ember has really taken to the Target game. During this no-training time, I started playing the game with her, alternating treats and praise until I saw no difference in her attitude towards both motivators. Once I had that, and found that we were playing consistently well for almost a full minute without stop, I am now occasionally sliding in commands she knows. She is actually enjoying figuring out what I meant and her attention is growing in leaps and bounds. Just recently, I've started slipping foundational skills for a new trick in between target reaches. She loves it and doesn't shy away! And I am kept "honest" on how hard I work her on one thing in the process, as I am very conscious of the last several steps taken.

Training: Leash/Outdoor Attention
I have also been able to slowly start applying this mind-game into other things, like leash skills and leash acceptance. When I have to do something with the leash that she won't like, like move her to another side of me, she gets to sprint off on my command afterwards. Just yesterday I saw this click in her brain. I had to move her to my other side, and suddenly she darted into position and sat hard, wiggling. She gave me a few false starts to sprint off, but held her ground. She got so much praise and running for that! Today, I used just her collar for a very quick morning out, thinking she would do her normal 30 second routine in the morning. But she had other plans and wanted to walk, so we walked. I saw that we had to cross paths with someone, so decided to test the waters. I gently moved her to my other side and she took it quickly, turning her attention off the man onto me - something I have worked so hard to get out of her!

We have also translated this sprint game into learning a "WAIT!" (stop and loose sit mid sprint). In the same way as the leash, I will release her to run, and then after a little bit, holler "WAIT!" She must stop and sit, and allow me to approach. Her reward is a frozen liver piece (sometimes), praise, and release to sprint again. I am now seeing her try to glance at me mid sprint (I throw my hand up in a stop motion too, though I've never thought she's seen it).

DISCLAIMER: All of this progress is a great thing - but I want to throw it out there that I understand this is still VERY slow going. She doesn't always feel like playing these games. When she doesn't, we don't train. If she doesn't respond to something quickly, we move on. I don't stand and wait for her compliance anymore. I keep moving, and if she want's treats, she keeps up. When it becomes clear she's not motivated, we lower the excitement to a cuddling/grooming session and are done. I am also finding hand movements/positions that are offensive for her that I hadn't noticed before, so I'm allowing her to see that she is also training me. If I do something that makes her (in turn) do something I don't want (like duck down), I will re-attempt whatever it was with a wide approach. If she accepts it, I slowly bring it back to the position that scared her the first time. Sometimes this works, sometimes she doesn't comply and I know to back off. I've started seeing something click in her head these past couple of days - a very slight idea that she can say something is not okay and I am listening. I don't think she's ever understood this was possible. So yes, very very slow process, and some days with absolutely no training.

And my reward? She is seeking me out more and more.

I videoed an entire walk from start to finish, lasting about 8 minutes total. It was our midday walk that has to be so short because of the heat, and because this is when she has the most energy and wants to run. These two facts do not combine well when 97+ degrees!

Anyway, this was a very loose, fun, test-all-limits kind of walk. I wanted to see how much freedom she could handle and what her decision making process is looking like WITHOUT the training aid of the no-pull harness. It will look like I am setting her up to fail, but I am not. I have learned my dog's body language and thresholds, and I know when to pick up the leash and walk away from something like a cat in the path. What I allowed today I allowed in full confidence of an obedient dog. And I was not disappointed.

3 weeks ago, I could not allow any tension on the leash. I struggled to get and keep her attention. This week, we had some distraction issues, but just look at this girl go anyway!

And just for some fun... Here's my training fail of the century. I wanted to see if she would let me work on her body awareness, something we haven't tried yet. I was wanting to do the Target game in between some rewarding for just getting her front paws on a book. What I didn't realize was that my height coupled with the way she works right on top of me would make it nearly impossible to correctly click paw placement. I couldn't see the few times she did get a paw on the book, however brief, and sometimes I thought her paws were on the book when they weren't.

Then I realized she simply was not going to put her paws on anything but carpet.

I never repeat something like this, not in a long time. However, she was all wags and kept trying to get into the target game, so I kept at it.

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Gotcha Day: November 14, 2015
Vet-Listed Birthday: May 2, 2014
So happy you are making progress.

One Border Collie Is Never Enough

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