Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Hallowiener

Happy Hallowiener from Couperspoop!!!

Between the doorbell, and the scary people, and the not-for-dog-treats, and having to wear doggie costumes, THE worst day for dogs. At least our dog. Other dogs in our neighborhood are actually trick-or-treating (yes, with kids). And not barking!

However, if you are a dachshund, you get the hallowiener jokes.

I got a rock!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Couper Goes To Kindergarten - Week 2

Week two started a lot like week one. Couper got his Big Buddy out of bed a few minutes early. We are not sure if he understands “Kindergarten”, but he generally sleeps in with me on Sunday mornings. If he was excited, he had a strange way of showing it. On the trip into PetsMart, he once again barked at anything he saw. Our “uh-uh” did absolutely no good. We told anybody who stopped and commented that he was on his way to behavior school. We were embarrassed to tell them that he already had a class.

Couper kept up his barking when class started. Once again, Ms. Puppyteacher had to go for the spray bottle. Once again, she hit my foot more than him. Actually, I think she hit the floor the most, my foot once, and Couper not at all. It got me wondering if that was the strategy. If so, bad strategy. Couper got as aggressive as I had ever seen him to Ms. Puppyteacher. She actually got down on the floor to confront him. “Uh-uh!!! I’m not scared of you”. “Grrrrr!!!!!!” I admire her courage, especially since Couper snapped at her a couple of times. She did not relent. In the end, he got the message (or got tired) and calmed down. She gave him a treat. Lesson learned? Nope, they went through the same routine at the end of class.

The final spray bottle tally at the end of the class was, German Sheppard, shot at once; Couper shot at every other time. At one point Ms. Puppyteacher even left the spray bottle on the floor pointed at him about two feet away as a passive deterrent. Couper was not all that intimidated. At one point, Couper went up to the spray bottle to lick the nozzle. He was either thirsty or doing the equivalent of hippies sticking flowers in National Guard rifles.

This week’s lesson was sitting. In week one, Ms. Puppyteacher told Couper, “Sit!” and he stood there looking at her (or more likely continuing to growl at her, I forget). She then said, “Obviously, Couper does not know how to sit.” She went on to some other point before I could defend my dog by saying, “But you forgot to say ‘with you hiney’”. Couper kind of knows how to sit. We have him sit before getting yummies and before getting dinner. In fact, sometimes after he goes potty outside, he comes in, goes to his mat near the sink, and sits to make sure that we know to give him a yummy. However, since Couper was little, his Big Buddy has “taught” him “sit with your hiney”. I guess as opposed to “sit with your head” like Mork from Ork. It mainly came from him squatting when I told him to “sit”. There is not much space from hiney to floor with a dachshund, but he was still able to keep his hiney aloft. So I added the phrase, “with your hiney”, to make sure that hiney hit floor. Does it work? A little, he knows to sit for a yummy. He has no idea that he should do it in any other context.

So we learned the AKC approved hand signal for sitting. We are not supposed to introduce the word “sit” until later. I knew Couper’s Mommy would not appreciate my asking when we introduce the words, “with your hiney”, so I stayed silent. Basically the hand signal for sit is moving your hand from your side to a 90 degree angle with your upper arm. Were you to include your other hand on your elbow, you would just about have the mob approved signal for “%@$& you!” Again, for Couper’s Mommy’s sake, I did not ask when we were going to introduce that.

To get our dogs to understand the sit gesture, we worked with them using food as an incentive. To keep the mayhem to a minimum, each group was sent off to practice in separate aisles of the stores. We picked the Ferret Aisle for Couper. It was a good choice. Apparently ferrets are not as popular as they were in the great ferret boom of the ‘80s (no reference available). We were mostly uninterrupted. In the course of training, Couper’s Mommy and I agreed to a kind of Living Will. If I ever buy “Ferret Nation”, she is allowed to shoot me. I think it is fair for everyone involved.

Couper did fairly well with the sit exercise. Basically we keep a yummy in one hand and swing it over his head (to the right angle describe above). As the dog keeps looking up, it can’t do anything but sit. Couper is good at doing things he can’t do anything but. When we want him to stop sitting, the keyword is “free”. Since he could do anything but, he was not so good at that. He just stopped sitting whenever he got tired of it. Good thing that is part of this week’s homework.

Other homework, and next week’s class, is going to involve “loose leash” walking. This is walking your dog without him or her pulling you like an Iditarod sled. If Couper were a Husky, he would be the lead dog. He has been pulling us on walks from day one. Side-to-side and full steam ahead. He does not do it all the time, but he certainly does it more than once on each walk. The solution: stop; wait for the dog to come back (loosen the leash) without pulling; mark with “yes” (and at times a yummy); continue the walk. The problem, we were taught, is if we let him get away with pulling once, it is like starting at the beginning. This is going to be difficult. Our homework assignment is to do this throughout the week. Next Saturday, upon bringing our dog in to the store, we have to loose leash walk, “even if it takes you an hour to get into the class. Come early.” Given Couper’s parking lot aggression, we may have to leave for our 10AM class at 4AM (including breaking into the Petsmart before it opens – can we use the “Ms. Puppyteacher told us to” defense?).

Another thing I forgot to write about in the week one entry was a running tally of stuff we buy at Petsmart upon leaving. (I know what you’re saying, “how could you forget two things – running tally of purchases and sitting - from week one when my eyes are still bleary from reading the 1000 words you typed in the week one entry?” First of all, my college English teachers did not litter my writing assignments with “Verbose!” for nothing. Secondly, the key to writing is to drink enough Jim Beam to keep things interesting, but not so much as to run out and forget that our “guest” vodka is nothing but paint thinner and nail polish remover poured into an old Smirnoff bottle. I didn't get to the point of drinking the “guest” vodka, but I did forget two key points. See, it could have been worse). Anyhow, in week one, we did not buy anything at Petsmart. I was proud of us. Although we do not buy our dog food there, Petsmart has plenty of things for people like us who from time to time might buy a thing or two for or resembling our dog. Or to put it bluntly, we have a million doggie toys, tons of treats, and a lot of dachshund paraphernalia (understatement). I am guessing Petsmart knows of people like us as they put the Kindergarten classroom in the middle of the store, right across from doggie treats and an aisle away from toys. This week we were not so lucky. The haul:

Dachshund stationary
Dachshund gift bag
Pupperoni (for his training treat).

As best as I can tell we are invited back next week. Maybe the purchases helped. However, I am pretty sure that Couper is on Double Secret Probation.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Couper Goes To Kindergarten - The Homework

At the end of class last Saturday, we were assigned 20 minutes of homework a day to do with our dog. As far as we could understand, we were supposed to do the class activities (see Kindergarten - Week 1) at home with Couper. It was only twenty minutes a day because we were told that is a dog's entire attention span for one day. That was shocking. We had no idea it was that long.

I assume when Ms. Puppyteacher told us to do 20 minutes a day every day, she really meant 10 minutes a day every other day. That we actually did about 15 minutes a day most days should put us ahead of the game. Right? Maybe?? Probably not. At least that is what I am going with. We sure can't use the "dog ate our homework" excuse. The whole homework assignment involves him eating.

We were also told that we should not do the homework only in one spot, so that the dog understands that these rules apply anywhere, not just the "homework spot". So we moved the homework to different rooms of the house each time. I am guessing she really meant do homework one time inside the house, another in the yard, another at the park, another at Gramma Buddy's, and so on. That seemed like way too much work for us. It was all we could do to figure out what room to use next. And we really only have five viable rooms (the garage and laundry room are out, I don't care what rules we violate). I am now sensing we are going to be in real trouble.

So, we did homework as best as we could understand, as often as we could, in as many places as we could create. How did we do? Couper responded to Couper's Mommy as if he had been her trained show dog all his life. He responded to Big Buddy almost as if we never met. Couper's Mommy says, "Couper", Couper looks his mommy right in the eyes and gets a yummy. Big Buddy says, "Couper", and he might as well be wearing noise canceling headphones. Nothing. To be fair, my calling, "Little Buddy", my name for him, sometimes got me a glance, but we were told to use his proper Christian name when training him. (For the record, he has had 3 official names, one for each household he has lived, and numerous "pet" names. Sometimes he responds to "Stinky". Maybe I should go with that).

So, I am way behind the eight ball here. There is now no doubt that I am going to fail Kindergarten and be served a restraining order to keep away from my Little Buddy. So I tried the only thing I had left. At the end of class last Saturday we were told that we should absolutely never teach our dog to "shake" or "high five". Well, we weren't just told that. Ms. Puppyteacher went into a 5 minute diatribe about it, complete with pictures, charts, and foot-stomping. Why not shake? No idea. Wasn't listening. I got the overall point after the first sentence. So I tried the only thing I had left; the only noble thing to do. I tried to bribe Couper's Mommy to go down with the ship with me. I offered her $5 cold hard cash, if she tells Ms. Puppyteacher the following: "We did exactly as you told us. We worked with him every day. We used every technique you taught us. It was a gigantic struggle. And finally, on Friday night we had success; he finally was able to high five!!!". Couper's Mommy's response: "No Deal!". $7.50? "No Deal!!". $10? "No Deal!!!". I'm not made of money, so it ended there.

So, tomorrow we go in with what we've got. No stories, no lies. Just a stubborn dog who ate my homework.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Couper Goes To Kindergarten - Week 1

Everybody got up early on Saturday for Couper's first day of Kindergarten. Couper's Mommy had her alarm set for 7:30AM, but got up before it went off. Big Buddy had his alarm set for 8:30AM, but got up before it went off (OK, 2 minutes before, but that counts). Couper was involved in both wake-ups, so I think he was excited.

The first unexpected problem was what to wear. Couper's Mommy insisted I wear clothes, but said that I did not have to wear a suit. I was going to wear my III Dachshund Brewery shirt, or my "I Love My Wiener" shirt, or my "My Wiener is Huge in Japan" shirt, but was not sure if any of those would be appropriate. (Yes, I actually do own all three.) I somehow felt that would be like wearing a Yankees jersey in Fenway. I finally decided on a neutral blue shirt.

Couper's Mommy and I were nervous. Our vet in Havasu, when noticing Couper's aggression, told us that training classes would do him no good. He told us he was already too hard wired. He put Couper on Puppy Prozac to calm him down. We give it to him less than prescribed and a little less than even we feel we should. However this morning, we made sure that he got a dose. Good idea? I haven't a clue.

We got to Petsmart a little early. Couper was in top form, barking at everybody in the parking lot (actual parking lot picture to the right), at the entrance, at the cashier stands, and in the aisles. As we were walking down the toy aisle, he decided he needed to poop. Let's just say it wasn't one that was easy to pick up and leave it at that. It is a good thing that Petsmart provides bags, paper towels, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer. After cleaning that up, we were ready for class.

When we were there last week, we had signed up for the puppy class. Even though, at five, Couper is not a puppy, the trainer said that the curriculum was the same and since he was small, it should be no problem. As the time worked best for us, and we got the sense that the trainers got commission for signing up people, we took the puppy class. I was a little concerned it was going to be a Jethro Bodine in 5th grade situation.

The class was a little smaller than we had expected. There was one little dog (breed name and actual name forgotten) that was 3 months old and 3 pounds. That dog was held by a child who was there with her younger siblings and her mom. She sat right next to us. Across from us was a puppy German Sheppard and his owner. Couper was his barky self. The little dog was a bit of an instigator. The German Shepard, who was already big, seemed a bit scared of the situation.

The instructor was indeed the one who signed us up last week. For legal purposes, we shall call her Ms. Puppyteacher. (Being that we do not know her last name, that may actually be correct. Please do not sue us if it is.) As she was talking, the German Sheppard kept whining loudly. Finally, Ms. Puppyteacher reached into a cabinet, pulled out a spray bottle, and zapped the German Sheppard with water. It sat him right down. Meanwhile, Couper was randomly barking and occasionally going at the little dog sitting next to him. When Couper got really worked up, Ms. Puppyteacher shot him with spray water too. Kind of. Seems Ms. Puppyteacher is no Sundance Kid when it comes to shooting water bottles. She mostly hit my leg. Couper was no big fan of this one way or the other. He barked and lunged at Ms. Puppyteacher, which prompted more mis-directed spraying. She finally came to the conclusion that Couper was not intimidated by the spray bottle. However, my left foot remained calm and attentive for the rest of the class.

Spray bottle notwithstanding, the first thing Ms. Puppyteacher told us is this class was going to be about positive reinforcement, not training by intimidation. It was treats for good stuff not shock collars for bad stuff. Without saying it directly, it was the opposite of "Dog Whisperer" philosophy. That was fine by me. I do not want Couper to be scared of us. Just to listen to us every once in a while.

Our first lesson was to teach the dog to recognize when it is doing something good by being rewarded and given a positive word. The suggested word was not "good dog", which in actuality is two words, but "yes", which is actually one word. It is very difficult to break from saying "good dog" and for those of us who grew up with the Knicks, harder yet to say "yes" without breaking into our Marv Albert voice. "Quick release by King, Yessssssss! And it counts!!". This is going to take some work.

Our next lesson was to have the dog look at us when we call its name. The catch is that the dog's name can only be said once. No, "Couper, hey Couper! Couper!! Couper!!! Damn it Couper, stop looking at the freaking toy and look at me!!!!!!". This just reinforces the dog ignoring you. She did not say anything, but I could tell that Couper's Mommy was wondering if this works with Big Buddies as well. Maybe she did say something. I forget.

To reinforce the positive and the name calling, we played a game where we hold yummies in our right hand; have the dog sniff and go for those yummies; call his name; wait for him to look us in the eyes; then give him his reward yummy from our left hand. It took Couper about three tries to cut out the middle man and go from the right hand bait immediately to the left hand reward. No eye contact necessary.

The final lesson was to say something to the dog when it is exhibiting bad behavior. One would suspect that if good behavior got a "yes", bad behavior gets a "no". No. Apparently "no" is said too often in the general household for the dog to give it any specific meaning. Is that scientifically proven? Nope, nobody knows. Perhaps the study was done in the Roper household. (Yes, it took three posts to work in Norman Fell. Stay tuned for meaningless references to the two Lionels.) No, the official word for no is "uh uh". Couper's Mommy's first thought was, "Crap, this is going to be tough say instead of 'no'". My first thought was, "Crap, how am I going to spell this in my blog". We later consulted with Couper's Gramma Buddy who gave us the spelling "uh uh". Amazingly, it is in the dictionary.

The class lasted an hour as advertised. By the end, the people were exhausted and the dogs were yummied out. We got homework for the week. We have to work with Couper on the three lessons of the day for 20 minutes a day. The house rule is no TV for Couper until he has done his homework.

So in the end, nobody was hurt and nobody was expelled. I guess we are all going back next Saturday. Hopefully my left foot will dry out by then.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Couper Goes To Kindergarten - Pregame Pep Talk

Tonight Couper and I had a time-tested little talk. The kind that only a Big Buddy and a Little Buddy could have on the night before a Little Buddy's first day of Kindergarten...

Big Buddy: Couper, no matter what, all we expect is that you try your hardest and do your best in school tomorrow.

Little Buddy: {Stares at his Big Buddy}

Big Buddy: Hopefully you will come away with something from this class and be a better puppy for it.

Little Buddy: {Looks around for something to chew}

Big Buddy: At the very least, we hope you don't get expelled.

Little Buddy: {Finds something to chew, but is pulled back by his Big Buddy}

Big Buddy: And if you have to get expelled, please do it in the first week or two so that we can sleep in on Saturday sooner.

Little Buddy: {Lifts Big Buddy's hand with his nose to start a neck scratching session}

Big Buddy: And maybe get more of our tuition money back.

Little Buddy: {Lies relaxed. Enjoys his neck scratch}

Big Buddy: Yup, getting expelled in the seventh week would totally suck.

Little Buddy: {Stares at Big Buddy}

Couper Goes To Kindergarten - Pre-Ramble

Couper turned 5 on October 1st. As with all 5 year olds, Saturday, he starts Kindergarten (Don’t give me this 5=35 garbage. He has been on Earth 5 years. He is starting school Saturday. School for 5 year olds is Kindergarten. School for 35 year olds is DMV driving school or night MBA classes. Kindergarten is much cuter. We’re using Kindergarten.)

OK, really, he is going to Behavior Training at Petsmart. After going to the vet last Saturday for shots, we promised Couper that we would take him to Petsmart. As Couper’s Mommy was at the front counter trying to make an exchange, I took Couper around the store. As is his nature, Couper barked and growled at anybody in his way. As we rounded the corner into the toy aisle, a woman, a child, a dog, and a Petsmart employee were the target of his wrath. The Petsmart employee quickly came over to try to calm him down. Before I could notice her “Training Staff” shirt, we were in a discussion about Training Classes and looking at class schedules. I was well into my highly successful, “Do you have a brochure” brush-off routine, when Couper’s Mommy came by, and almost immediately signed him up. To her credit, she did pay for the class. We all show up every Saturday at 10AM for the next eight weeks. So much for waking up to College Football at (or preferably after) 9.

Disclaimer: As this promises to be a running series about Couper in Petsmart Training (barring this being too much work or something), let me explain that I am not now, nor have I ever been an employee at Petsmart. I do not knowingly own any Petsmart stock (God knows what is in my 401K mutual funds. Am I supposed to know what is in them??? Is this kind of information is even available??? I think not.). Had we been walking around Petco and been accosted by one of their trainers, we would be going there. If Petsmart turns Couper into an angel, I will praise them. If they turn him into a devil, a neurotic shell of his former self, or flunk him, I will rip them. To demonstrate, here is a pre-ramble praise and rip of Petsmart: Petsmart's toys rule. Petsmart's food sucks.

We are Couper’s 3rd house. His first two houses (not counting where he was born) gave up on him before he was 11 months old. Although all we know about his first 11 months is a little about the second house, our theory is that he was never properly socialized as a puppy. He has always been very protective of his Mommy and his Big Buddy. When people come to the house, we generally hand them a toy to throw so that Couper will accept them. Once the initial aggression is over, Couper will be OK and play with the visitors. This is a little bit difficult when the visitors are plumbers and cable guys. It is also more difficult on walks. Being cute as hell, people (especially kids) want to come up and pet him. Usually they kind of laugh off his growl, bark, and lunging as he is small (not to mention a “wiener dog”). It is not practical to give strangers toys to calm Couper down, so we usually just say something and quickly pull away. Going to the dog park is out. So, if kindergarten works, it will be great.

Of course, as a veteran watcher of the “Dog Whisperer”, I am sure that the class will not only be about Couper’s problems. Maybe it is my inner Woody Allen, but I am a bit concerned that everything will be my fault. Who plays with the dog anytime anywhere? Me. On the sofa? Me. At the table? Me. While sleeping? Me. In the shower? Me. On the toilet? Me. Who started enhancing his dinner with yummies? Me. Who rubs his hiney while he eats? Me. Who let him sleep in the bed? Me. Who gives neck scratches and belly rubs on demand? Me. Who (fill in the blank)? Me.

The way I see it, there are two inevitable scenarios:

1. I am sharing a prison cell with Ron Mexico.

2. Couper is taken away, sent back to his original owner, a girl in a hospital, beforehand, we give him a farewell dinner with all his friends where everybody starts crying hysterically and somewhere in an alternate universe some child is watching this in a movie theater with his sister and he starts crying hysterically and she has to take him outside and whup him back into shape.

I am not going to sleep well tonight.