Brainstorming with the Director for The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) 2014

Tricks From Moose and Mouse’s Genesis Story

Circus Chickendog is deep in the planning process of our Annual Howl-i-Day Extravaganza of The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!). For the first time ever we have agreed to work with a director, Asaf Ronen, who has asked for some videos of the dogs’ tricks so

we will have a way of working towards our strengths as far as great tricks go, while at the same time achieving a more satisfying story. My thinking has always been that with super cute dogs doing at least a hundred tricks, world class juggling, amazing unicycling, circus balancing acts, an incredible jazz piano rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite,” some clowning that gets the story across, and with all that (and more) crammed into less than an hour we have a riveting show. This has always proven to be the case as people even bring toddlers to the show and they stay riveted for the entire time and tell stories about the dogs for months after the show. So, while I don’t feel I really need any more of a story (The Nutcracker itself is pretty weak narrative-wise anyway), I am not opposed to making the show better.

Asaf worked with us putting on the Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) last year as the lighting designer and filled in with some stage managing as well as many very insightful comments and suggestions regarding some of the specific elements that we could emphasize to make the show better. Over the past year I went took several classes from The Institution Theater where he is one of the instructors. I just knew he would be a good influence on The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) and I was really excited when he agreed to be our director. We have been talking about the direction of this year’s show and he already saved me from going down a Star Trek direction that might have been really fun, but well, there were some plot elements that were just going to be problematic and wow! it feels good to not have THOSE problems on top of managing six out of control dogs!  We have another direction that will really give youngsters a really good reason to grow up and be responsible so they have the best chance at true happiness where they fulfill the obligations that their true calling is singing to them-the siren song that you want work really hard to tack against buffeting winds, stormy gales, bitter cold, and frankly, not listen to people trying to give you an easy way out. Don’t worry, there will still be lots of amazing dog tricks that we are tying into the story and they are going to be even more adorable than ever as Asaf is really on top of getting them some good looking foo foo costumes, which is one of my weaknesses. I spend all my time just trying to get the dogs to listen to me for a second, I hardly have the bandwidth to think about how they look. I always just think, “They look OUT OF CONTROL!”

 

 

Hope to see you down the road so you can judge the results for yourself.

Always Improving

They are getting used to sitting all together and listening to their daddy's fascinating stories!

They are getting used to sitting all together and listening to their daddy’s fascinating stories!

We are working hard on training with four nights a week of formal classes I take the dogs to-sometimes with two classes in a night.  This is in addition to the normal morning training session where we get our videos from.  The dogs are working on all of the things that I never really cared that much about-sitting, lying down, heeling properly….I mean really, when you enjoy jumping rope with your dog and playing frisbee as much as I do…..what use is sitting still?  Boring! But here’s the thing-I need to be able to talk during the show, and sure, there is 100% agreement among audiences that the best part of the show is when the dogs do things they aren’t supposed to do, which is 100% of the time, and then there are six dogs all doing what they aren’t supposed to be doing, and then that distracts me from my script which really compounds the things that aren’t suppose to happen exponentially.  An idea that Bill Hicks had about performing often appeals to me-the planned stuff is just something to fall back on if you find something more interesting/entertaining.

It’s a good thing that I took all those improv classes last year! Just go with the flow, whatever happens I just make a story up about it and then the kids start chiming in with suggestions and boy do we wind up with some interesting adventures.  All those things that aren’t supposed to happen? Much to the kids’ surprise, that is indeed what we are supposed was supposed to happen, have an interesting adventure.

Regarding the classes-In addition to learning the basic obedience that we don’t care about, the dogs all get a chance to get out and hang out with other dogs in a safe setting.  I rarely let them play with other dogs because of their bad parenting.  I used to love taking the dogs to off leash areas, but have learned that’s just where people go to let all of the dogs “work it out themselves.”  Poor Mouse lost sight in an eye from an interaction like this.

Another thought on training is that if a dog really knows how to do just one thing well and on cue it’s an amazing insight into the world for him.  He has something that he can feel comforted by when asked for it-I KNOW what I’m supposed to be doing! is a look that I totally see in many stressful situations and it really helps calm them down.  Who doesn’t want to know what they are supposed to be doing?

If you ever happen to see our show, you’ll see that my dogs totally LOVE knowing what I want of them and are so eager to do it that they almost can’t stand the excitement of knowing what to do and then doing it.  Then, after they do a trick they will just look SO proud of themselves.  What’ll often happen is that they know the show well enough that they’ll anticipate their trick and do it before I’ve set it up.  Training classes help them learn to stay and wait for their cue.  When watching our show, you can see Moose trembling with anticipation as she has gotten much better at waiting for her cues but with .  SO much fun to see that kind of fun.

Distraction Training!

We’ve been working hard on creating a new set. All of the things I thought the dogs knew how to do? They are all gone! Ha ha! Not really, but for the purposes of making a video of them on the new set they sure are. Now comes the lovely experience of re-training every single behavior with the distraction of being on the set. Well, it’s a good thing training the dogs is my favorite thing in the world to do….er, except for showing off their super-enthusiatic successfully-executed tricks. Well, I haven’t ever actually experienced any successfully-executed tricks in a performance situation, but I imagine I’d feel pretty proud.

2014 Wizard of Dogz! Press Release

PLEASE SHARE AND REPOST!  THANKS!!!

Circus Chickendog’s “The Wizard of Dogz” Weekdays, Aug. 11-22, a surprising, original, Animal-Friendly, Family-Friendly show.

100% Rescued Dogs Trained with Positive Reinforcement—a great counterpoint to abusive methods. The Enthusiastic, Eager, and Superior Tricks displayed are Testimony to Positive Reinforcement!

What: Circus Chickendog’s “The Wizard of Dogz!”

When: 3 p.m. Aug. 11-15, Aug. 18-22

Where: The Institution Theater, 3708 Woodbury Dr., 78704

Tickets: $12

Age Suitability:All ages, 60-minute show that keeps even toddlers enthralled

Information: www.chickendog.net.; 512-771-8836

Advance ticket purchase online: www.chickendog.net

Six rescued dogs, now beloved pets and amazing circus dogs, team up with a trained Scarlet Macaw,  puppets, jugglers, unicyclists, and live musicians (piano, guitar, trombone, accordion) for an action-packed and sweetly Austin WEIRD live interpretation of the movie classic, “The Wizard of Oz.”

In this original 60-minute family-friendly show you’ll see amazing dog tricks, exceptional juggling, unicycling, and clowning from a veteran of The Royal Lichtenstein Circus, and musical accompaniment that would be worth seeing live all by itself. And you’ll pick up some good dog training tips.

“The Wizard of Dogz” is staged within a professional yet intimate theater with stadium seating with good views from every seat.

About Circus Chickendog

Circus Chickendog is The Family-Friendly Circus that is Making Austin Weirder, and always includes six rescued circus dogs, a scarlet macaw, juggling, unicycling, live music, and dog training tips presented in amusing ways woven into the story.

Circus Chickendog’s popular annual holiday show, “The Muttcracker (Sweet!)” has played to sold-out houses at East Austin’s The VORTEX Theatre for six years, and their summer show, “The Wizard of Dogz!” has played to sold out houses at The Dougherty Arts Center Theater.

About Darren Peterson

The Dashing and Incomparable creator and ringmaster of Circus Chickendog is the master multi-tasker and SIX-time Ironman, Darren Peterson, born right here in Austin, TX.

You may have seen Darren on his National TV appearances on David Letterman, the Animal Planet, and the Donny & Marie Show….or his regular theater performances around Austin, including juggling for years at Esther’s Follies, various Circus Chickendog shows around town, standup at The Velveeta Room, Improvised Shows, as well as major events and venues throughout Texas.

Darren has a B.S. in Mathematics from UT Austin, has taught high school math, worked as a textbook math editor, lived in France, ridden a wheelie on a motorcycle for more than a mile, worked as the main juggler, unicyclist, and clown for The Royal Lichtenstein Circus, and has taught four dogs to jump rope and two dogs to sneeze on command.

But mainly Darren is the owner, producer, director, writer, animal trainer, juggler, unicyclist, carpenter, painter, purchasing agent, casting director, underwriter of, and is indeed, Circus Chickendog, The Family-Friendly Circus that is Making Austin Weirder.

Content Love Knowles

Keyboardist, improviser, and composer, provides a largely original live soundtrack that will include some of the movie classic’s well-known music.

Dane Dawson

Master Balloon Artist, Trombone and Bass Player, Juggler and Unicyclist, collaborates on the music, juggling, and acting.

John M. Reed

Accomplished Touring Musician, and Master Improviser, will act and play music.

Outrageous Circus Animal Training!

Video Evidence of Circus Training!!!

It’s been fun times over at the Circus Chickendog Studios. I’ve been recording some of our training sessions and here’s a short video of Skeeter learning to put his foot on a wood block that I salvaged from a friend. My goal with the block is to teach each dog to put four feet on separate blocks and then I can position them in desired patterns-kind of like the idea of stepping stones in a river-and get them to learn to hold any position I want them in. Anyway, I added a puppet playing an accordion into the video to provide some entertaining background music. There was supposed to be an announcer puppet, but there were technical details that killed that dream.  In this hopeful time of your philosophical choosing, look for it to be resurrected in the next video.

This video is instructive if you’re looking for some training tips. Note that I don’t tell my dogs what to do when they’re learning a new behavior-you can see Skeeter exploring the ring, trying known behaviors that are quickly given up as they go unreinforced, and generally going through a process of trial and error to figure out what today’s game is. Another thing to note is how at first any approach to the block is considered a success, and how quickly the criteria is raised until he actually does hold his foot on the block several times for quite a bit of time. My goal at this stage is for him to use his right foot so watch him as he figures that part out. At first any touch is accepted but that is quickly changed to only the right foot. The whole training session represented in this highly edited video took only three minutes and fifteen seconds.

Our upcoming show this Saturday, April 26th, 2014, is sure to be a smash-I got an email warning me that one of the audience members who seems to be a zombie fanatic will be in attendance. I have referenced his past show contributions in previous missives as you might remember, and with him there expect some suggestions so entertaining that it’ll be worth coming simply to hear the premise to our improvised skits. As always there will be lots of proven circus routines as a fallback just in case we can’t come up with any better directions to go; unlikely with zombie guy around.

We will also have amazing pianist, Content Love Knowles who writes and performs original circus music for us, as well as a very gifted improv actress, Angie Sardina-Fernandez, who has tons of accolades that I don’t have time to write out. Trust me, the work I’ve seen her do blows me away and I’m thrilled to have a chance to work with both of these artists who just have creativity gushing out of them all the time. They are so good they are thrilled to have a chance to play with you on a Saturday morning.

Of course-if you’d like some training tips or need your dog let out for a comfort break during the day with some training rolled in to the visit, shoot me an email or text. I love recording sessions and talking you through my observations later on.

Down The Road!

Darren

Environmental Factors

Or….Turning Scary into Fido’s Favorite Thing

Well, it’s been a busy time for us here at Circus Chickendog Ranch. I just got moved and installed a new kitchen-cabinets, sink. I wound up on The Jimmy Kimmel Live show and it was a fun fun day spent with lots of friends I wasn’t expecting to get to spend time with. I caught up with an old friend who was a clown with Ringling Bros. and heard about his baby and some great stories about him. I learned that a stilt walker I’ve known for awhile also does a hypnosis show and actually has a hypnotherapy practice and says he improves peoples’ lives-I’m normally a hardcore skeptic in these matters but I somehow believe him. I guess he’s just that good at hypnosis!

Another item of note is that I recently came into contact with someone who’ll be on a TV show and needed a dog to retrieve something after pushing a button. Another post on this Diary page talked about how much trouble I’ve had with Moose being scared of things and how I’ve tried to address the problem with improving her toy motivation. That’s been an ongoing training theme lately, but like any good program, I’ve managed to work it into the regular training. Sure, I spent quite a bit of time simply improving the toy motivation but now it’s just fun throwing things for the dogs. I get to be a quarterback. With six of my best friends in the whole world!!! No, they are literally my best friends.

And now, since Moose was already having fun retrieving toys I tried getting her to carry this large metallic object that might not be naturally pleasant to hold. I did a lot of free shaping…. getting close, nosing it, mouthing it. That probably didn’t take the first couple of sessions. I shaped her grabbing it from my hand in another session. Then it was a series of shaping the full retrieve.

No problem! Classic, well-known process! We were getting the full behavior on video starting with the first take in a new environment. Well, almost. We were having a little trouble with getting the camera started soon enough-It seemed to take a second to start recording and Moose was so eager that she’d already be off the couch and halfway to the object by the time the recording started. We made an adjustment and took three more takes, any one of which was good enough and had the needed video in the can, no problem.

I’d like to brag that it was Moose that sold the idea to the show. The truth however is that this idea is so good that the inventor didn’t even get 10% of the way into his pitch to one of the producers before the producer was like, “Dog does X? I LOVE it!!!” (where X is the very highly, much proprietarily guarded idea).

So now we were tasked with actually using the device-and this is where things started going terribly wrong.

Moose decided that she was scared of this thing! It just looks that nice, I guess-nothing like the normal environs of a circus! I was working with her, shaping her getting close to it and a related issue was the tile floor. The thing is that I really want to be sure that we don’t harm this device. It’s just a prototype and, while it seems really well-made anything is at risk around six circus dogs who are encouraged to explore their environment with gusto. They were trained to try everything and not get in trouble. Ah, permissive parenting. So I put this thing in a room that I’ve been working on. It’s totally empty except for some building materials leaned up against the wall.

I had spent four short sessions getting Moose to start approaching the machine, and I’d deploy the triggering mechanism, paired with a click, and throw a treat to her. She so didn’t like the process that even when I resorted to holding her totally in my arms for comfort she still didn’t like the process. It was starting to concern me-normally you get total pawing of a new object on practically the first introduction. I’ve had dogs start hitting a new object after I put it down before I even get to treats-that’s how used to trying things out my dogs are-hitting something or picking it up if it’s small are the first things they do to a new object-they just expect to get a treat for engaging in anything new they see around. This morning when I walked into that room I somehow saw it from Moose’s perspective, strange (she’s never allowed in there), echoing from the emptiness, the tile is slippery, and then all of that scary stuff is being connected with the new object! Well, I immediately put that thing at the end of Moose’s favorite safe place in the whole world-our bed-and left it unplugged. That was all that was needed. She immediately would sit in front of it, though at quite an angle to make escape easier, and then quickly started raising her paw on cue, which is another behavior we have recently been working on improving. We got her to hit the lever in that very first session and after two more brief sessions she managed to hit the lever 18 times in three minutes.

To reiterate, Moose went from being too scared to approach this device to sitting in front of it, touching the thing that triggers the scary noise, and then staying in front of it for several minutes-all in one day. Now we “just” have to plug it in, get her to realize that noise is a harbinger of really great fortuitiousness, and make that harbinger for her be the great joy of taking an object to her daddy. At least the path is clear! Now for the hard part-IMPLEMENTATION!

An Improvised Circus

More Typically Known as “LIFE”

Happy SXSW to everybody.  I’m sitting in a room full of awesome talent waiting to film a bit for Jimmy Kimmel Live.  Somehow the show is more interested in my juggling and unicycling than any animal skills, but whatever-I’m super happy to be here!  There’s even a fellow classmate from my Improv class that I’ve been taking at The Institution Theater.  Speaking of The Institution Theater, two of the leaders of the theater are actually sitting at my table.  Anyway, the Kimmel bit seems to have something to do with Charmin, and some audience members will undoubtedly need to go to the bathroom.  You know how those porta potties are always so awful, right? Disgusting, smell, you know, right? I mean, you know you know.  Well, Jimmy Kimmel Live will have what amounts to the Rolls Royce of porta potties and after said audience members go potty, we are going to have a “Porta Party” for them.

I know, only a juggling unicyclist could make this bit any better.

To celebrate my Level 2 Improv Class I am going to have a Circus Improv show Saturday, March 15th, at 10:30 am (pre show music starts at 10:15).  Bring kids ready to pull any presents out of their pockets-I know kids have big pockets so don’t be surprised if an aircraft carrier or intergalactic planetary system makes an appearance in the show, and then hopefully the dogs will get a chance to tell a story about when they were there or why they always wanted that item and one of their incredibly fun adventures regarding it.  I will also entertain juggling challenges so don’t hesitate to bring something fun to challenge me to juggle or ideas for tricks for me to try.

I also have an amazing pianist to accompany my routines and she is always thrilled to set whatever mood we come up with and has been writing original circus-styled music to go along with my routines so let’s throw her some curve balls and see what she comes up with.  One time I asked her to play a seal being hunted by a polar bear on a bitterly cold day.  What she came up with evoked the scene so perfectly the dogs were inspired to perform one of their best scenes of their lives.

Anyway, get tickets now-we only have about ten seats left.  We do keep floor seating available for those who need to buy tickets at the door so don’t be afraid to add a child’s friend to your entourage at the last minute-the shows are always a great playdate and we usually have photo opportunities after the show.

Elephants And Incompatible Behaviors

Keep Your Dog Quiet as a Mouse!

Poor Moosie!!!  It was supposed to be her birthday party last Saturday but things got out of hand and we didn’t quite pull off the awesome celebration we had planned. Bottom line, I’ve been accused of being a horrible doggy daddy and Moosie was dogprived of her special day. She is probably scarred-but that’s ok, she digs scars and generally shows them off happily and annoyingly. She has one that the original Chickendog gave her when she was an annoying little puppy-If you look closely, it’s still visible right between her eyes.  This will just give her one more story to tell about me. Honestly, the scarring accusation comes from an ex-stepmommy looking for anything to criticize.  I’m such a great guy that this is the first thing she’s ever been able to bring up.  Ha ha.

In other news Squirrel has been running around with one of the tiniest of fluffy toys and has been learning to squeek it.  It’s so cute!  She even does it to get my attention.  That’s right-I’ll hear a few squeeks and look over at her and she’ll be staring right at me and then squeek one more time for emphasis. I’m sure it’ll be annoying soon enough but it’s totally adorbs now! Mouse, who any fan of the show will know has huge anxiety issues, manifesting as low-level nervous barking, has learned to squeek the toy as well.  When Squirrel starts squeeking it, Mouse follows her around anxiously waiting for Squirrel to drop it.  Once Mouse has the toy, he starts squeeking it and seems comforted-I’m not sure if it’s the sound of the squeeker, the jaw chewing motion similar to chewing gum or grinding teeth, or the fact that there is little intellectual room left while keeping the toy away from Squirrel trying to get it back.  Then when Squirrel gets the toy back Mouse follows her around.  They are becoming the best dog friends of the group, with Mouse pawing at her to get her attention and Squirrel reciprocating by licking his teeth (which is what puppies do to get their mommies and daddies to throw up food for them to eat-ugh!).  Poor Moosie-I think she gets jealous because she thought she was Mouse’s best friend!

(Update: Moose has begun making friends with all of the pupillons now, so everybody is getting better socialized!)

Anyway, Mouse squeeking the toy instead of barking reminds me of a great topic of animal training, that of incompatible behaviors.  Back when circuses were bigger than movies, there was a constant elephant problem. There are many great things about the circus, one of which is that the fourth place finishers that didn’t quite make China’s Olympic team have a career performing in a more artistic and interesting fashion. But one of my favorite things about the circus is the stupendous display of the natural world that puts our small place in it in perspective. I tell you I still remember feeling the earth tremble as twenty-seven elephants trotted around the Carson and Barnes circus tent, not ten feet from me. The elephants were all holding the tail of the elephant in front of them. I saw the trunks holding the tails and thought, “What a great way to keep them all close together; ingenious!”

But it was far more ingenious than that.  You see, the elephants love peanuts and popcorn-you know, salt delivery devices- just like humans do. Think about it as if you were an elephant-you’re so big that those weakling humans right next to you could live inside of you and they’re holding delicious food.  What else would you do but grab it out of their hands and eat it? You’d be all like, “Humans are lame! Elephants RULE!!! Eat it humans! Oh, right, you can’t because I just snatched your food-what are you going to do about it? Nothing I’m going to care about!”

Here’s the genius-if the elephants are holding onto a tail, they can’t simultaneously steal food! They are incompatible behaviors!

Now, if I can just keep Mouse as quiet as a, uh, Mouse?

The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!)

A Year In Review

The run of The “Mutt-Cracker” (SWEET!) ended on Sunday, 1/5/14, and in the past few days I’ve been reflecting on the show and the past year in general.  The year itself was incredibly informative for the show so I thought I’d take a moment and share a few standout moments to give some perspective and background on how this year’s Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!), the best yet, came to be.

The year started off with a decent run of shows at The Institution Theater and I had been hoping to develop that into a regular Saturday morning show but got distracted by other projects and simply didn’t take the necessary time to promote it as well as I needed to.  The good news is that those shows acted as a workshop that developed much of the material that we used for The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!). More helpful than what we actually used was all the material that I cut— oh, the hilarious jokes, meaningful morality tales, and triumphant introductions for the dogs that we created at The Institution Theater….. they were great for those shows but simply didn’t make the cut for The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!). Sometimes an idea took too long to develop, other times a joke just wasn’t funny enough to audiences, and sometimes scenes needed too many props and became unmanageable.  Even with all of that proofing of material, I still went into our Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) rehearsals and had to cut almost everything new I had left from all the previous cutting.

I barely managed to even get the humans to all stand still together right before our last show so I didn't bother staging the animals too carefully.

I barely managed to even get the humans to all stand still together right before our last show so I didn’t bother staging the animals too carefully.

Interestingly related to the discussion of cutting, I recently came across the shorthand tl;dr, and had to look it up. It means, “Too Long Didn’t Read” and found a dissertation on the idea on Wikipedia. Here’s a quote from that article, “recall Pascal’s famous quote, “I made this so long because I did not have time to make it shorter.””

Alas, I am no Pascal and so it is 90% cutting and condensing for my show.

The huge amount of material not used is a true tribute to Dane Dawson (balloonsbydane.com) and the musical puppetry of Jill Jarboe and Bruce Newman, who make up Jungle Jill and the Jaybirds, a lovely children’s band.  After realizing how much great material we had showing off the dogs, doing shortened versions of my juggling and unicycling routines, and then adding in the songs that I knew I had to have Jill sing (can you believe she didn’t even want to do the Sandwich Captain song???), there was little time for any storyline outside of moving the show along to the next scene.

Now it is amusing to remember how worried I was about casting but I had good reason for stress. My Clara from last year wasn’t going to be able to do the show, Rich LeBoeuf (who did sword swallowing, juggling, and tons of behind the scenes helping last year) would be touring with The Zoppe Family Circus (I often came close to lamenting helping him land that job until remembering how happy I was that he is now living one of my dreams), and I had actually thought Dane would be off on some crazy adventure himself. I really struggled with the Clara character-consider that she is the central character, yet had little to do in the show because of my requirement that the show be first and foremost a skills-oriented show regardless of how we aspire to a smidgen of artistic merit. I had a real dilemma.

I’d been mulling over the casting of the show for months when I juggled at a throw away Halloween gig that had Bruce (of Jungle Jill and the Jaybirds) DJ-ing.  I’d always wanted to collaborate with the group, and had been thinking about the idea of having a puppeteer play the part of Clara. So when I saw Bruce, the Jaybirds’ guitarist, everything came together in my mind. I mentioned the upcoming Mutt-Cracker show, got his info, and we all got together and talked about it a week or two later.  The basic meeting had them asking tons of questions and me having no answers except to say that I was open to all ideas as long as Jill played Clara as a puppet.  I assured them that I loved their general presentation (totally true!) and was sure that we could fit all the pieces together and have a really strong show. I emphasized that I didn’t know how it would work exactly, but we each had separate shows that I loved (and my standards are super high!), add in Bowman handling the actual Nutcracker Suite plus other filler music (that I would pay to hear with no dog tricks involved) and then fill in any remaining gaps with Dane’s general awesomeness. How could we not have an enthralling show? I mean seriously. Ok, without my editing skills to tie it all together it could have been a train wreck but even then, an entertaining one!

Speaking of casting problems, back on April Fool’s Day I obtained two cute little puppies. It quickly came to seem like a huge mistake. Those tiny wisps of almost nothingness had ten dogs worth of personality and came to rule my life.

Everything changed-my show set up suddenly no longer worked so I had to build new ways to carry and contain the puppies for my shows. The dogs that I already had could all be trained together so I’d developed a great rhythm for training. Then the puppies came along. Not only could I not throw the puppies into the training mix, but the puppies themselves couldn’t even be trained together.  And they needed way more attention than the older dogs. And they barked jealously whenever I trained the other dogs. And the other dogs were jealous of the new puppies.

Ugh, I’d just given myself something like 20 times more  work and it was imperative that I get the puppies’ training started STAT! because they were already at the outer edge of puppyhood, they needed to be getting the idea of clicker training in while their brains were still soft so it’d have maximum impact.  The idea is like that of learning new languages for humans-you can do it anytime, but it’s far easier when young and the younger the better.

Another reason I needed to get some hardcore training in was that my life wasn’t going to be worth squat until I had some control over that puppy exuberance. An awesome girl I was dating totally stopped seeing me based on these puppies and totally blamed them. No problem there, I really did see this as more opportunity to concentrate on the dogs.

Things have smoothed out a bit and happily I picked up some really great training and work habits as a result of getting the new puppies.  And the new puppies even managed to merit a little Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) stagetime with a few decent tricks, though I have to admit that their main attraction was a mix of simple cuteness and frenzied wiggling; which I was totally willing to cash in on! Some people said they were the highlight of the show.

There is much more worth mentioning but I’ll just sum up to say that 2013 turned out to be a really great year. I got healthier, learned to make (and more important-IMPLEMENT!) schedules for training and work in general, took a dog training course that made (even!) me a much better trainer, and the show and dogs seem set to continue improving dramatically in the coming year, which is certain to drag the rest of my personal life along with them. Process over details?

Thanks to everybody who came out to see the shows or even said nice things about us! Nothing outside of playing with the dogs makes me feel better than getting that kind of support!!!

I hope everybody is as resolved as I am to make this the best year of their lives.  Good Luck!

Hands on Heads People!

This Stuff’s Easy!

I'm still in a daze at having this much cuteness constantly around.

I’m still in a daze at having this much cuteness constantly around.

There is so much going on in my life right now that my head should be exploding. But I fret not, for I have internalized the sweet knowledge that soon enough I’ll be dead; the race will be run and I can double over, panting in exhaustion, gasping, about to puke, if not actually puking. Ha ha-I was taught to never ever double over. Stand up straight, hands on head, winning didn’t really tax me much. “If you puke, puke standing up proud,” some coach might have once said.

Sure, I should be concentrating on actual dog routines but at this point there would be so much pressure to get them “right” that my head would explode; or more likely I’d ruin the tricks altogether. No, I simply can’t even consider going to all the trouble of setting up the different scenes to have the dogs go through their routines. In David Lynch’s book “Catching the Big Fish,” (and I’m going by memory here, so that might not be the guy, the book, or even a close paraphrasing of this possibly fictional person’s ideas) he mentions a childhood (likely make-believe) friend’s father saying something along the lines of, “(and why do I use a quotation mark after all that prevarication?) It takes four (a total guess at the correct number) concentrated hours of effort to get one hour’s actual work done.” I just wish I could approach that kind of efficiency.

Happily, every single dog training seminar for Freestyle, the closest dog competition to my dog performances, hammers home the idea that one never ever go through the actual routine until the competition. If the dog really knows each individual “behavior” (I prefer the term “trick”) (s)he’ll do it when it’s cued. And I am totally confident that my dogs know their tricks.

I’ve been talking recently in posts about teaching the retrieve and that’s what I’ve been falling back on for training during these very stressful days-and the stresses are totally non-show related. With six dogs, a parrot, my juggling and unicycling skills I have no worries about filling an hour of riveting entertainment. Plus, for this show I’ve added five other performers that I go and watch regularly to play with me and the dogs….well, look, the stresses I’m dealing with come from some people that refuse to honor commitments-written ones in some cases! In times like this I just think about what horrible things must be going on in their lives and psyches and be thankful that I’m not actually them. Knowing that they exist is plenty bad, and dealing with them??? it could be debilitating to one weaker than a six-time Ironman finisher.

So what do I do with the dogs when I’m under this kind of stress? I keep practicing their retrieves! And guess what? That’s become a great backdoor way to get the dogs to work on their tricks. Plus I’m adding a tertiary reinforcer. Instead of getting a click they get me to throw a toy to “mark” the behavior. Here’s the thing-they know the behaviors so a clicker becomes less important as a marker. What I really, ultimately, want is dogs that’ll interact with puppets. Each dog is at a different stage with the retrieving but they’ve all learned that toys are a great way to get treats. Except for Squirrel anyway. Squirrel simply does not care about treats at all. I just have her out during all of the other dogs’ sessions-I throw a toy to the other dog who performs his level of retrieve and I click and treat appropriately and then just throw a toy to Squirrel who plays with her toy until I get the other dog to chase his toy.

So the dogs have gotten good enough at having toy drive at this point that I can get them to do their show tricks to get the toy!

What’s the point here? Keep it fun-don’t worry about the ultimate goal of your dog making you look good in front of that person of the same or opposite sex. Keep your dog having fun, and when you need him to come through for you he’ll do it because, of course(!), playing with you is always the most fun thing in the whole world. “Always” to your dog takes commitment and the larger perspective of a self-aware human’s framework.

If practice makes perfect, why practice with stress? Practice the fun stuff and that’s what you’ll get. Fun!!!