(Editor’s Note: Clearly the best part of this post is the footnote at the end.)
We will be welcoming June, the 2013 edition, This Saturday, June 1st!
Don’t squander this exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
This year’s celebration will include, but not be limited to, SIX Circus Dogs!
Two are extremely rare and the most entertaining variety……….PUPPIES!!!! And the
best part, all audiences unanimously agree: They are 100% untrained!!!
But still, somehow Squirrel always winds up going through the barrel while Coyote walks on it. I think they do it for the amazing applause that spontaneously erupts, but then they do it when nobody’s around, too. I don’t really know why they do it, but I feel no need to reference actuarial tables for a comfortable prediction that it will happen on stage, this Saturday shortly after a prompt show start of 10 am (pre show music at 9:45).
Anyway, look for me to celebrate the Pupillons’ first June ever with some accordion music played on the unicycle while I’m juggling, all done at the same time, and, to just make it a little better, I’m going to throw “simultaneously” in gratis.
Trust me, there’ll be lots of other cool stuff to see and stories to hear. Appropriate for all ages, under three are so encouraged that I let them in free, do I need to add, “When accompanied by a parent?” Let’s say I just did.
Ok, that’s about it for this week-check the diary page of my website for training meditations and please-I’m looking for some dogs to train to hone my skills for the Karen Pryor Academy Course I’m taking.
*Regarding the comment about the untrained Pupillons, while writing this post I was thinking, “Pictures-that class said posts clearly need pictures for those googlebots to be happy. I looked over, and there they were: Untrained! I managed to catch that picture of both of them tearing up the box before Coyote, self-aware enough to feel shame, took off leaving me to successfully capture Squirrel’s belligerence.
How I Yearn for My Lost Innocence-and that Backup Eye
Today found me talking to someone after approaching her adorable four month old puppy. Eventually she said she was taking her little innocently soft puppy to the dog park for socialization.
Here’s the thing, I used to think dog parks were cool and a carefree environment. You know, dogs in their natural setting with their peer group. Except, I’d been warned by knowledgeable dog people that dog parks were dangerous-“You really don’t know what kind of criminal dogs are out there running around loose,” was their basic message.
I knew this to be a real danger and was watching out for these types of dogs. Yet still, less than a foot away from me (ME! even-with my reflexes, vigilance, and dog knowledge) a dog got to Mouse after several determined tries (that I defended against quite nicely (n – 1) times, thank you very much) and ruined his eye. It isn’t totally lost-I
mean the eyeball is still there and everything, but it doesn’t work much outside of purely aesthetic purposes anymore.
Anyway, this is why I recommend against dog parks. I mean I still go but, hey, it’s me; you know, with my quick reflexes, vigilance, and all-around dog knowledge.
Every day it’s the same thing. I wake up and have seven dogs that need to be taken care of, along with all the other things we all have to do to get through the day. The pressure of getting started on training is the really tough thing. The old saw about a journey of a thousand miles starting with a single step? The problem is, I need to get through those thousand miles pretty much every day.
Without going into detail, but to give some small overview of the challenges life is throwing at me, I’ll give a brief summary of one small part of my landlord woes since getting the two new Pupillons.
I had a tenant move out of a house that’s a daunting-to-deal-with distance away. It was trashed to the point that I didn’t even want to take pictures. Not a single door is intact-and that includes the front door that was letting in neighborhood cats, and I’m sure a few raccoons; trash and cigarette butts ground into the carpet everywhere; syringes(!); every room packed with funriture.
The list of problems is too depressing to continue, but every wall has holes punched in it. The kid that did it must have been a savant-not a single stud seemed to have been hit-I looked because I have a friend who works in an ER and they see broken knuckles, hands, and wrists all the time. They refer to these guys as, “Stud finders.”
Long story short-I’m moving out of my in-town townhome since I need to be out at the house to fix it up. This is kind of a good thing-the dogs will certainly enjoy having more space than the patio area we have in town. But now all of these projects I’ve been putting off for six months need to be done or I won’t get this place rented. Finishing these projects is another good thing; that’s what I’m telling myself. I still need to finish the ceramic tile in the bathroom; moulding still needs to go in the bedrooms from when I tiled them (over a year ago)….Heck, I’ve even let the upstairs bathroom go without a sink since I want matching tile on the counter! Anyway, some new tenant is going to have a really nice apartment to live in once I get out of here.
There’s no way around it. My life is a mess. There was (IS!) a real danger that the Pupillons weren’t going to be getting trained properly. And the whole reason I got puppies in the first place was so I could train them properly. Well, a training buddy had been telling me that she was taking online dog training classes. This surprised me as she’s the only trainer that I go to when I’m having training problems-she has good insights. I will describe how a new trick isn’t working out and she finds something that I hadn’t even thought of that immediately gets some progress going again. She really understands the whole training process and picks up on my weakest element right away. So I started researching classes and found that the
Karen Pryor Academy was starting for my area fairly quickly.
If you don’t know about Karen Pryor, she, in my opinion and therefor factually, is the best thing to happen to training ever. She has brought the scientific method to all training. There is no “Dominance” or “Pack Leader” philosophy. You get all of that leadership of the pack anyway, but never having to go into a petulant tirade. There is never a “Do it or else!” The or else is simply not getting to have fun anymore. The dogs get to have fun all the time and you get to have the best trained dogs possible-and they’re happier, too!
The course is extremely demanding, and not cheap, so I agonized over the decision for a couple of weeks. But a couple of thoughts kept coming up:
1. I have a window of about six months to get these puppies hardwired to be great learners. I see young dogs doing so much these days that I am truly inspired.
2. The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) is quickly approaching and I have some great ideas from last year that couldn’t be realized.And I really want this year’s production to be as good as I can make it.
Well, once I became convinced that this course offered me my best chance of getting these pups (and the rest of my crew) trained to the highest degree in the next six months, well, it was an easy decision to pull the trigger and get enrolled.
That easy decision is causing me some severe problems these days, but I’m going to come out in December with the best Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) yet, along with six amazing circus dogs. Hopefully a chance to catch my breath, too. But that will be January. (I can hope!)
I am going to tell you one of the most important lessons I’ve learned about dog training. It is very simple, and if you follow this one piece of advice you will immediately be a better dog trainer. And that makes you a better human. Here’s all you need to know to be a better human-and as a bonus, get a better dog: Work on one thing at a time. That’s it. If you “just” work on one thing at a time it will improve.
That word, “just.” I hate hearing it. “Just do it,” is one of the most prevalent phrases, yet there are more couch potatoes than ever. Obesity is an epidemic despite the amazing number of books and diet plans out there. But if people would “just” eat right…..you get the idea.
My dog Moose has the fastest sit I’ve ever seen. I’d never asked for a sit before starting at Austin Canine Central recently. The courses there are drop in and dogs are just expected to have a sit ingrained. Moose had never needed a sit before-I just had her go to a down instead. So I free shaped a sit in order to bow to peer pressure, because that’s just how I am. Ha ha.
It was interesting seeing Moose finally “click” on the fact that this simple thing was what was making the clicker click. She tried everything else she knew that would get sometimes get a click-scratching for like a full minute, spinning forever, etc etc. Then she would stop, look at the clicker and sit. You could see her body jump at the well-timed click.
Moose’s attitude seemed to be that getting that thing to click usually takes a lot more physical effort, like a jump into my arms, or running around me several times. A simple sit? Let’s just say Moose does not spare any effort in her attempts to get a click, whatever the situation. And I love alacrity in a behavior-just the type of attitude a clicker trained dog exhibits. That beats out any type of less-enthusiastic precision in my book.
So we were in a class doing heelwork which includes sitting when you stop. And Moose had that down cold. Stop=Sit. I couldn’t be happier with the speed. And Moose was so happy, sitting there with a big smile on her face! Her tongue would loll out of her mouth, her head cocked back. Beautiful!
But perfect? Well, she should really be closer, was the instructor’s admonishment. And it was true.
So at the next sit, which Moose again did lightning fast, I withheld praise and you could see her face go from being super happy to confused while I waited for her to come closer. Well, by this time the class had been instructed to go back to heeling and when we stopped again, I again waited for Moose to come closer. More confusion. I realized, and after “just” this second attempt, “Moose is confused because she’s doing exactly what I’ve trained for and not getting praised.”
“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just go back to accepting the sit.”
Remember, this had only happened twice. I was still too late. Moose was already confused and the next time we stopped she simply didn’t know what to do. R EGRET REGRET REGRET!I had immediate fear that I’d never get that beautiful speed back!
In these cases you have to go right back to assuming the dog has no idea what you want. You have to give the poor little guy the opportunity to discover it all over again. The good news is that if you’ve free shaped regularly this will go pretty quickly. I do it right in the middle of a show when there’s a distraction sometimes without it being noticed. It can happen that fast-and you can totally lose the behavior for good in just about the same amount of time if you expect it and make your petty dictator-like demands.
What had I done wrong in the heeling scenario? I was asking for two things that I hadn’t trained together-speed and closeness. I had also complicated matters by doing this in a stressful situation-a class with lots of other dogs to think about. And we’d just been heeling, a further complication!
I should have worked on closeness, with no other distractions, and no other behaviors needed. Any approach to me would have gotten a click. Then shaping to get the correct side, then orientation, until the dog is in the right position. Then the closeness would be nailed down. After getting closeness and orientation solid, I might wait a beat before clicking to give a chance to offer a sit. I’ll bet it’ll happen pretty soon.
I just got Squirrel and Coyote fixed this past Friday, May 3rd. And by “fixed” I mean that I took away their sole biological purpose. You know, to reproduce themselves. Ha ha. But seriously, now that they don’t have that urgency driving their every action, they can focus on some of the other wonderful possibilities that being on the planet offers. Like being Circus Dogs! How fun is that?
Well, it’ll be a lot of work and responsibility, but that’s the torture of sentience. No more drunken orgies of unconsidered action fueled by the delicious draughts of vagary of whim stirred well with biological urge. No, that’s the thing about sentience, even being around it changes one, even a dog like me. Hopefully even dogs of a dog like me.
As I have found friends that have a clear view of reality, it tortures me to see the world through their eyes. But it has helped me see more things to
improve on. And then I have to work on them, not because it matters, but because to not address a known problem is why we have things like that Bangladesh building collapse. And my life is already strewn with enough rubble from past collapses, not that you care. I have an emotional bulldozer clearing that mess away as we speak and I am lightening my load considerably these days.
And not that you asked, but if you want my best advice on how to manage your
todo list it’s this: Take the biggest problem and work on that and nothing else until it is completed. Bam! Huge improvement!
My biggest problem? There are so many known, mandatory-to-address problems that I just freeze up trying to think about what’s most important; thinking about how doing one will make another worse and how they all fit together, some actually being mutually exclusive, and which one should I be addressing right now for my financial well-being versus which one I should be doing for my physical needs, and trust me, I do my best to ignore the psychological mess that gets thrown in because that halts all actual physical world improvements. When I start thinking about how I FEEL about something? That’s when I freeze up. Then as I’m staring at the floor, motionless, Skeeter comes into my field of vision, by which I mean I still don’t see him, and barks twice at me. The first time gets me to look at him. It’s funny-it’s like he’s snapping his fingers to wake me out of a trance-I look at him, and the second bark is my friend Jeff’s admonition from a decade back when a tenant had moved out of an apartment with unpaid rent, leaving kids’ drawings right on the walls, “Quit your whining and throw some paint on the walls!” After this second bark, Skeeter then jumps up and I have to catch him in my arms. It’s good, it focuses me back on doing something. And that’s what I need to escape despair another moment-to know that I’m doing something to improve the situation.
And it doesn’t even matter that I know the situation is terminal-I’m practically dead right now, my hoped-for 50 remaining years being a blip in human existence. There’s a scene in Team America where one marionette is trying to make time with another marionette and she has just had the love of her life die and she can’t be intimate with someone who could die so the guy promises, “I will NEVER die.” I practically roll on the floor every time I see that scene. The subsequent action of the unrated version is simply not to be missed. It’s weird that the censors seem to have a problem with the depiction of chocolate pudding. I wouldn’t let the kids see it, but come on, who doesn’t love chocolate pudding?
Here’s a link to the “I will never die,” scene-it made me laugh two more times just now. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yaTCXcvTGY You’ll have to find the next scene yourself-this is meant to be a generally family-friendly site.
Anyway, just trying to improve on stuff is what gets me through the day. I’m happy to report that it’s a rare case when I have to work on a project that I don’t really care deeply about, what some call a job description.
Anyway, this is a story about getting the dogs fixed. This was a requirement to getting Squirrel and Coyote for free from their breeder. NO PROBLEM! I have
thoughts of breeding certain super awesome but different breed dogs from time to time but there’s a mis-application of time and effort that I hope to never make. I mean there are so many great accidents out there at any shelter you walk into right now. Or without even getting up, go to petfinder.com, and you’ll get a good description of tons of great dogs with an actual assessment of their personalities and what type of home they’d be appropriate in. That’s how I wound up with the gorgeous, perfectly-proportioned, smart, lovable Moose and Mouse, a combination that should totally be bred. What great dogs, whatever they happen to be mixed with. I got Skeeter because he was listed on Petfinder too, for that matter. Plus, no messy, gross birth process, and litters of puppies to deal with!
Anyway, I’d been thinking about when to get the pupillons fixed when I went to Peter Pan Mini Golf for a friend’s birthday a few Mondays back and met a certain paid staff member at Animal Trustees of Austin. I had always thought about ATA in the
same terms as free healthcare clinics-kind of like they were a ghetto dog services place, but then I realized something. While ATA is indeed the lowest-cost provider of spays and neuters that I know about (it seems that free is actually an option for certain people!), they are the ones doing more of these surgeries than anyone else. And whoever is doing the most has the most experience, and why would I want someone with less experience? Well I asked my very-knowledgeable animal advocate friends and got nothing but great reports about Animal Trustees of Austin. Uniform five star ratings across the board.
And I am happy to report one more Five Star, Circus Chickendog approval rating. Animal Trustees of Austin has a fabulous operation. I don’t think it took 15 minutes to drop off the dogs and fill out the paperwork. Everybody was super friendly and helpful. Before taking the dogs, there was a very thorough consultation where someone went over the paperwork and emphasized the important things I needed to know, and made sure they knew what I wanted to have done and expected. Then, after taking the pups into the back they didn’t have any problem with me coming back into the pre-op area for one last visit with the pups before leaving, saying, “We love people who love their dogs.” They even offered to take this picture of me with them!
Same story when I came back to pick them up. There was a volunteer who talked me through the post op things I needed to know and do. She was very clear about
everything and answered several questions I had. I was out in practically no time and even picked up very inexpensive treatments for heartworm and fleas for all the dogs at the house. I mean it isn’t free having seven dogs so this kind of resource definitely helps. I’ll be back!
It’s been a whirlwind of activity around Circus Chickendog World Headquarters. I’ve been free shaping the puppies, started free shaping a horse, built two carts for dog transportation that don’t work quite right (YET!), have been working on a movie set, providing a couple of cameos,
and my backdrop is going to be a featured part of the movie. And I’m now contemplating taking the most comprehensive training course I have been able to find.
Regarding the dog training, I’d like to take this opportunity to mention that I am racking up several consecutive “accident free” days. Finally. I had both puppies out in the living room yesterday, watching them carefully (I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter that they were outside for 20 minutes-they’re too busy playing with the wind to take time for proper business) when Squirrel made it around the corner. I was like, “I can’t see him now. He could literally be doing ANYTHING.” And you know what that means. I
rushed around the corner and he was already all the way down the hall. While retrieving him, of course, Coyote was out of sight, and could be doing ANYTHING. PANIC! Everything was ok-but I put them right in their kennels with bones to chew on.
In order to keep the training schedule on track I’ve been taking Moose to Austin Canine Central where we go through obedience and Rally classes. We go four nights a week, sometimes taking two classes in the night. It’s a lot of effort, but I didn’t get these dogs to not play with!
I’m not really going to the classes for Moose’s benefit, though I do like that she’s sharpening her basic skills which makes her more confident in her demeanor. No, my real motivation is to get the puppies in the training
room and keep their socialization up while letting them see what they’ll soon be doing themselves. These are the first dogs I’ve ever had that didn’t go uncontrollably crazy upon seeing other dogs before being trained properly. They’re just used to being around lots of dogs, having been with a breeder for the first few months of their lives.
The classes are a great experience for testing out our training-they aren’t designed so much for teaching as to replicate the stresses of a competition setting. As I’ve mentioned before I am constantly relearning aspects of training that I know “intellectually.” Because of these two things-a lack of new material to work on and
wanting to really internalize the things I know, I’ve been thinking about taking some on-line courses, the best of which seems to be the Karen Pryor Academy.
I’ve resisted classes for a long time. At first it was because I knew that I had the worst-trained dogs in show business. I was embarrassed at how I’d never taught them to sit or even heel properly. I mean, sure, they have a full show’s worth of great tricks that are made better by the associated stories but it’s the preciseness that we need now. I have this vision of how much better the show could be; not just that but a glimpse of what is possible if I can get the dogs to really work with precision. As I’ve learned with the jokes I go through with Lauren Macaw, it’s the set up, the waiting to do the trick, that really sells the story. And it’s a rare story that can be enjoyed if the punchline comes too soon.
I am really excited about the possibility of an even better show, but even more by even better dogs. Wish us luck! If you’d like to help-sure, it’d be hard to turn down donations, but even better: Bring some friends to see our show!
A Celebration of Desire for Impossibly Perfect Efficiency
May 1st, to those in the circus a celebration of new life. A circus used to leave it’s winter quarters on the First of May to start the new season and this is when new workers would join a show. Throughout the first 7/8ths or 8/9ths of the season they would be referred to as “First of Mays.” It’s a bit humorous, a little derogatory, challenging even; but it is also a term of endearment. A First of May is like having a toddler around wanting to help but getting in the way until they get up to speed on how to independently get the needed work done in an efficient manner.
There is an idea in New Age circles about how you should attach everything you do with the highest degree of importance. The ridiculous notion goes on to explain that even the lowly dinner plate should be washed with the care you’d give to washing the baby Jesus’ (or Buddha’s) dirty bottom.
I was reminded of this a month back when I visited with the Zoppé Family Circus and was invited to help tear down. The sheer novelty of working in a tent combined with the joy of being under canvas and working with one of the very best shows touring just lit a fire under me and I was ready to work and show my mettle. I did wind up showing what I am made of.
My first job was to collect these oval signs that were on just about every pole in the tent and front yard. Giovanni quickly said something during my rapid orientation to this job that I didn’t quite understand until I asked him to say it again, “butt to butt, front to front.” Looking at the signs, it made sense-there was velcro on the back and you wouldn’t want that to scratch the very nice looking fronts which are smooth and ok to put next to each other.
Everything on a circus is like this. There’s a way to do everything and it’s done the same way every time-unless, as often happens, circumstances make it impossible. It always seems like there’s a better way but it’s rare that an improvement gets made in a show that’s on the road. Don’t mess with something that works? It goes beyond that. There is just a right way to do things and not enough time to pick out the error in the infinite number of ways something might still work. But probably won’t.
I finished collecting the signs and getting them to fit in their box-no easy feat. But then I found myself wandering around embarrassed, looking for work to help with. Interrupting a circus hand who’s actually getting something done is a daunting task, and not just because of my own tender sensibilities. The sheer momentum they have is tough to slow down and dangerous to throw yourself in front of.
Eventually I got the call to coil up the electric cords. One of the things I remember from my days on The Royal Lichtenstein Circus is that the cords get twisted from the normal person’s coiling them-every loop gets a little half twist if you don’t adjust for it and then kinks up. This is something I never mastered when I was with the RLC, but thought about a lot in the intervening years.
It’s my classic battle of doing the groundwork to make a future task easier-like washing the dishes before the food gets hardened, or taking the time to tediously put tools back exactly where they go to be easily found for the next job. On the RLC, everyday when uncoiling the cords, I had to deal with the kinks I’d created the day before. In my subsequent life as a Towner I have learned to do what I’ve heard referred to as a musician’s wrap, what I considered the best way of coiling a cord until being tested in the crucible of an actual Circus Teardown.
I thought I was doing so well. Heck, I even thought that I’d show the show this new technique and they’d start using it and remember me fondly for giving them an improvement on a tedious job. It’s so embarrassing now.
In the musician’s wrap, the cord gets wrapped around your elbow and hand, so you need to keep that arm flexed, and hand pointing up. You then wrap alternating directions, which gives the loop twice the diameter of your forearm, and automatically deals with that little half twist. I go into unneeded detail because, well, I still have feelings of protective longing for the musician’s wrap; even after what happened.
One of the cords turned out to be way longer than anything I’d dealt with before, and thicker too. As I was wrapping it, the cord really started piling up in my hand, getting hard to deal with. And there was still quite a bit to go when I got to a pole that had been laid over the cord. When I bent over to pick up the pole, I couldn’t quite move it off the cord because of its weight and length, so then I started trying to get my feet involved and it turned into quite a balancing act while bending over with the cord counterbalancing the rest of my body leaning over and actually winding up being the highest point on my body. Ugh-I’m not even going into the several other issues that came up from this fiasco, but they would further emphasize my general incompetence.
Well, I got that cord wrapped finally and when I went to put it into the box, it wouldn’t fit! The cords needed to be coiled in the normal diameter and laid flat-no wrapping the coil to keep it coiled. It stays in place by virtue of being packed correctly in the box. That’s when the electrician, Dennis, came over, looked at my mess (which I continued to defend) and showed me the preferred method. He stretched the cord out to full length and, while standing in one place, pulled the cord to him, coiling it on the ground, much as was done with long ropes on ships, or how I’ve tried to coil garden hoses. It always works, you don’t have to carry the dirty cord (On a show, “dirt” is quite the euphemism!), and the twist is dealt with naturally while laying the cord down.
Rookie mistake? Worse. Given my previous show experience it couldn’t even be explained as a First of May mistake. I was an April Fool. Again.