Here it is folks! My Summary of Learning for ECI 831, Fall 2019. It has been a wonderful semester with all of you and I am so thankful for all of the engagement! Please excuse the end screen as I tried (unsuccessfully) to stop the video before I went to all of my screen-sharing. This was attempt #YouDon’tEvenKnowHowManyTimesItTook, so it’s the best I got :).
Also, Nevis says Hi! (this is how we are both feeling since completing all requirements for the two classes this semester!)
When I first selected the topic for my project (as seen in my proposal) I had a huge idea of reviewing video tools, video editing, all of these grand ideas to really “challenge” myself for this project. Little did I know that taking on training my dog was going to be challenge enough. I thought, before I even began the project, that I had failed already because I couldn’t see the possibility of making my vision come to life. It wasn’t the best way to start out on something that was supposed to be exciting! In addition, I was struggling with the concept of having a project that has literally no end point, put into a semester that absolutely does have an end point.
Some of the questions that swirled in my mind consisted of the following:
would anyone even care that I was blogging about my dog?
what if I don’t want her to be a therapy dog anymore?
is this project even ‘enough’?
can I be talking about this process in a grad-level course?
In thinking of how I’m going to write this recap, I know that I’m going to have to be honest about parts I left out throughout the semester because: 1) I owe it to myself to be honest, and 2) it wouldn’t be a true reflection if I didn’t take into consideration all of the positives and negatives.
Nevis and I began our journey with an initial posting of commands that I wanted to work on with her and some photographs of her working through them (at this stage I had yet to embark on the filming part).
Commands that we have a STRONG grasp on since making that first post:
sit and stay
go to your mat (she’ll lay there once I sit down at the table to eat)
coming when called at the dog park (even under HIGH distraction level like new dogs getting to the gate)
one lady even exclaimed “oooh! what a smart puppy you have!” (I did physically pat myself on the back)
Commands that are a “work in progress”:
‘bring it’ – she likes to make you think she’ll bring it to you and then runs away
walking on the leash – super into the whole “if I pull we’ll go faster” thought process
she gets so excited and likes to jump up at people. But I know it’s working because she will rarely jump up on my anymore, and if she does she either catches herself or immediately sits
she LOVES to see what I’m cooking
My improvements over the semester in regard to the project:
Found in this post I improved immensely in using film:
use of the tripod
uploading videos to YouTube
having other people involved in the training and the project
Regardless of the improvements that I made and the success that Nevis and I were having in building a relationship, I was struggling. In a post about vulnerability, I wanted to talk about the struggles I was having, the emotions I was dealing with, and the ways that I was and was not coping with the stress of not only the project, but also life in general. But, even as I read back on the post, I wasn’t anywhere near as clear as I could have been about how I was feeling.
To give some background: I was away on a trip when I bought Nevis, and she was ready to be picked up two days after I got back. I actually named her after one of my favorite hikes on the mountain called Ben Nevis in Scotland! I came home from my trip extremely dehydrated, I found out I was battling some pre-existing health issues that had crept up on me, I had this new puppy at home, and I don’t know about anyone else, but when school ends (or a long trip is over), I get into these somewhat depressive states because the routine and stimulus I’m accustomed to is gone. So this is how my relationship with Nevis started. I thought dogs were supposed to make you happy (hence the initial goal of having her be a therapy dog) but I had never been more sad or low in my entire life. I was constantly questioning whether or not I had made a huge mistake in bringing her into my life and I found myself trying too hard to find silver linings. I hate to admit it, but there had been a few times over the past few months where I thought about giving her to someone else, or how I would feel if I left the gate open and she ran away…
You’re probably thinking: ‘dear God, get this dog a new owner’. These are terrible thoughts, I recognize that now, but in the moment, they had never felt more realistic and probable. So when I had the idea to bring her into this project in the hopes that it would help build my relationship with her, I put a lot of pressure on myself because I felt like I had something to prove.
I had to ask for a lot of help.
I do not like asking for help. I feel weak, unworthy, incapable and defeated when I ask for help and so I took this on, on my own. I had to learn really fast that my feelings toward asking for help were a part of an unhealthy narrative I was telling myself. When I think about what this semester held for me, I can cut myself a little bit more slack:
2 masters classes
running a dance studio in a different city
personal life positives
health issues and testing
extra-curricular demands, professional development demands
**For anyone who had the nerve to tell me, “Well, at least you don’t have a husband or kids!!!” (and there were more than you would care to know) were no longer people that I discussed life’s pressures with.
I had to cut the pressure. But I think I took a little too long to do this. I had to revisit the basics and remind myself of the times I felt and knew that we were successful. So Nevis and I did two back to basics training sessions that I kept very light, very fun, and rather short so that we always ended on a high note. You can see us in Back-to-Basics Round 1 (here) and Back-to-Basics Round 2 (here). This is the moment where I knew that we had something new and something different, and that it was good. Nevis is also getting older – she’s now 7 months! (where does the time go??) and it’s making a difference in how curious she is and in how engaged she is with the learning.
My last post in regard to the project was all about the brain games that I can play with her and it was a fun way to wrap up the blog posts about her because it was all play based. Funnily enough, the concept of “play”, let alone the action of it, has been missing in my life for years. And it’s finally back! Let’s go have some fun.
So, on a happy note: we are much better together. Over the last few weeks we have a different relationship with each other than we had before. I am more patient, she is a little more affectionate. I am more calm and much less stressed when I’m home, and she’s able to feel safe in that energy. We have a lovely routine that includes going to the dog park and playing Frisbee and running around; the outdoors is the place I need to be when life gets crazy so it’s nice to have another reason to get out there. I’ve noticed my mental health has been improving, and the stress that I was feeling is beginning to ebb.
I find myself gravitating more to Nevis to cuddle on the couch, or making more time in my day to play with her. We’re both settling into life as we know it now, and I’m much more confident that it’s going to be a good thing. It’s due in part to this project that I was able to begin by forcing myself to make the time, to now having it feel much more natural.
Our next steps:
we start up another round of puppy classes on Saturday mornings
we have a new challenge:
it’s puppy’s first Christmas and we have a lot of family coming into town – she will be in total stimulus over-drive and completely out of routine. But we got this!!
She’s learning how tasty the fake pine cones on the Christmas tree are! But thanks to our work on “leave it!” she’s better at just walking past the tree with a quick sniff.
And, her name is Nevis after all, so the mountains are calling! We have some hikes planned for the spring that I’m really excited to take her on!
And finally, from both me and Nevis, a thank you to all of the classmates of ECI 831 who have contributed advice, comments, pep talks, and check ins throughout the semester. I know for a fact that we could not have done this without you!
I needed to take a brain break from recording our sessions – not because I was getting tired of them or anything, but because I wanted to add something new to our training: BRAIN GAMES! Nevis is a busy girl and with the schedule that I’m operating with these past few weeks… I feel like I’ve almost been neglecting her to an extent (I know I’m doing a good job with her and I’m just being hard on myself, but it’s tough to not be).
The catalyst for this part of the project was that Nevis got her spay surgery three weeks ago (hence why she’s wearing a tshirt in the videos- to protect the incision and take a break from the cone wearing). Nevis needed to be on ‘limited activity’ for two weeks. TWO. WEEKS. That was the longest 14 days of my life. The most excruciating 336 hours. The most… you get the idea. We were dog park-less: not okay (I should have filmed her reunion with her dog park pals – hilarious). All we had were long, leashed walks. Also learned that Nevis gets quite bored of things like this, too. Off leash she’ll go for hours. On a leash? We out! And so, I had to find ways to keep her head in the game (ha ha..?) and my research lead me to the world of agility, home-made games, obstacle courses, etc. Thank you to the internet GOLD MINE!!!!
“When Mum says ‘Okay Nevis! It’s time for the vet!” and you have to put on a brave face:
The Cone of Shame (or in our case, the Cone of Serious Side Eye)
So, I’ve been researching the importance of brain games with dogs. I’ve seen things from toys, to puzzles, to treasure hunts, to hide-and-seek, etc. There are so many options out there. Before looking into this, I had also been circulating in new toys and hiding some of her older ones so that things seem ‘new’. She has this little dinosaur that was her first toy as a baby and every morning (and I mean EVERY morning) Nevis can be found licking, cuddling, and sucking on this little toy – it’s almost like a baby blanket. It’s the calmest that she is throughout the day and it’s really interesting to wonder about how this happens with a specific toy. But the more I looked into specific games, I decided to pick a couple and work with them. It’s a little bit cheaper than buying all of these crazy toys, and it helps me see/track improvements as we go through.
To add a challenge to the games process, I had my mother and sister do the games with Nevis; this allowed me to see how she listened to others (for the most part, pretty well!), and it helps me see her through a different lens when I’m not the one giving the commands! It’s also interesting to hear the tone that other people use when giving Nevis commands, and how she interacts with them.
The video below shows a “hide and seek” style of game where Nevis is in a “sit stay” command while a piece of kibble is placed under a cup and she ‘guesses’ which one it is under. What you don’t see is a lead up to the exercise where we only use ONE cup with kibble so that Nevis gets the idea that under a certain cup, is a treat! There is still a lot of work to do but she is quite curious. She gives little ‘give up’ kisses when she doesn’t get it right (super cute), but for the most part she stays on task!
First up is my sister with Nevis at the intro stages of this game.
Next up, Mum takes a go at it. She is really funny to listen to when she’s rewarding Nevis or giving commands. Nevis loves the tone of her voice and gets all excited – she’s no longer concerned about the games, she’s just interested in being loved and cuddled.
But we’re back to our cheery, energetic, and mischievous self again 🙂 …and she doesn’t hate the t-shirt!?
It has been so incredibly refreshing to go back to basics – I could feel myself rushing through training and wanting better results than I was getting with her and I knew I needed to slow down. This happened to parallel with many elements of my life that needed a little bit of a ‘whoa’ button hit. I took the time I needed, went back to ‘play basics’ with Nevis, and tried to do my best to just ‘rekindle’ my connection with her a little bit. It helped tremendously and I think that it set us up for success. I appreciated the comments that everyone made on my last “Back to Basics” post so much, it really made me think more about the ‘long term’ nature of training her and the pressure of the time constraint within this semester-based timeline. I had to come to terms with the fact that we are not going to be super solid and consistent on our training and commands by the time this project comes due, but we will be able to show the growth and improvements we’ve made over these short weeks. Looking at it this way has helped me alleviate unnecessary pressure I put on myself and Nevis, and it also helped me see these small victories as more of a success than I was giving them credit for initially.
Nevis has entered her ‘adolescent’/teenager mindset having turned 6 months old. The puppy that would follow me out the door when it was time to go outside now requires a leash to go to the backyard so she doesn’t dash and she puts up quite the fuss when it’s time to leave the dog park. She’s a little moody these days but it’s fun to watch her personality come out.
But man oh man are we crushing the “sit, stay, break” while we wait for food. *high five*!
Here are a couple of videos we took (with use of a tri-pod this time, instead of the usual ‘phone prop’). They focus on some back to basics work with “stay” and incorporate some “leave it”, and more movement from me around the house while she ‘stays’.
A little laugh to start us off: my dad was, for quite a while, “Anti-Dog”. Before I got Nevis on July 21, Dad was known for saying the following: “do you *really* need a dog right now?”, “they tie you down and you won’t be able to travel as much”, “it’s a lot of responsibility” blah, blah, blah. All valid points…all went ignored.
Fast Forward to October: my dad and Nevis have a bond like I’ve never seen before. It’s a beautiful thing to witness – she plays with him, follows him around, cuddles with him as he reads the paper, etc. They were meant to be in each other’s lives, that I believe for sure. Here’s a little look at their ‘game time’ shenanigans:
Based on the videos and posts from last week (where discouragement was the overarching theme), I thought it would be important for both Nevis and I to go through some training that brought us back to the basics. It just served as a reminder to reset ourselves and go back to the times of our puppy classes where there were no expectations and results per class were a bonus. I had to go back to the feeling of no pressure, otherwise I think I would have struggled more.
Here’s what I learned:
Her and I can have a lot of fun together with this
I find that in these sessions we are able to connect more and have some patience with each other. Sure she’s jumping up a little bit as I’m talking and getting organized, but she is excited to get started!
She is SUPER engaged
rarely in our sessions does she become too ‘distracted’ and want to leave the session to find something else to do – this is a HUGE plus!
Video 1: Sit, Stay, Down & Leave It
Video 2: Sit, Down, and Stay (Few Vocal Cues)
**Disclaimer: even though the title says “Few Vocal Cues” you’re going to hear my voice a lot – because this is ‘back to basics’ it’s important for me to be diligent with cues in setting up for success.
UPDATE on Past Posts/Videos:
Now, when I get her food ready at meal times, I only have to say “Stay” ONCE (it’s a freaking miracle – any wood to knock on???). And she leads me to her pen and sits while I am still walking over, anticipating the command. After a “stay” command at the pen, she will wait until I say “Break!” before she eats. PROGRESS!!
This training session occurred over the Thanksgiving long weekend. The Thanksgiving weekend was a tough one for me personally: coming down from a lot of stress at work, pressures of family and company and hosting dinners, combined with feeling under-the-weather and a little behind in both of my Masters classes.
The biggest struggle I have as a dog-owner: patience. I know, it’s not the best thing to struggle with having a new pet added into your routine. However, I’m getting better.
This was not a successful training session. I had a goal over the long weekend to have a couple family members film me and Nevis randomly throughout the weekend when they identified us having ‘teaching moments’ and ‘in the moment training’. You can tell in my voice that I’m just defeated and I’m quoted saying “I don’t know why you’re filming this, it’s not good”. In addition, there’s some laughter in the background when Nevis goes to “sit” on her own time rather than on Command. Looking back I can chuckle now too, but the other really frustrating part of training is that people who are outside looking in, don’t see the day-to-day, minute-to-minute frustrations that come with it and the laughter or ‘making light of’ can be more discouraging than anything. Am I being too sensitive? Maybe.
*I’m trying to build in more distractions as we go through these sessions, but sometimes we need to go BACK TO BASICS and that is totally okay!! There is a LOT of distraction going on during this session 1) her favorite toy, 2) it’s out of the blue, 3) we had company over, 4), there is music on, and 5) we had a ‘fetch’ and ‘bring back’ session a few minutes before so she was already in the habit for that.
Alright, Alright, Alright! Thanks to a little YouTube tutorial and figuring out my ‘channel’ I have successfully uploaded some film footage of training sessions with Nevis over the past few weeks! Please keep in mind these are in a timeline that right now is a little all over the place so I will do better to organize them and show progress now that I have the uploading skills in my toolkit. To give some context to each of the posts, I’ve given a brief introduction of the video, the goals of that session, and what I hope to do next time.
Walking on the Leash*: this video is a reflection from our second one-on-one training session on October 2. **Disclaimer: I get cut off at the end but what I meant to say is that we got some tips and tricks that help me be a better ‘handler’ and a little more exaggerated so that she will listen to me as well. Also..I was introduced to thumbnails for the beginnings of videos which I will learn how to do. You can probably tell from my facial expression what kind of update this will be like! *face palm*
Sit and Stay while Food is Getting Ready: She is frustrated in this video and quite frankly, so was I! I was a little rushed getting ready for work and so you can tell in my tone that it’s not going to be successful. She gets to the point though! …that ‘heey–aggghhh!’ (phonetically wonderful, I know!) sound I make is called an “Interruption Cue” that I’m supposed to make when she breaks from a command and knows to go back to it.
Sit and Stay w/ Food + “Break!”: this is a bit of a shorter one where I finally remembered to use the “break!” command for her to eat, instead of saying “okay” – because I use that word too much in a daily basis for her to know that it means something to her!
I was going to add a couple more videos – but they’re a little vulnerable for me right now so I will leave them for another post. I don’t like not being good at something – I know…get over it, Jessica!!! So, it’s in draft form right now and I’ll work up the courage to post it. It is a learning process after all, and no matter how slow the progress is, it’s still progress.
Goal for Next Week: do a “time lapse video” (with some edits of course!) focusing on “go to your mat”, “caught me being good”, and “off!” commands during #eci831 class so I can track how well she does over the course of the two hours – that’s a long time for a pup, so we’ll see how it goes!
If anyone knows how to make these MONSTROUS videos a little bit smaller on my blog so that it’s a little more aesthetically pleasing, please let me know!