Friday, August 30, 2013

Urban Herding

Urban Herding is a 6-week workshop we attended at Zoom Room Belmont since mid-July. Is is an introductory class for Treibball, where handlers give commands from a distance and the dogs would push a ball around the field towards a goal. 

During the first class, we started by practicing the touch command, then extended to touching the end point of a long stick. That was easy for Maya, but then it got challenging. We moved on to making her "stand and stay". Out of habit, she would try to sit when I asked her to stay (or when she saw treats in my hand). She also doesn't quite get the idea of standing up from a sit position. 

Touching the end of the stick

After that, the real challenge came when we need to teach her to push a food can with her nose. I tried asking her to touch, which she did, but her touches were too gentle or from the wrong direction and the can never moved. Then she got a bit frustrated and started to bite, lick, or paw at the can, but she just wouldn't push it. And then the big ball came out, which got even worse. She continued with the touching, biting, licking, pawing, and even climbing on it. By the time we walked out of the classroom, we were both exhausted and I had no idea how I'll ever teach her how to push the damn ball. 

What should I do with the ball?

A few days went by without a good solution nor any practice, and then while I was cleaning Maya's toys, I found the Kong Wobbler hidden in a corner. It suddenly came to me that the way Maya plays with the toy is exactly the "push" we wanted. I placed the toy on the floor without even putting any treats in, and she begin to nudge it with her nose right away. I grabbed the clicker and click as soon as she pushed and gave her a treat. After a few rounds, I started add the word "push" as soon as she pushes. Then I changed the toy to a food can and gave her the "push" command. Without any hesitation, she started to push right away. Push, click, treat, push, click, treat! A few minutes later, she's pushing whatever I placed in front of her. What a smart girl!

After we got the "push" figured out, the class was much easier for us. Some of the other classmates were still a but confused, so we played a few interesting games, like putting treats in toilet paper rolls and let the dogs unroll them. I would have never imagined myself encouraging my dog to play with toilet paper.

Unrolling toilet paper by pushing

However, besides the "push", there are still a few challenges. Making Maya to "go out" to stand and stay behind a target was super hard. She was able to go out to a certain range, but once out of my arms reach, she would just stand there. And once I reach for a treat, she would try to come back to me, or sit down. This is probably because all of her training since puppyhood rewards her for staying close to me or sitting still. She had no idea I why I would want her to leave my side. 

Stand and stay behind a target

And then the biggest challenge, is to make her push the ball in the direction I want. Every time she starts pushing, she would enter this crazy pushing mode and ignore whatever I say. Even when she is paying attention to me, it's super hard to make her change directions. Since the ball is so big, I would need to guide her all the way around the ball to push from a different angle. Usually by the time she got to the right place, the ball most likely had gone somewhere else. 

Maya goes crazy pushing and ignores me

Despite all the challenges, Maya still graduated with flying colors. During the last class, we had to compete in 6 different contests, including going out behind an object, moving to target locations, unrolling toilet paper, pushing the ball for a certain distance, pushing the ball to a "gate", and, oops, I forgot the other one. Maya won 4 out of the 6 and tied the other 2. She walked away with the "Best Herder" title! 

Maya graduated as the "Best Herder"!!

Overall, it's a very interesting workshop. It would require a lot more training to even think about competition, but it's a great introductory class to have an understanding of what Treibball is about. Though is not as physically challenging as agility, it actually provided a lot more mental stimulation. We had to constantly take breaks during the class so the dogs wouldn't be overwhelmed. 

This class also provided a great opportunity for me to really learn how to use clicker training. It worked really well when marking a precise action, like how to push or touch. However, it doesn't work well when doing a continuous motion, like moving to a location, pushing the ball for a distance, or standing still for an amount of time. The sound of the clicker was too distinct and Maya would stop whatever she's doing and wait for a treat. Verbal acknowledgement actually works better in those cases. 

The best part about this activity is that we can continue the training at home. All we need is a ball and some enthusiastic "Push! Push! Push!" commands!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Behind the Curtain

Since I blocked the space under the bed a few months ago, Maya found a new favorite hiding spot: behind the curtain. She usually goes into hiding when she wants to do something she knows I don't approve of, like scratching her face or licking her paws. Sometimes it's also because she's pissed, like after I put doggie socks on her feet, wiped her ears, or wrapped her up with bandage. The curtain is probably covered with dust or pollen, since we often keep the windows open, but I guess it's still better than hiding under the bed. Ah, some days she just acts like she's the most mistreated dog in the world. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Maya's Journal

Since the first outbreak of Maya's allergies, I figured the importance of keeping a journal. Not only to help determine what are the causes of her itchiness, but also to track what types of treatments are helping. I started this blog mainly for this reason. However, I soon realized a blog is a good way for periodical updates, but not as ideal for tracking everyday details. 

Maya's daddy and I soon came up with an idea of making our own iPhone app to track Maya's allergies. We can enter how itchy she is, what she eats, and what treatments she's getting; we can use the GPS to log her whereabouts and even look up the local weather automatically. Everything will be storing in a database and we can write some fancy data analysis program to find out how all those variables affect her itchiness. We can even sell the app and make a fortune from all those poor dog owners who are dealing with allergies like us. Well, this idea never got passed the design phase. 

And then almost two years went by, relying mostly on this blog, the pictures I took, and my memory, till we met Dr. M, who really impressed me by reading through my blog before we even met. During our first appointment, she emphasized the importance of keeping a detailed journal and wanted me to be more thorough. Without better options, I started to use the Notes app on my phone to write down anything I thought worth noting. However, it's really not the most pleasant input tool and within a week, I started to slack off.

Notes doesn't work well

To get myself back on track, I decided to revive the "app" idea, but with easier execution. Instead of building a real app, I made a Google from document. With all of the information pre-entered, all I need to do is to go through the list and fill in the blanks everyday. It sounds neat and easy, but there are some serious flaws. The form once submitted, it's hard to make changes, so I need to fill it in the next day instead of throughout the day. Sometimes it's hard to remember all the details, even just 24 hours later. And if I do miss something and wanted to go back to make updates, it would be super difficult. Moreover, if the pre-defined conditions changes, like adding a new supplement or new food, I would have to go edit the form itself before filling in. It is also hard to fill it out on the phone, so I have to make sure to get on a computer to enter this daily log. It felt too much like work, and I started to slack off again within days. 

Daily from I had to fill

After a few more weeks of feeling bad about myself, I decided to search if "there's an app for that" and found this app called "Day One". I was drawn by the nice interface and great reviews, so even though I rarely pay for apps besides games and this one is not on the cheap end, I made the leap of faith and paid for it. So far, I am very satisfied. 

Timeline view sorted by date

The things I like: 
  • Pictures: Everything looks better with pictures. Since I take pictures of Maya on my phone almost everyday, and we are dealing with hotspots, scratches, and infections, having pictures makes the journal much more complete. 
  • Tags: I can add tags for everything: food, location, activity, itch level, abnormal weather, etc. Tags make the entries much easier to search and organize. If one day, Maya's daddy decided to really write that "fancy data analysis program", we can probably still retrieve the information from the data.
  • Backup: All data gets backed up to Dropbox right after editing. Backup is always an importation feature to me, since cell phones are so easy to lose. I also like that the data is stored in XML format, so if some day the developer no longer maintains the app, the raw data is still available. It can also export the entries to a nicely formatted PDF file, which makes it easier to preserve the information as well. 
  • Mobile: And of course since it's on my phone, it's always with me and I can make notes easily whenever I want. I can also keep editing the same entry throughout the day, or even days later, if I thought of something new. 

Easy to search and organize with tags

And of course, there are still things that could be improved:
  • Each entry could only have one picture. On some days, only one picture is really not enough. I had to use other tools to combine multiple pictures into one. 
  • Each entry could only have one location. Some days we go to places. 
  • The weather entry will only get the weather data of the time of entry, not the range throughout the day. Since the temperature changes dramatically between day and night here, unless I retrieve the information from a fixed time every day, the data is not that helpful over the course of time. 
  • Can't have multiple "accounts". I would like to take some non-dog related notes myself, and would love to be able to use the same app. If some day I get another dog or even a real human baby, it would be nice to be able to keep a separate record as well.

A single entry with picture

I've been using this app for almost a month now and still not tired of it. I wish I had found it much sooner. It would be great if I had a record like this since Maya's puppy days.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ear Infection

Maya's ear infection started a few weeks ago. I treated it by some ACV and Mal-A-Ket wipes daily and it seems to have gotten better. Maybe because water went in her ears while I gave her a bath, or because I started to slack off with wiping, Last week I found her ear looking much worse and goes much deeper than I can reach. After some debate, I finally decided to take her to the vet just to make sure there's no foxtail stuck in her ear.

She was as happy as her first puppy vet visit when she stepped in, wagging her tail and whining, but poor girl got too excited and threw up while waiting. The doctor came in shortly, and after a 2 second peek in her ear, he claimed that there's nothing deep down and it's likely caused by her allergies. He also said that she could be bothered by this for the rest of her life, so we need to always keep an eye out. Great... 

He then decided to shave off some of Maya's fur around her ear and clean it with a q-tip. Maya got wiggly when the electronic shaver reached her ear and I was no longer able to hold her still. A vet tech came to help, and after the first round of holding her snout, she got a bit mouthy. They don't want to risk it, so a muzzle went on. It was kind of sad to see them put the muzzle on her, and I was really worried this would turn into THAT visit which makes her hate the vet from now on. Luckily, she was back to her happy self once the muzzle was off, especially with all the treats shoving in her mouth.

I went home with a $80 receipt and a small bottle of Panalog Ointment. Two days later, her ear seems to be back to normal. I guess if I continued with the Mal-A-Ket wipes, I would probably have the same result. Instead, Maya now has a ear that looks much bigger than the other, because the doctor shaved all the hair off around the base. Ah, the price we pay for the peace of mind.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Monthly Expenses: July 2013

As I was calculating our July expenses, I started to feel the pressure of posting these numbers publicly. Comparing to the other online doggie friends who are also tracking their expenses, we have been spending a lot more every single month. Last year, it was due to Maya's medical issues, but this year, it was mostly on things that are not "necessary" for most pets, like training beyond basic obedience, a fancy toy, or grass-fed raw meat. I know there are owners who work hard to make ends meet, but still try to give their dogs a good quality of life, and I respect them wholeheartedly. I don't want to portrait ourselves luxurious, wasteful, or superior, just because we are in the stage of our lives with some to spare on spoiling our dog. I thought about stopping these posts or even alter the numbers, but decided to stay true to myself, since that was the original reason I started this blog. Why should I care what other people on the internet think of me, right? Anyways, here's what we spent in July...

July 2013
  • Food: $58
  • Supplements: $32
  • Treats & Chews: $14
  • Toys: $32
  • Training: $483
  • Misc: $7
TOTAL: $626
YTD TOTAL: $2,319


This month we stock up on two months worth of food, including, Marin Sun Farm Beef Pet Food, Ecopawz Salmon Grind, some bone dust, and some veggies. For her birthday, her daddy also got her a small piece of New York Steak.


For supplements, we got a big bottle of salmon oil and a small jar of plain yogurt.

Treats & Chews

Since we started to take training classes, Maya has been going through her treats super fast. I have been making her dehydrated beef jerky from ground beef and it's not cheap, especially when rushing out to get it last minute from a local high-end grocery store in preparation for a training class the very next day. The good news is that the Marin Sun Farm Beef Pet Food works well for making the jerky, so I'll be using that instead from now on. This should cut the cost in this category down a bit.


This is the biggest expense of the month, as we signed up for a training workshop, a 10 classes pass and a 5 sessions private gym pass. The passes haven't been used up yet, so could still last for while. I also paid for the TTouch training class in the mountains. 


It has been a long time since I purchased a toy for Maya, as she has very little interest in them and we have a box-full that rarely get touched. However, when I saw this new toy, I knew she would love it. It's like a cat teaser toy but made much bigger and sturdy for dogs. The store owner was nice and let us tried it out first. She literally went nuts! It's the first time I saw her pick a toy over a treat. So even though the price is beyond what I thought was reasonable for a toy, I still brought it home. I think it'll be great for preparing her for lure coursing as well as enforce her "drop it" command.

As for the miscellaneous expense, I got two rolls of bandage to "mummify" Maya, which I learned in the TTouch class.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


This is a post I wrote for a Taiwanese forum on over-vaccination issues.

Rabies has been a hot topic in Taiwan recently. It was found on ferrets on the island, resulting in the removal of the country form the very few Rabies-free region in the world. Panic somewhat took over, and the dogs were the ones suffering, especially since Rabies has a bad call name in Chinese, the "crazy-dog disease" (狂犬病), even though in this case, it wasn't even found on dogs. The less rational people have already started to kill stray dogs, or even abandon house pets; the more reasonable ones are desperate for a dose of vaccine. However, as a two sided sword, vaccination has known to cause lots of other illness in pets. I hope to provide some information regarding over-vaccination, while the entire country is eagerly pumping shots into their beloved pets.




疫苗其實是很毒的東西,尤其對年紀較大或免疫力較弱的狗。最近有不少崇尚自然療法的獸醫及飼主,在推行抽血檢驗 (Rabies Titer),如果動物體內有足夠的抗體則不需再施打疫苗。雖然如此的檢驗方式相較打一針,既多花時間又多花錢,目前也只有少數幾州已是合法,但對這些飼主而言,能少一針就少一針。


我一直很後悔,當初為了不想多跑獸醫 (去一次就是美金$55起跳),及早日帶Maya去狗公園,讓她短時間內打了三種不同的疫苗。我有時會想,她的過敏會不會是這樣造成的。現在的我是絕對不會這麼做,在不同疫苗之間一定會保留兩星期以上的時間。