Archive for February, 2009

Runaway Dog Story

February 14, 2009

I faced a nightmare situation today and managed to not panic. I stayed relaxed automatically, didn’t even have to remind myself, and I guess that means I’m starting to trust my dog-knowledge.

Months ago I was as the volunteer orientation for the Parkersburg shelter (HSOP) and Carrie Roe, shelter President, was telling dog walkers that  (paraphrasing here) “if a dog manages to get loose do not chase them, it will only turn into a game of keep-away. Also, this place is often the best place these dogs have ever lived, so there’s a probability the dog will simply return here by feeding time. Just return to the shelter and let us know the dog is loose.”

When I’m working with dogs I always work with slip leads with the leather tab slid down to keep the leash from coming off the dog’s head, or I use a limited slip martingale which fits a large number of dogs. My worst nightmare is a loose dog in danger of running away.

I’ve discovered that there are a few dogs who are escape artists. They’ve got this move where they wait for that fraction of a second when the collar is loose, they drop to the ground and slither backwards to slip right out of that collar. It’s magical, unless you’re standing in a country field watching a shelter dog run away from you. Then it’s just freakin’ eerie.

So today, when the “anonymous brown dog” and I were walking behind the shelter and she threw me this escape move, I was completely taken by surprise. As she peeled away from me I stood still, calmly whistling to her and trying to be welcoming. She took a long run around a field, heard my whistle, ran straight for me and stopped beside me. I reached down to put the collar on her and OFF she went again, through the orchard behind the shelter.

Again, I just stayed calm, whistling for her, and walking toward a large fenced area. Before you know it, here she is hopping in the gate beside me. I guess the few hours I’d spent training her had paid off and she trusted me.

I let her run around the fenced area for a bit, then whistled softly and leaned over in a welcoming posture. She roared up to me and allowed me to put the collar back on. I told her how brilliant she was and removed the collar. She roared around the yard again, I whistled again, and she came back to accept the collar again. This time we went in the building after I took a deep breath and thanked my lucky stars that this dog didn’t know it’s Friday the 13th.

It was an important lesson for me, one I’m sure I have the opportunity to repeat again. Shelter dogs aren’t the best creatures for a nice long walk on a leash. Today was a lucky bit of dog wrangling. I can hold this memory for that horrible day, in the future, when the dog runs away and disappears.

SMART team at the shelter

February 13, 2009

I’m becoming more and more convinced of the value of the Shelter Matchmaking And Rehab Training team’s contribution to the well-being and adoptability of HSOV’s shelter dogs. Today was much like any other Friday, with swimming and water aerobics at the YMCA with my mom, then out to the shelter to work with dogs.

As I was starting with a nice little labrador bitch, SMART Tracy joined me and we trained pairs of dogs for about 2 hours. Marietta College students started trickling in at 1:30 and I worked with a couple of them on our suggested training methods. A couple of girls gave me the “rolling eye” and went about their normal routine, letting dogs drag them around the property willy nilly, but a nice couple sat with me and did a bit of dog training with 2 different dogs.

They seemed to appreciate the information and said, “it’s nice that you’re telling us what to do.” Well, I guess the 2 posters and 2 handouts didn’t make an impression. No matter. They were trying hard to train the dogs and I appreciated their help.

Just as I was getting ready to leave the shelter for the day a family came in with 3 small children. “Are you folks looking for a pet?” I asked. They shared that they’d been to the Parkersburg shelter, looking for a young-ish lab female specifically, and all the labradors had applications on them already. The Parkersburg shelter staff had recommended a trip to Marietta and voila! they came to see us.

“I’ve got JUST the dog for you!” I said, and started back to get the little lab bitch. “Oh, by the way, you’re welcome to come look at all the dogs,” I added. “No, that’s okay, we’ll wait here with the kids,” Dad said.

The little dog’s kennel was empty so I walked outdoors and, in the driveway, discovered our little labrador being walked by an eye-rolling college kid. “I need her back indoors – some folks may want to adopt her,” I yelled. We got the pup into my leash, unhooked the student’s leash, and I took this neat little dog in the front door of the shelter. She saw the little kids and headed straight for the family. Dad was crouching down, saw her coming and said to his wife, “this is the size we want.”

The dog walked right up to the man, sat tucked into his knees, and kissed him on the chin. Sealed the deal right there. “This is the dog, this is the dog,” Dad kept saying. The kids each took turns petting, but Mom and Dad were in love with the little labrador. Charming …

The whole sequence of events, including the adoption and checking references, took about 30 minutes.

2 Min. Dog Trainer (Sport Foundation Package)

February 12, 2009

The pdf of my Sport Foundation Package has gone to Bud for inclusion in our webstore offerings. These 2-Minute Dog Training brochures cover foundation skills for obedience, rally, and agility. Even if you don’t do performance sports you’ll find that sport foundation work builds a great working relationship with your dog.

I use these exercises with rescue dogs and have trained each of our new agility dogs for the past 9 years with these mealtime methodologies. I hope everyone enjoys the packet, whether you’re using it for your own dogs or are giving the brochures to your students.

The material is copyrighted but instructors or clubs have my permission to reprint the brochures for free distribution to students. The easiest way to print the packet is in the following order:   page 1,  pages 2-4-6-8-10-12-14-16, letting the pages stack naturally, flip the stack and print 3-5-7-9-11-13-15-17.  Disregard the previous sentence if you’ve got a bizarre printer like mine which gets cantankerous with stacks of paper printed on the flip side.

After printing both sides, fold in half with the name of the skill in red on the front cover. Place your label or business card on the bottom of the front page so students can contact you if they have questions. As dog-training instructors we have a responsibility to get warm bodies in our classes. It’s good for the people and it’s good for the dogs, so encouraging class attendance is job one.

My next 2 Minute Dog Training publication will address the 30+ skills we need to train for rally obedience performances. I’ve published all these exercises, specifically for instructors in a group class setting, in “Go Rally Training Manual.” The 2-Minute versions of the training exercises will provide homework assignments for students in a group class, and will address the fine points a handler must put on performance to achieve consistent responses to cues.

The 2-Minute Dog Training brochures will follow the order of “Go Rally Training Manual,” but the skills will each be covered individually in the brochures. An instructor, presenting 2-3 exercises in class, may choose which brochure each student needs, thereby customizing homework assignments for each handler.

Shelter news includes a new adopt-a-thon idea I had this morning. Rather than taking 15 dogs and 5 cats to one location, requiring a dozen or so dog-walkers and several large crates, with our transport team making numerous trips from the shelter to the site, I’m recommending a down-sized, more targeted approach to the adopt-a-thon.

I’m going to visit with 2 Marietta businesses who support the shelter and ask if we can send 1-2 volunteers with 1-2 dogs and maybe 1 cat to their business, possibly EVERY Saturday, from noon to 2:00pm, for example. The volunteer would show up at the shelter, get their dog, drive to one of 2 businesses, set up their chair/handouts/donation box, and let the dog be showcased to customers, pack up everything, return the dog /cat and donation box to the shelter and head home.

Here’s my thinking on the benefits of this — 1) this system is considerably less disruptive for the shelter staff,  2) customers of these 2 businesses will begin to expect a shelter dog there on Saturday afternoon,  3) each dog will behave better and look more attractive to potential adopters,  4) guests of the shelter, after looking at the dogs available there, can be directed to the 2 business locations to view other dogs, thus building foot traffic in the supporting businesses,  and  5) the shelter gets weekly exposure and has weekly fund-raising opportunities.

Negatives include  1) the difficulty of getting proper transportation for some of our volunteers (I may have to drive some of them to these businesses, then return to pick them up),  2) the slight possibility that some volunteer will take it upon herself to release a dog to an adopter without permission from the shelter and without going through proper adoption channels (unlikely, I suppose, though I’ll have to caution them against this),  3) volunteers will be representing the shelter so I’ve stated that “clean clothes, polite and helpful attitude are a must” (I’m certain I’ll be given the opportunity to police that).

There’s always a possibility a shelter dog will manage to get lose from the volunteer’s protection, but this possibility existed under the old system as well.

On home news, I was feeding dogs 2-3 days ago and saw something skitter up an electric cord out of my peripheral vision. I looked everywhere for a mouse and discovered little mouse turds everywhere around my dog-food station. I found the critter had eaten a bunch of bird food Bud left unprotected nearby.

For the last 3 days, therefore, we’ve been on a mouse-killing rampage in the basement. At last count Bud’s traps had killed EIGHT mice. YUCK. It’s the season for them to be creating litter after litter of baby mice and I suppose the warm basement is much preferred to the cold, windy outdoors. But they don’t get to live in the basement, sorry.

Natural Laws of a Rally Dog in Motion

February 12, 2009


After reading Bud’s post about the laws of a dog in motion I decided to blog the set of laws I developed last year. These rules apply to rally obedience (an elaboration of this list is appearing in the May edition of DogSport magazine).

Natural laws of a rally dog in motion … (Though many obedience or rally handlers assume you have to teach the dog to respond to a lot of counter-intuitive movement for rally-o you can, indeed, provide natural movement cues most dogs will understand.)

Rule #1: A dog will move in a path parallel to the handler so long as both are moving with the same energy and at the same pace.

Rule #2: If the handler slows or the dog moves ahead, the dog will turn toward the handler.

Rule #3: The dog turns when the handler turns, not where the handler turns.

Rule #4: The dog gets her directional cue from the set of the handler’s shoulders and feet.

Rule #5: The dog gets her speed cue from the posture and pace of the handler.

Rule #6: The dog with a sure understanding of the mission, or well-conditioned responses, will assume a straighter line.

Rule #7: The dog upon whom responsibility and blame are heaped, and who is only partially trained, will make slower progress.

Rule #8, added this past week while trying to herd my old, deaf, blind dogs across the ice into the mud-yard is: The only way to influence the movement of old, deaf, blind dogs is to block their movement in every direction other than the one in which you want them to move. Sort of like moving pigs, you put a barrier in front of their meandering paths to the right or left to get them to move forward.  You want a straight line? You use a pooper-scooper set, part in your left hand, part in your right hand. Spread your arms to start the forward movement then, as the dogs cut left you step left and block their path. As they cut back to the right and try to dodge past, you cut back to the right and block with the other half of the pooper scooper set.

This behavior increases in relation to how miserable the weather is. More meandering takes place when the temperatures are below 10 degrees, above 90 degrees, or if there’s precipitation in solid form, especially sleet or frozen rain. In lovely weather old dogs move smoothly forward as if that was their intention all along. Gotta love ’em.

This week my mother was going through an old pile of photographs, dividing them up into boxes for each of the 5 kids. My box included a bunch of pictures of this cabin property from the past 40 years. They were fun to look at, putting them in order by date and watching the pine trees grow from 10″ seedlings to the 50′ giants they are now.

Then there were the countless pictures of my dogs, all but 2 of them shown in the pictures are waiting for me at the rainbow bridge, so that was a little sad and weird. Since I’ve been an adult I had a lot of dogs living in my house at any given time. I remember the quirks of every one of them.

There were several pictures of me when I was 20, 30, 40 years old. Now I know why lots of women have plastic surgery done, or spend thousands on botox and other treatments. It was scary to know that I’m not going to look any better, that in 10 years I’ll be wishing I looked this good again, that this process is irreversible.

In shelter news, our transport coordinator has located a responsible, reliable rescue willing to take the pit bulls and mostly-pit mixes collecting in the shelter. Most of our adopters come in looking for herding or hunting-type dogs, fortunately, and we don’t have adopters for even the sweetest of the pit bulls. On Friday we’re going to attempt to test them for dog aggression. We want to do this as safely as possible, though most of them get to walk past other dogs off and on throughout the day, so the dogs we’re testing are all expected to be good with dogs.

Is it my imagination, or do pit bulls have terrible skin problems? Between flea allergies and mange, they seem to have a propensity for irritated skin. Perhaps they just don’t have enough hair to cover the skin problems all dogs have.

Bud’s Work-Study Partnership has struck a cord with folks, as has my Private Lesson Sale. We spent some time on the property today, assigning priorities to tasks and discussing the order in which projects should proceed. The weather was beautiful, lots of sun, temps around 60, so we got the dogs out and spent 20 minutes on a family walk.

When we got back to the house the clouds were moving in and a terrible line of storms passed through. Bud and I ended up in the basement with 9 dogs, 5 of them in crates and 4 on leashes. The storm passed over fairly quickly and peace once again reigns over the Houston home and all the canines are snoozing away on dog beds and furniture.

Spring planning 2009

February 10, 2009

This blog is my personal journal, but I always keep in mind that others read my ramblings here. As an explanation, this post is an attempt at a bit of closure and an explanation of the conception of our Private Lesson Sale.

Two years ago Bud and I bought this piece of family property from my parents. In the ensuing years my siblings have carped, complained, threatened, and manipulated the tenuous emotional state of my 85-year-old father so that he believes I cheated him out of his property and robbed my siblings of their inheritance. My mother, who co-owned the property, is in complete disagreement with all of them and has subsequently filed for a divorce after 60 years of marriage to my father.  In other words, my family has imploded.

This state of affairs is not unique to my family. Having talked to other people with battling families and disputed property, this nearly always happens when one family member purchases property from aging owners. I’m not sure if knowing that prior to the sale would have dissuaded me from pursuing this property, but hindsight is 20/20.

A week ago I received a long, detailed letter from my youngest brother, explaining how my error was in not acquiring permission from and consensus between my siblings, because it was their business. For 2 years I’ve allowed my brothers and sisters to argue loudly amongst themselves, figuring it would fizzle out. Now, for the first time in 2 years I decided to respond to the letter and present the details of my perspective.

When I finished my e-mail response, my finger hovered over the mouse pad, with the pointer on “send.” Should I save this as a draft? Delete it entirely? Swallow my anger and just hope it would blow over? Nope. I sent it. And then I breathed a long cleansing breath. I’ve received no response to my answer, and can assume it was either accepted (an unlikely possibility) or that he’s no longer speaking to me (more likely).

Regardless, I’ve felt more peaceful since sending the response. And I’ve felt more than ever that, whatever happens, this is my home, my responsibility, and my number one favorite project. Rather than living in a sort of limbo, being unenthusiastic about projects, I’ve got a major burr up my butt about planting flower beds, putting in guardrails, getting ground-cover started, and making our woods more accessible with paths and benches — in general, making this a spot where people really want to spend a relaxing week’s vacation.

Simultaneously, Bud came up with his work-study partnerships, with campers able to clear paths, build benches and bridges and fences, planting trees and flowers, in exchange for agility or rally training. What can I say, great minds run in the same direction. Perhaps it’s just cabin fever, but we’ve initiated a couple of new programs to jump start the 2009 beautification of Country Dream.

The second program, my idea, is to have a private lesson sale. Beginning now our private lessons will be $20-30 less than normal, with the proceeds going toward the purchase of plants, flowers, bulbs, shrubs, trees, and any soil amendments or covering needed to keep them alive. I’m picturing the place with lovely evergreen plantings and ivy covering those red-clay hills. Flower beds will be popping up at the cottages, around the pond, and along the woodsy paths.

This sale will continue indefinitely, not only as a way of allowing our students to “own” the beautification projects they fund, but also to enable economically challenged agility enthusiasts to continue training their dogs. It will apply to basic obedience, rally, and all levels of agility. It will apply to group privates as well as individual lessons. It will apply to old customers, current customers, and new customers.

My post to local lists announced my …

P  R  I  V  A  T  E       L  E  S  S  O  N       S  A  L  E    !  !  !

        — agility, or rally-o

        — weekdays, evenings, or weekends

        — with Bud or Marsha Houston

        — full-time students = $25/hr

        — part-time students = $35/hr

        — non-students = $55/hr  (Sarah, this applies to your group on the 27th!!)

        — any number of dogs in your group

        — any number of hours

I’m going to use the plat map of our 28 acres to plan this beautification project and to report progress. Hopefully our students will enjoy seeing their contribution as it grows, blooms, and spreads.

Shelter news for the day includes a couple of e-mails as I didn’t visit the facility (it’s Tuesday and I go back on Friday).

Yesterday I noticed that the puppies were in individual steel cages and weren’t getting lunch. I asked their keeper if the puppies were fed once a day or 3 times a day and was told “they’re fed once a day.” When I asked if food was left with them all day I was told “yes, we leave the food.” So why didn’t I see any food bowls with puppies?  I’m talking 8-10-week old puppies, gorging at 5:00 p.m. and then getting no more food for 24 hours.

An adult dog’s metabolism can adapt to that feeding schedule, but a puppy?? 

On Friday I observed the feeding of adult dogs and saw bowls with 8-9 cups of food being given to every dog regardless of size. The adult dogs were being given SO MUCH food that they were gaining weight, getting heavy, and turning their noses up at treats. I’m going to research the clinical pathology of the person who overfeeds their dog, overfeeds their cat, or overfeeds their family member and try to get a handle on this but, in the meantime, I recommended that the 20-40-pound dogs get 2 cups a day (figuring that will get them down to 3-4 cups) and that the 41-90-pound dogs get 4 cups a day (figuring that will get them down to 5-6 cups).

I forwarded my recommendation about the adult dogs, and my shock-and-recommendation for the puppies, to the board president who, hopefully, is implementing a change. It takes time to reverse long-held beliefs about pet care, but hopefully the shelter dogs will start looking a little leaner (it’s the job of the adopter to fatten up their new dog). I also hope the dogs will start looking forward to training more.

An unexpected shelter day

February 9, 2009

Several of our SMART team members from the shelter (HSOV) have expressed concern over a nice, medium-sized mix named “Reggie.”  An amazing thing about our local shelter is that they, on a rare occasion, mistake a bitch for a dog, and a rottweiler for a cattledog.  Reggie, a cattledog male, was adopted out last fall and was, a few days later, returned to the shelter as a rotty mix female. Oops!

She’s been at the shelter since August ’08 and would have been PTS long before this if we’d run out of space at the shelter. In the last 2 weeks she’s developed the dangerous habit of ambushing people who walk by her little corner kennel, jumping up and snapping her mouth closed next to their faces. She’s done this to me 2-3 times and I worried she’d become “kennel crazy.”

SMART member Angie asked if we could do something to help Reggie and we decided a 3-pronged approach was called for — 1) get Reggie moved from her high-traffic corner kennel to a quieter spot,  2) get Reggie some intensive training, with a SMART member working every day with her,  and  3) get the weblisting corrected to show her as a rotty mix instead of a cattledog mix.

Today SMART Tracy and I met at the shelter and, within 10 minutes, had Reggie moved 2 doors down to a quieter kennel. She traded with a nice, quiet little black/white dog who will work better on the busy corner.

We took her outside to potty and then into the hallway to train. Within 15 minutes Reggie was lying down at my feet. She’s really a sweet girl and I’m glad I didn’t follow through with my earlier snap decision about her behavior. Our website photographer was at the shelter and, since we were establishing a correct breed description for Reggie, we got new pictures, including her rotty bob tail.

Just as we were finishing up the desk clerk came outside and told me they’d received a call about Reggie. That there was a fellow in Pennsylvania wanting information on her. Since I’d spent 30 minutes with her, I was handed the note and the phone. Nice fellow, had dobermans who both passed away from breed-specific conjenital disease — Reggie-the-mutt is probably going to her new home this Saturday.

Just as I was ready to leave for home one of the college girls I met with Friday walked up. She’s part of the PR class doing a writing project for HSOV. While we were meeting last Friday I held the leash of what I jokingly called “the anonymous brown dog.” They all petted and praised the dog but one girl seemed especially smitten.

So here she was back again. She had talked to her mother in New Jersey and they were both excited at the prospect of adopting this dog. There’s a catch, though. Mom can’t drive here to get the dog for another 4 weeks and Kristen can’t keep the dog in her sorority. She called the shelter this morning and was told they couldn’t hold the dog for her for 4 weeks. She was at the shelter to walk, pet, and schmooze with the brown dog, hoping to keep an eye on her for 4 weeks.

I thought we might be able to resolve the issue, especially if Kristen went ahead with the adoption, had the dog spayed, and compensated the shelter for the cost of care and food for a couple of weeks. We spoke with interim shelter manager, Sue, and were told that was definitely possible. We settled on putting the dog on hold, Kristen’s going to call her Mom this evening, put in her adoption application later this week, adopt the brown dog, have her spayed, and spend the 4 weeks training, walking and bonding with her.

“You’ll be able to take a little bit of Marietta home with you!” I said.  “Yeah! That’s what my Mom said,” giggled Kristen. When I drove away she was out in the driveway, walking her dog. Both looked delighted with each other and made a beautiful pair.

It was an unexpected day at the shelter. Unexpected, but lovely.

C-wags new Community Agility Program

February 7, 2009

Bud Houston wrote (in his blog), “For several months now I’ve been working with Shirley Ottmer of C-WAGS on a new agility program aimed at the recreational agility enthusiast. I’m most excited about the CCAP / that is, the C-WAGS Community Agility Program. This is a real attempt to address the growing schism between the top players in our sport, and the recreational player.”

An amusing sidebar — when Bud wants to know what I’m up to he reads my blog (versus walking into my office area and saying, “hey, what are you up to?” ) And I get all my information on his plans and intentions through his blog.  I guess it’s just quicker than actually striking up a lengthy and irelevant conversation. Ahhh, the state of marriage in America. I think someone needs to invent a refrigerator with streaming “top household stories” or “today’s home news and forecasts” rather than making us take the time to scan the month-at-a-glance calendar.

Shirley Ottmer’s CCAP plans are exciting to me on so many levels. For the first time we’ll be able to register our dogs once, attend one trial, and perform in agility, obedience, and rally. C-Wags is a dog-friendly and exhibitor-friendly venue (see for young dogs, prime-of-their-life dogs, and veteran dogs. C-Wags has a rally class called Zoom — great for veterans because there are no sits!

And, on another level, I’m excited because we’re scheduling 2-3 weekends in 2009 to introduce our local (mostly AKC) crowd to the joy of titling games, whatever the sport.

In 2008 I had a week of rally camp and about 8 dogs worked through the “Go Rally Training Manual” 8-week program in 4 days. Each 3-hour period we worked on a skill, set a course, worked a course, then had time to play with that course before tearing it down and doing the whole process over for a new skill and course.

In 2009 I’ve set aside 3 weeks for rally camps and have gotten a couple of nibbles on rally camp but no committed registrations. The economy in this part of the world (Ohio) is shuddering and folks are worried about jobs and income, so it’s no surprise that no one has committed to a 4-day camp for rally-o.

One benefit to being one of 2 people owning a dog-training center, and one of 2 instructors, is that we can adjust our schedule and our thinking quickly, based on what our customers tell us. The new CCAP allows me to consider changing those rally experiences to camps where obedience, rally, and agility can all be trained together in preparation for a trial weekend to follow the camp.

I’m going to be thinking about the pros and cons of that while I work with dogs at the shelter this afternoon. I’m meeting folks from an adjoining county’s shelter this afternoon. Like many country shelters they’re struggling with acquiring a facility and providing for the care of the county’s unwanted dogs and cats. It’s a sad story that repeats itself in little county shelters all over the country.

Yesterday, as unlikely as it may seem, the dog warden captured a 5-month-old pup that appears to be airdale mix or border terrier mix or something with a wire coat and goatee. A beautiful, sweet, bitch who picked up the training I was offering very quickly. Ohhhh, to have a pack that could accommodate another sweety-pie. I know she’ll find a great forever home, but I really fell for this girl.

All the dogs I worked with last weekend showed increased interest in people, seemed quicker to self-calm, more interested in my treats and the bit of “come” and “sit” training we do. And I worked with a couple of new dogs yesterday as well, and will repeat the process again today.

Most of my time at the shelter is spent educating dog-walkers and potential adopters. Our local Petland offers mix-breed puppies for $500-700, with lay-away and payment plans. Yesterday I was grilled by a couple regarding pricing on dogs ($59, dog goes to vet for neutering, you pay vet), why it costs so much, and does the shelter offer lay-away or payment plans.

And, once again, “why do you insist that every dog be neutered?”  After talking with this couple I alerted the front desk that they were interested in an intact bitch and probably wanted to breed her. I’m actually developing a bit of thick skin about this — I used to get upset with the people and now I just feel incredibly protective of the dogs at the shelter. I don’t want any of those nice little bitches to end up in a puppy-mill or backyard mutt breeding business.

I met with Marietta College students yesterday to discuss their semester’s PR assignment. I recommended to them that they first discover WHO their audience is, WHERE they shop, and HOW to best reach them with the message of spay/neuter your pet. We discussed questions which would get us a lot of information without giving away our purpose, like “tell me about your last 4 pets, where you got them, where they are now, etc.”

I’m discovering that there’s a growing underground of people looking for intact dogs, small-to-medium-sized, pure-bred and mixed-bred, to feed dogs into the pet store pipeline. I guess it’s too expensive for Petland to go to Hunt Corporation in Missouri everytime they need a shipment of puppies.

Sickening … and I’ll continue to be vigilant and protective of our puppies. Getting them out of this part of the country is, I’ve concluded, the best plan for most of them.

In the meantime, I may start asking shelter guests who ask about our new spay/neuter rules, “so, where are you from?”  I’d like to know if they’re locals or puppy-millers on the prowl for new stock.

A great shelter day

February 7, 2009

For 8-10 weeks I’ve been plugging along at the shelter, creating training materials, educating the dog walkers one at a time, answering training questions for staff, talking-talking-talking-talking, and (MY FAVORITE!) training dogs.

Every trip to the shelter follows a purposeful pattern:  1) check written training brochure supplies, replenish paperwork,  2) check leashes and collars available to dog-walkers,  3) take a brief walk through the shelter to see which of my previously-trained dogs remain up for adoption,  4) sanitize my hands and my leash, go get a dog,  5) return to volunteer station to sit with dog for 20-30 minutes to encourage self-calming or check to see if dog has improved or not,  6) luring dog into sit or down, practicing “come and sit,”  7) walk the dog for a potty break and return to their kennel run,  8) repeat with 2-3 more dogs.

Every time I return to the shelter I’m struck by how much more receptive the “trained” dogs are, with great improvement in their calm behavior seen each visit. They’re sitting in their kennels, wagging their tails, staring at my face as if to say, “Hey Marsha, I’ve been waiting for you.”

So today was a banner day at the shelter. I arrived about 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. and noticed a little brown, tailess dog running loose around the shelter, followed by a couple of kids. Seems they’d tried to make a slip lead and the dog had slipped out of it.  Like Carrie Roe said, “don’t chase shelter dogs when they get loose — for many of them this is the best home they’ve ever had and they might actually just come back if you don’t chase them.” The little brown dog saw the staff guys in the garage and tucked in to say “Hi!” and was immediately caught.

I did my typical routine with the paperwork. As I got a little airedale mix out of her kennel, she wagged her tail and greeted me happily. I took her out to potty first thing as she’s a clean, little bitch and I want to keep it that way. When I say, “go potty!” she immediately finds a spot and pees.

Walking back to the volunteer station I run into one of my SMART team members. She’s got a student with her and she has her student sit with me to train the little dog. I talked Amanda through the process with the airedale who, as we were sitting there, got her picture taken for  AND  got herself a new name — “Ariel.”  Ariel took about 20 minutes to lie down, earned huge praise, and really got excited about working for treats. Before returning to her crate, Amanda had Ariel sitting, lying down, and coming for treats.

I next got “Valentine” – a wild little Sheltie mix – out and pottied her. I was really excited to see another bitch who, when I said, “Go Potty!” frantically looked for a place and peed.  What a cool skill to have, in my opinion.

Another half hour was spent training Valentine, who sat down calmly within a few minutes and was lying down in 15 minutes. She was easily lured into a sit and down. Two weeks ago she was brought in and would barely walk on a leash. She’d probably never interacted with people before, but was amazing today.

While I was putting Valentine away I was pulled aside by the ladies taking Petfinder pics. The litter of feral puppies brought in yesterday were showing signs of illness — pale gums, possible seizures, in general sickly. We got the worst of them into a separate crate in the “sick dog” room.

When I had finished settling the puppy, I was told a lady was here to see me. It was a board member from the Morgan County (McConnellsville, OH) humane society. They’re really struggling, and she’s meeting with me occasionally for a pep talk, to vent, and to be reminded of Sue Sternberg’s training presentation. She and I talked for about an hour before we noticed this nice couple and their teenage daughter looking at the puppies in the puppy room.

We started “matchmaking” with the family and found they wanted a small to medium-sized female.  They’d been looking on but every time they drove to a shelter the dog they liked was gone. Rather than having them experience the din of the dog room, I brought them Ariel.

This sweet dog came to this family, sucked up to all of them, sat and laid down for treats, got petted by everyone, went for a little walk with the teenage girl, and generally worked the crowd.

Then I brought out Valentine who did the same. I was amazed how these (formerly) wild girls, having been worked with twice in 2 days, were calm, attentive, interested, and VERY attractive.

We put Valentine back in her kennel and walked around the big dog room. No other dogs caught their eye so we brought Ariel back out, then switched to Valentine, then back to Ariel, then finally Valentine.

This great family from 90 minutes away (in West Virginia) adopted Valentine, who had shown great affection for all 3 members of the family, would roll on her back to get belly rubs, and would lie down anytime she was slightly bored. At one point, Mom was talking to the lady at the desk, Dad was talking on his cell phone, daughter was standing in the lobby with Valentine on lead, and 5-6 people were milling around, looking at cats. In the middle of all this hullabaloo lay Valentine, looking up at the little girl.  It was the closest thing to a miracle I’ve experienced at the shelter.

30 years ago I was on the church choir and an active member of the church. Later – when I got animals – I used to say the barn and the animals were my church and congregation, the center of my spiritual life (there was one morning when it was cold and snowing and white outside, then I opened the barn door and experienced the smell of hay, the golden glow of the lights, and the nickering of the animals — it truly was a spiritual experience).

The shelter, today, became the center of my spiritual life. My calling is to preach, teach, and train animals. It really was a banner day at the shelter.

By this time next week they should have their new shelter manager. I’m excited to be part of the revitalization of this formerly terrific facility.

Foundation Sport package done

February 5, 2009

I completed all 8 brochures in the foundation-sport-package today and they’re going to Indianapolis with my proof-reader. Bud always notices when I lose focus or go off track in my writing, so I rarely publish anything without him reading it first.

With my “Go Rally Training Manual” I had my mother as my proofreader. She doesn’t train dogs so, if training information makes sense to her it generally makes sense to any of my readers.

Mom attended an agility trial with me once, a local AKC event where I was running Dash, Red, AND Bud’s Hazard. On one Ex.A standard course, Hazard (who had been practicing distance sends to tunnels with her Dad for about 2 weeks) managed 3 off-courses in about 58 seconds. Two of them were into tunnels, of course, courtesy of Dad’s training efforts.

When I returned to my seat, laughing so hard I could hardly breathe, my mother said, “you know, you should go set that up in your building and practice stuff like getting her onto the a-frame instead of the tunnel.”  Ya Think? LOL  I started laughing even harder, of course, while I was explaining to my mom what we actually do for a living.

No accounting for what happens in the brain of a 9-pound sheltie — a brain no bigger’n a hazelnut, I’d imagine, but she wanted those tunnels really badly.  It really was very cute when she pealed away from my line to do every tunnel in the place – twice.

Anyway — the foundation sport package should be on our website ( — or at right) by Monday, Feb. 9. It’s 17 pages of material …

1) an index of the brochures and a description of layout    2-3) “Come Front” print front and back, fold in half,  4-5) “Stay in Sit or Down Position” print front and back, fold in half,  6-7)”Stay in Stand Position” ditto,  8-9) “Jump Over standard or wing jump” ditto,  10-11) “Jump through Tire or Hoop obstacle” ditto,  12-13) “Weavepole entries” ditto,  14-15) “Unambiguous Contact Performance” ditto,  16-17) “Heel Position” print front and back, fold in half.

There’s a spot on the bottom of each front cover for the training center’s or instructor’s label with contact information, in case you use these brochures as handouts in your class.

The material is copyrighted and I’ve added “permission granted to reprint for free distribution to students, please do not reprint copyrighted material for resale.” Hopefully that will enable anyone wanting to use the brochures as class handouts to share the material, yet discourage someone from actually selling the printed packets.

The spring thaw we’re getting into this evening and this weekend is reminding me that the holidays are in the past and spring is right around the corner!  This weekend, after I finish training dogs at the shelter, may find me puttering around the pond, picking up deadwood and creating a bon-fire pile.

If I were given a choice of housework, office work, writing, training dogs, or doing outside chores I nearly always would pick outside chores. There’s just something so relaxing about manual labor, and my brain always coasts along finding solutions to puzzles while I’m working. The only time I hate outside chores is in July and August when the heat drives me inside. One of the downsides of menapause is that sun, on my skin, feels like a blowtorch.

As soon as the foundation sport package gets on the website I’m going to start on the more advanced obedience and rally package. Bud will be doing the advanced agility and distance packages.

Blue’s advanced teacup tire work

February 5, 2009

Well, 2 days ago I wondered how long it would take for Blue to figure out she was eating for a performance of the tire with no touching, ticking, clanging, swinging — and that she was NOT eating for all those negative tire performances.

This morning she got it. It’s been 2 days of a simple rule, if she touches the tire I re-present it and we do it again. It really only took her 2 meals to get the idea, but she was so excited that the lesson didn’t lead to consistent performance until this morning.

After just a couple of days she walked nicely with me from the feeding frenzy (8 other dogs) to the training area. While I placed the food bowl on a rack she started to run to the tire to perform it but, noticing I wasn’t presenting the obstacle, she stopped mid-way and ran back to me.

We did dog-on-right post turn at the tire, circled around and did dog-on-right back cross at the tire, circled around and did dog-on-left post turn (which she missed) so we circled back around for another attempt. At this point she had not touched the tire at all and had not eaten at all.

I re-presented the dog-on-left post turn at the tire, which she watched and took, then circled around for dog-on-left back cross at the tire. An entire warm-up set without ticking the tire at all. She got her entire meal for that bit of wonderful work !!  Two days, four meals, has to be a record of some sort, in case anybody records stuff like this. Of course, this is a life-time training protocol and she will not, ever, get rewarded for ticking tires or jumps.

Today the weather is supposed to break a little, with constant warming through the weekend. It will be interesting to see how many of our enthusiastic Thursday night fun-runners show up with temps in the teens. This weekend it’s supposed to be in the mid-to-upper 40s so I’m hoping to get all the dogs out for several family walks, where they’re able to rip-n-tear and eat deer and rabbit poop to their hearts’ content.

All this poop-eating has a price, of course. I have no doubt that we’ll have to do a complete pack de-worming this spring, and that’s about $150 for 9 dogs. No way around it, I guess. In our former homes we didn’t have the deer and rabbit visitors we have here. Our dogs were worm free for 10 years. I can’t describe my horror the first time I saw tapeworms in stool here in our cabin-in-the-woods. Yuck, enough of that.

Tomorrow I meet with several students from Marietta College. There’s a public relations writing class where they’ve formed teams to do PR projects for area organizations and the shelter has drawn the interest of one of these teams.

Memories of my own college days come flooding in when I think of these students. I attended a university where advisers didn’t really do anything but make sure you had enough credits to graduate, where professors took no real interest in the horde of kids passing through. Where the responsibility for doing well was totally on the shoulders of the student. I don’t remember ever having to correspond with area organizations.

I want this experience with the college students to be meaningful for them, as well as being purposeful for the shelter. I’d like the project to feel as much like a real job as possible. I want to treat them with the respect I’d give a PR firm the shelter hired. Should be interesting.

We had an exciting event this week — after years of auto-pay for Bud’s Suburban, we received a notice that we had one more payment and then the truck is ours! And the payment wasn’t the full amount, of course, so such a nice surprise for our budget! It was like winning the lottery without having to actually play.