Archive for March, 2009

More 2-minute training brochures

March 29, 2009

I’m starting on two new packages of 2-minute training brochures and am wondering if these should be sold as individual documents. If sold as a package, purchasing would be easier. If sold individually then filing would be easier, and finding the brochures in your computer files would be easier. An instructor, wanting to provide her student with a homework handout for motivated heeling, would simply go to that brochure instead of having to remember which package it was purchased in.

Hopefully some instructors are printing the packages and keeping hard copies on file for students. I imagine I need to transition to individual brochures at some point, allowing people to cherry-pick the more advanced stuff.

Group A — Shelter package, basic obedience and tips for shelter adopters (7 brochures, complete)

Group B — Foundation Sport package, start-up training for agility, rally, and obedience (8 brochures, complete)

Group C — Go Rally package, homework brochures for 32 key skills, instructor handouts to accompany the 8-week Go Rally Training Manual program.

Group D — Problem-solving package, positive reinforcement and clicker solutions for agility or obedience. (Breaking start line stay, knocking bars up, missing contacts, being un-motivated and slow, being out of control, leaving handler mid-sequence, leaving handler at end of sequence, being inattentive … by the way, I began by listing these using the positive description of the behavior but quickly realized that everyone else will be looking under the negative topic — ex: keeping bars up became knocking bars.  Maybe because it’s a problem-solving package, so the problems should be listed as negatives instead of positives?

2 minute philosophy

March 29, 2009

I keep meeting folks who have never heard of the idea of training with mealtime food. Last evening I had an enjoyable conversation with Vicki Wolff, a yorkie-teacup-agility-obsessed friend of ours.

Vicki and her husband, Don, are picking up a new adolescent yorkie in a couple of weeks and I suggested she start doing 2-minute training for it’s new name and attention.

I always change the name of a new dog when I bring it home. In the best of situations, the old name is white noise and has none of the power of the new name I want to give. In the worst of situations, the old name has negative connotations which I don’t want to be constantly revisiting with my new dog.

So “Player” became Dash in about 3 days. And “Haley” became Red in about 15 minutes. And “Spook” became Blue in one meal. Bud’s fond of saying “you can teach a food-motivated dog anything.”

Today the shelter is scrambling to prepare for tomorrow’s adoptathon and Easter Picture fund-raiser at a local Tractor Supply store.

I worked several hours at the shelter today, training a couple of nice mixes. All the dogs I’d worked with before had been adopted out, and I’ve established a 40-pound weight limit for the dogs I train. So I was very limited as to which dogs I could train.

I had an opportunity to do some public relations with a woman, her daughter, and her 3 grandchildren. They were looking for a nice family pet and were drawn to a 70-pound, intact male boxer mix. I hooked a leash on him and he dragged Mom around for 15 minutes.

I pointed out a sweet, 25-pound pitbull female with nipples hanging 1-2-inches from her belly. “I just don’t trust pitbulls” grandma said. I pointed out to her that I, too, have mistrusted pitbulls in the past but have decided to believe the recent PR regarding the bad rap they’ve gotten.

Everything I read and see now about pitbulls is that they have to be taught to fight, that most of them are just incredibly biddable, people-oriented potential pets.

This little female had no fighting scars, was extremely easy-going with the grandchildren, wasn’t easily startled by noise or intrusive touches (we looked at her teeth, picked up her feet, touched and tugged her tail).

If I can’t educate the shelter staff I can still help potential adopters. The amount of misinformation out in the world, whether about dogs or dog training, is monumental.

We put the pit bitch back in her kennel and the family left saying they’d return the next day after discussing the dogs with Dad. Five minutes later this sweet dog is wandering out of her kennel. I’d neglected to put the snap back on the latch and she’d very quickly stood up and opened the latch with her nose.

I bent over and whistled and she walked towards me, allowing me to put the leash back on her and lead her back to her kennel run. This time I carefully put the snap in the hole. As I walked away she was standing on her back legs again, attempting (unsuccessfully this time) to raise the latch with her nose. Clever little girl. <g>

After these adopters left I snagged a community-service-teen and we washed dogs. First was a terrific purebred cattledog — red, male, neutered. Who on earth would have surrendered this dog? There must be some issues not immediately apparent, I thought.

Well, he accepted a collar and leash, walked fairly nicely out for a pee break, and accepted his bath with good humor. It was probably his first-ever bath and he had to be asking himself, “what the heck is with this joint?”

Next was another purebred dog, a jack russell terrier — black and white, male, intact. He also accepted the leash, walked fairly nicely to the potty yard to pee (is there anything in dog training easier than getting an intact male dog to pee?) and — after a tiny little panic — accepted his bath sweetly.

The shelter has agreed that it might be better to take 5-6 dogs instead of 17-18 when we do adoptathons. So there would be three more dogs bathed this afternoon. I turned my community-service-teen over to staff and headed home.

boiling it down

March 26, 2009

…. ~650 words

I’m the volunteer coordinator at HSOV, but I’m also a 25+ year student of dogs and dog-training, and author of half-a-dozen dog-training manuals and instructor manuals for dog-training classes.

On a personal level, I’m an advocate for spay/neuter, for responsible ownership, for making pets part of our families. I believe that every animal leaving the shelter should be neutered, unless a sizeable deposit is paid to ensure the adopter will take the animal to be neutered. I believe that humane societies and veterinarians have opposing goals with regards to the pet over-population crisis.

Record-keeping on the part of the loose confederation of humane societies, ASPCA’s, rescue organizations, can be sketchy at times, so we’re not sure if three or four million dogs are euthanized every year in the United States. Either number is horrific, especially when we translate that to our local situation. (insert April 7 HSOV BOD information here)  For every 4 dogs turned over to shelters, 2 are euthanized. For every 4 cats turned over to shelters, 3 are euthanized.

It is not enough for HSOV to devote the resources of the community to keep a handful of lucky dogs and cats comfortable, warm, dry, and fed. I ask that you each commit yourself to improving the lives of all the pets in our county. No female dog should be tied outside, allowed to come in heat, and be at the mercy of every intact male dog in the neighborhood. No litter of puppies or kittens should be permitted to live outdoors, at the mercy of the elements, with no contact or attention from humans.

It is not enough for HSOV to do fund-raisers and adopt-a-thons, collecting a few thousand dollars or adopting out 5-10 pets a week. I ask that you each commit yourself to improving the lives of all the pets in the county, increasing the percentage of altered pets, and educating citizens about the proper care and costs of pet ownership. I don’t believe that only the wealthy should own pets. I do believe that HSOV should be educating adopters about, and assisting pet owners, with the costs involved in responsible pet ownership.

It is not enough for HSOV to have a sign on the van encouraging folks to spay/neuter their pets. I ask that each of you commit yourself to discontinuing the practice of adopting out HSOV’s intact pets. Each of these pets is a breeding machine and we have no guarantee they’ll be altered. If an intact female gets adopted out it’s only a matter of a few months before her first litter of puppies arrives back. These female dogs and cats have no pre-natal care, their puppies and kittens arrive sick and neglected, the litters are unsocialized and untested, and become an additional burden for the humane network.

It is not enough for HSOV to educate citizens about puppy mills, about responsible feeding and vet care practices, and about the value of pets as family members. I ask that each of you commit yourself to only placing healthy, altered pets — only in happy, approved homes. If we adopt out an intact animal we are adding to the pet overpopulation problem. Our mission calls for us to provide a solution to the pet overpopulation problem, not promote pet overpopulation.

My friends in the rescue and humane movement suggest essentially the same solution, regardless of where they’re located and whether they deal with all pets or a specific breed or type of pet.

Any pet over 5 months should be spayed or neutered before being adopted. Any adopter taking a pet under age 5 months should pay a sizeable deposit — $100 to $150 — to be rebated by the shelter or to be deducted by the veterinarian doing neutering surgery.

Any veterinarian unwilling to accept the mission of the humane movement, or unwilling to provide vet care to shelter pets without extraordinary multiple visits or fees, should be bypassed for more cooperative veterinarians.

Adopters should not have an option regarding neutering any animal over the age of 5 months.

Shelter staff — animal lovers all — should not have to euthanize dozens of pets a month because of citizens’ lack of education or lack of funds, resulting in low spay/neuter rates.

treatise to HSOV board of directors

March 23, 2009

At the April 7 meeting of the board of directors meeting for HSOV (Humane Society of the Ohio Valley) I’m going to present a treatise. During this morning’s swim I began working through my proposed speech, trying to focus myself.

I’m going to begin this writing-compressing process here on my blog. (Sidebar — an interesting exercise for the creation of a powerful personal statement is to write all your thoughts, in no specific order, then combine similar thoughts into single sentences, eliminate fluff and repetition, and boil the entire thing down to 25-50 words.)

The primary goal of my treatise is to convince the HSOV board that their mission should be to spearhead the spay/neuter drive in our area, without regard for whether or not this activity meshes with the opinions and goals of our local veterinarians and potential adopters.

I’ve considered opening with, “The Humane Society of the Ohio Valley has a mission statement published on the website which includes the statements: to work toward the solution of overpopulation of animals; to promote and share responsibility for the proper care and placement of animals; and to oppose the release of any animal from public and private animal shelters for the purpose of biomedical research or any other purpose inhumane to animals.”

Nowhere in that mission statement is mention made of supporting local veterinarians and ensuring they have sufficient business, or making sure the shelter is the cheapest local source of pets,or enabling the adoption of pets without ascertaining the quality of the home provided by the adopter, or providing brood bitches for puppy mills.

At some point in time the board decided that the shelter needed local vets’ approval more than local vets need HSOV as a good customer. At some point in time the board decided to accommodate the needs of adopters, regarding price and availability, rather than focusing on the needs of shelter dogs and cats. At some point in time the board decided to focus more on fund-raising and adopting out a few animals than on the numbers of dogs and cats being bred by citizens and euthanized in our shelter every week.

I have established as one of my life goals to raise local awareness of the needs of homeless dogs — finding the right dog for interested adopters, assisting with training that dog, ensuring the dog’s health, and keeping that dog happily in the home. I will continue working toward those goals for the dogs living at HSOV, but I need your help.

I need you, as influential members of the board of directors of a humane society, to stand between the animals at the shelter and those who breed them indiscriminately. I need you to stand up to veterinarians who expect personal gain without supporting HSOV’s mission. I need you to listen to HSOV statistics and know the agony felt by members of the shelter staff — animals lovers every one — who must perform euthanasias regularly because of the lack of education about spay/neuter in our community, and the lack of funds to assist adopters with veterinary care. I need you to educate yourselves and your neighbors about the many causes of pet over-population and the benefits of early spay/neuter.

Those of us fighting the spay/neuter battle are engaged in a war. We’re drowning in a tsunami of lovely, yet unwanted, dogs and cats. Our allies are humane societies everywhere, whether they’re rescuing dogs or working on legislation, and veterinarians willing to fit shelter dogs into their schedule, willing to provide prepubescent spay/neuters, willing to make good customers of shelter adopters, and willing to participate in our mission to combat pet over-population.

We want to make allies of the unknowledgeable breeders of dogs and cats in our community, and encourage them to become part of the solution to the pet over-population problem rather than part of the problem.  Lack of knowledge is a pardonable sin.

On the other hand, we have enemies. Our enemies are puppymills, retail and wholesale pet operations, irresponsible breeders of dogs and cats, and veterinarians who refuse to support our mission and provide medical services without extraordinary fees.

When a puppy or kitten is born, our goal is to ensure that puppy or kitten never produces more unwanted pets and that it finds a forever home. This goal diverges from the goal of a veterinarian, whose mission is to make money and pay expenses and employees, and who actually benefits from litters of puppies and kittens.

I’m going to let the above ferment in my brain. If you have comments, suggestions, or impassioned speeches, please forward all to me at

my impassioned spay/neuter speech

March 21, 2009

Information on dog training, spay/neuter possibilities, animal care, etc., is being acquired by dog people at an incredible rate now, with everyone having access to the most up-to-date information on the internet.

Keeping current on your field, a difficult proposition for dog trainers, must be a monstrous task for veterinarians and scientists who are bombarded with study results and new research constantly.

Whereas it might be inconvenient for my students if I’m not versed on the latest information on teaching fronts, it’s devastating for a veterinarian’s patients if they don’t keep up with the latest technology and information.

Yesterday a shelter trainer list I’m on had a link to an interesting article on the results of a 10-year study of pediatric spay/neuter, done at Cornell nearly 10 years ago. I checked out this article from HSUS information (link)

I intend to write a treatise to be presented at the next meeting of my shelter’s board of directors. I’ll not make it part of my “report from the volunteer coordinator” but, instead, will present it when they ask for questions from the community.

Here’s my primary question — “why is the shelter releasing intact animals back into the community via adoptions-without-neutering when our statistics show we euthanize 10 animals for every 1 we adopt out?”

As my hero, Sue Sternberg, puts it, “Spay/neuter before adoption is CRITICAL, or a shelter, especially one like Marietta, which still has pet overpopulation and litters of puppies coming to the shelter, should not even bother to adopt out dogs. Putting more fertile dogs and cats into the community is not helpful.”

My friend and mentor, Carrie Roe (from HSOP), adds, “using vets that are willing to do prepubicent spays/neuters is also critical.” Carrie notes, “You can’t hold the animals for 6 months for them to be old enough to meet the standards of some vets that don’t believe in the early surgeries.”

Early spay/neuter is controversial, I know. There are seminarists traveling the country preaching late or no neutering for performance dogs. My own brother has a little puppy-mill aussie and he’s been convinced that neutering him will bring on prostate cancer.

However, it is my opinion that local shelters, who absorb 90% of the unwanted pet population, and whose staffs must face the horrible task of “eliminating” the nation’s overage, must be the constant preachers of the spay/neuter sermon.

I believe it is not nearly enough to have adopters purchase a $20 certificate which is refunded upon neutering, especially considering that veterinarians are not on board with us and are unwilling to do the neutering on the pet’s first visit.

Here’s a specific account of this practice by our shelter. Yesterday a woman walks in wanting to look at very young kittens she heard were at the shelter. She’d been there 2 weeks ago but the kittens were too young to go home.

On Friday, 3/20, this lady visited the Parkersburg shelter and was shown their kittens. She didn’t take one, however, because “they wanted all my information, and there’s a waiting period!” So, instead of filling out an application in Parkersburg and being approved for a kitten that is already spayed, she drove to Marietta’s shelter.

Here she found 2 kittens, both female and intact, of course. They were “too small for shots” according to staff, and too small for spaying. “How much would it cost to get both of them?” our guest asked.

The first answer was, “$15 for the kitten, $5 for shots, and $20 for the spay certificate which you’ll get off the vet bill when you have her spayed.”  “Oh, I didn’t bring that much money with me!” she responded, and I’d really like both of them.”

Weeeelllll …. “we could probably just charge you for the 2 spay certificates and, since the kittens haven’t had their shots yet, not charge you anything for the kittens themselves.”

This nice lady took home 2 very young female kittens for $40, the cost of 2 spay certificates. If she ever takes them to a veterinary there will have to be a wellness check and shots prior to spaying. The wellness check will be about $75-100. The spaying will be $50-75 apiece, at the very least. Those two $20 certificates aren’t going to cover much and I don’t imagine they’ll ever be used.

And 2 fertile kitten-making machines are released into the community.

What would have been the scenario if, instead, both kittens had pediatric or prepubicent spay surgery before going up for adoption? The cost of the kittens would have been $50-60 each, the woman may have only gotten one, but we’d be certain her one kitten wasn’t going to produce dozens of kittens for the euthanasia needle.

The above is going to be the primary thrust of my treatise, but examples of “old timey” thinking abound at the shelter.

I’m attempting to train dogs and train dog-walkers, while the staff of the shelter remain stuck in 1960s thinking about dog training and behavior. Examples, just from yesterday (hey, Bud had to listen to my venting so you have to as well <g>), include:

FIRST, a 45-50-pound Shar Pei mix bitch is with me, on lead, in the hallway leading to the big dog room. She’s shown an inordinate amount of attention to the cats in the cat room and in the tower cages. Several members of the staff share with me that “when she was turned in her owners said she’d killed cats, but you can’t believe everything people say. They’ll tell you that as an excuse for bringing a dog in to the shelter.”

My response was, “well, I’d more likely say you can’t believe when people say their dog is happy, friendly, loves cats and kids and other dogs. There’s a reason they’re getting rid of the animal and killing another person’s pet should be something you could verify before putting the dog up for adoption.”

They explained to me, stupid as I am, “we’ve not had any problem with her since she’s been here.” All this conversation as the dog stares intently through the plexiglass at a cat sitting on a window sill. I put “kills cats” on her temperament sheet, noted that she required an experienced owner, and returned this dog to her kennel. I have no words for the previous owner who, instead of taking responsibility and euthanizing their cat-killing dog, brought her to a shelter so someone else could have the pleasure of that moment.

SECOND, I have a little black lab mix in the back yard. She’s trying to drag me, has no connection to people, doesn’t demonstrate any desire to engage me. “That dog’s completely trained!” the dog warden tells me. “She came to us from the cell dog program where she was playing with another dog, it turned into a fight, the inmate tried to break it up and got bitten, which led to her getting thrown out of the program.”  He went on to explain that it was certainly a missreading of what was going on, and an unfortunate accident, because, as he repeated again and again, “she’s completely trained!”

My response was, “how was she trained? With treats and reward, or with corrections?” He didn’t know. Didn’t really even understand the question, probably. I worked with this dog for 45 minutes and she glanced at me one time. She didn’t walk well on leash, wouldn’t sit or lie down, had no connection to anyone in the shelter, including staff.

While I’m sitting, waiting for her to lie down so I could praise her, staff walked by saying, “that dog’s completely trained!” as if she was a gold nugget they’d found in the parking lot. I wrote on her sheet that she’s a work in progress and, fortunately for her, seemed to have no interest in the other dogs or cats at the shelter. But she didn’t have any interest in anything, really, so she’s probably showing signs of being shut down by the environment. If she gets adopted her real stripes will develop.

THIRD, I work with Daisy, a chow mix turned in as the perfect pet. “Great with kids, cats and other dogs!” Yeah, right. Again with the staring at cats. And, when approached by the dog warden and his loud, deep voice and clapping hands, she assumed a stance clearly communicating “approach me with caution.” Which, of course, he ignored. She cowered while he woozled and grabbed her.

I spent 40 minutes with her and discovered that she did know how to lie down, but that she used down to earn freedom. She’d lie down, be petted and praised, and then rush toward the cats. I started asking her to lie down longer before getting her praise. When I’d wait to praise her, she’d look boldly at me and freeze. In my opinion, this is a dog destined to injure or kill something. I wrote nothing in her “skills” list and noted she needed an experienced owner.

FOURTH, I bring out Mya, a sweet little black lab who has drawn no attention from adopters and who will be accompanying me to We Luv Pets today. Mya walks beautifully on a leash, pees in the exercise yard willingly, returns to me when I welcome her, and is, in general, a sweet girl.

I spend 45 minutes with her in the hallway of the shelter. Two staff members have to stop and pet her, though we’re working on self-calming as described on the literature and signs all over the volunteer station for the past 4 months. They have not, of course, taken advantage of their long breaks to read any of the dog-training literature. Why would they? They’ve worked at the shelter a couple of years and that’s given them all the information they need. Besides, they love dogs so they know about dogs, you know?

So a nice young man crouches next to Mya and points at the floor. “Down! Down! Down!” — to which she responds, “huh?”  He goes and gets an old dry biscuit out of a 5-gallon drum and returns to crouch and say “down!”  I watch with some amusement, I must admit, as Mya looks at him like he’s from Pluto (which, by the way, is not a planet LOL).

“I guess she doesn’t know how to lie down,” he concluded. “Well, first, she doesn’t know how to work for a treat or follow a treat lure, even if you were luring correctly,” I state. “Second, you might want to look at some of the training literature here sometime, but third, I can pretty much guarantee she’s not going to do anything extraordinary for that dry biscuit.” In fact, Mya walked outside with me and, presented with the broken biscuit just for walking around in the grass, spit it out and walked away from it.

She’s a perfectly sweet girl who can certainly sit and lie down but does both on her own terms because she’s never been given the slightest reason to work for food or to see people and food as valuable resources.

I came home completely frustrated at the lack of information, the old-timey approach to spay/neuter and training, and the view of this monstrous mountain from my position at the bottom. Where to start?

So I’m going to write a treatise to be presented at the next board of directors meeting. This will probably be the deal-breaker for being nominated to the board. Better to know that now, however, than to get nominated and find I have no voice in policy.

In the meantime, I’m off to pick up Mya and head to the pet-food store. If we can’t educate shelter staff at least we can educate and entertain a few citizens.

a time to heel

March 19, 2009

A little play on words … last post was “a time to heal” and dealt with the divorce of my parents.  This post is about obed and rally heeling, dog training, getting centered, and getting on with things.

I love to swim. Many years ago (half a lifetime away) I swam 75 minutes a day. I swam 45+ laps, over a mile, every morning. Not only was it great for cardiovascular health, not only did it burn a bunch of calories, but my mind was able to work through problems and issues as my body swam, and swam, and swam.

In recent years I’ve switched to water aerobics but classes are too loud and engaging to really get a lot of thinking accomplished. In the past couple of months I’m adding lap swimming before my aerobics class, and I’m enjoying it so much that I wake up earlier and earlier, anxious to add more laps each week.

I began with 3-4 laps, built to 6-9 laps, then tried to increase by 3 each week. I do my laps in sets of 3 so it’s easier to track. First lap in a set is breast stroke, second lap is back crawl, third lap is side stroke.  I hit all the major muscle groups with these three, without having to spend a lot of time with my face in the water.

Four days ago, on Monday 3/16, I swam 30 laps in 45 minutes, for the first time in years! And yesterday, on Wednesday 3/18, the water was cooler and I easily swam 33 laps in 47 minutes. Water temperature has a great deal to do with how far you can swim, by the way, and 83-84 degrees seems to be my optimal temp. Anything over 84 is too warm and I can’t cool off as I swim.

Contrary to water aerobics PR, you actually DO sweat in a pool, if you work hard enough. If the water is too warm I can’t cool my head, I slow down and tire quickly. So a little cool is great.

Of course, all the ladies arriving for water aerobics complain “yikes! this is too cold!” but who wants to work out in bath water?

My goal, over the summer, is to get back to the mile swim, at least 3 times a week. My aerobics class moves 30 minutes later after Memorial Day, so that 30 minutes can be spent getting to my goal of 45 laps.

For summer 2009 we’re adding mini workshops during the 2-hour lunch break offered at agility camps. While Bud relaxes in the house I’ll be teaching:  1) puppy agility,  2) obed for agility,  3) intro to rally,  4) intro to tracking,  5) intro to 2-Min. dog trainer,  6) building speed and motivation,  7) building distance skills, etc.

Each workshop will cost $5 per dog and the cash will go toward beautification efforts. I’ll be providing campers with a registration form on the first day and they’ll “vote” for their favorite 3 workshops. The most popular 3 will be scheduled for the first 3 days of camp.

We’ll also be adding some private lessons, either before camp starts at 9am or after dinner is over at 8pm. With travel expenses to consider, many campers want to maximize their time at camp and we want to offer an action-packed adventure for them.

For campers wanting to relax and get away from all that adrenaline and competition, of course, there’s plenty of down time. And your bunkhouse mates are off doing mini-workshops, so you can get in a nice hike or nap.

My plan for camp weeks, therefore, is to get to the pool (a 20 minute drive, in Marietta) by 8:45 a.m., swim until class starts at 10:00 a.m., finish class at 11:00 a.m., shower and dress, home by noon, teach mini-workshops until 1:00 p.m., possible private lessons until 2:00 p.m., then camp starts and I get started with dinner. After dinner more privates possible, either campers or our local students, and fun runs on Thursday nights.

In between all that I want to resume training Dash, Red, Blue and Hazard (all our youngsters) for heeling.  Dash has several rally titles, and his CD, so he’s had a ton of heeling training.  Red’s had a good bit of heeling training as well but her mental state rarely allows her to concentrate on me in the presence of other people or dogs — she needs a ton of work and I’ll heel with her while campers are doing agility in the building.

Blue is the most focused heeler I have and can generally block any distraction in favor of the clicker and cheese she knows comes with heeling. Hazard has had NO heeling training. And she’s so darned short (~10 inches) I’m going to try the wooden-spoon-dipped-in-peanut-butter with her.

Every afternoon and evening I’ll be making the rounds of my new flowerbeds and shrub plantings, watering and feeding, making sure they get a good start in life. I’m not big on annuals (too resource-greedy, IMO) but will probably have some baskets to maintain here at the house and perhaps at the cottages. Baskets take lots of care and can dry out very quickly — beyond redemption — in just a couple of days.

As spring and summer come it will be interesting to see if I can maintain this schedule or if it exhausts me. Swimming generally invigorates, but it also puts a good deal of stress on my bad knee, so pain meds are a necessary evil.

Last year my knee imobilized me a bit, so I’m eager to be more active and am more motivated to get on with life.

a time to heal

March 17, 2009

Last Friday, March 13th, my parents’ divorce hearing took place and, once the papers are filed, they’ll be divorced after 60 years of marriage. It’s been a rocky 60 years and my sister and I discussed on Sunday how our parents’ marriage shaped our lives and our personalities.

For example, we all tend toward depression and dark thoughts. We’re all thin skinned and sensitive to possible slights. All 5 of us take any comment very personally and have very little “bounce back,” or resilience.

I believe my parents’ relationship occupied so much of their time and emotion that they had very little left for their kids. We went along for the ride, unable to participate in a lot of extracurricular activities, had few opportunities to excel, as the focus of the family was on the marriage relationship.

If the conservative viewpoint is correct, marriage exists only to provide for the children’s future, which is of greater importance than the parents’ relationship.

I’ve often wondered, over thirty years, where I would be if someone had taken an interest in me. If, instead of being teased about my weight by my father and brothers (I look at pictures and I wasn’t fat — the teasing was just cruelty), I’d been encouraged to engage in a sport.  If, instead of being called stupid and following the school’s guidance-counselor path designed to move the most kids with the least effort, I’d been tested for my true aptitude.

Probably the most marked similiarity for all five kids, and both parents, is low self-esteem — courtesy of each other. So now my task, at 54 years of age, is to get past all this. I’m considering counseling or hypnosis, and perhaps will check on a group rate. Maybe all it will take is improving my Free Cell percentage. <g>

Yesterday I created a couple of flower beds between the house and the training building. I’m putting all the old soil from flower pots (combined with a manure / compost mixture) into the beds and will be using fresh soil in my deck flower pots this spring. My ordered flowers haven’t arrived yet (of course — too early!).

Today I’m going to work at the cottages, cleaning up fallen leaves, dropping some grass seed, and figuring out the best place for flowers. I need to be able to easily water the flowers, so they need to be within 50 feet of the cottage, but I also need to be able to mow with my riding mower so the beds must be incorporated into the present landscape.

In the meantime, I’m working on a couple of writing projects as well. Though I’ve not seen my first or second contributions to DogSport magazine (first is due any day, second is published in May) I’ve got a third article in the works.

The editors want to do an entire issue on obedience and asked what I could contribute. I suggested an article on “how you enjoy an obedience trial and separate yourself from the stress and anxiety.” I also suggested that, rather than having one author provide a list of “tips for the new exhibitor,” that every author in the magazine provide a list of tips to be included as a sidebar for every article.

In my opinion, no one author knows all the tips, nor will one author come at the “tips” topic from every point of view. By having every author provide tips the magazine provides a greater reference pool.

Last evening I was reviewing my early outline and decided to scrap it in favor of a new approach. For me, writing is often a task of first examining myself, then disecting my opinion of the topic, clarifying my viewpoint, organizing so that others may follow along, and presenting it in a positive and encouraging attitude.

I’m going to start again with the idea of the “centered” exhibitor who doesn’t let the extreme highs or extreme lows of a dog obedience trial draw her away from her core beliefs, nor from her enjoyment of the day and the people.

And, because I missed both of my training days at the shelter last week for family obligations, I need to get all this stuff out of the way by Friday so I can devote some time to training shelter dogs. Our supportive pet-food store, We Luv Pets, is having a fashion show — highlighting their spring ’09 doggie fashions — and has offered to “dress” some of our shelter dogs this Saturday for their fashion show.

The store has been great to us and we want to help them have a great event. I’ve not been at the shelter in over a week and I’m certain the faces have changed, so I’ll need to assess the dogs for suitability and get some volunteers lined up.

And our friend Anne Deliman, from Irish Ridge Pet Grooming, is trying to promote her Canine Follies on April 25th. This event is scheduled for an antique opera house in downtown McConnelsville (Twin Cities Opera House) and participants will teach a trick or skill to their pet and then present it to the crowd. It doesn’t take much pet training to wow an audience, but we’re offering 2 training workshops prior to the follies.

The Morgan County Humane Society is involved, using this as a fund-raiser for their efforts. I’m hoping that Anne gets some folks interested. It sounds like great fun but she’s battling tough economic times and a local mentality where dogs aren’t thought of as bright or biddable. She has my blessing and I’ve made myself available for the workshops.

extinquishing correction-based training ideas

March 16, 2009

Bud had a 2-hour private lesson today with a group from Zanesville, Ohio. They whole group is working with humane societies in that part of the world and some are also teaching obedience. But the primary point of their visit was to learn how to teach beginner agility to inmates training dogs in a “cell dog” program.

The inmates will be creating some agility equipment and these folks will be the instructors in the program. I watched for the first 30 minutes or so and was struck with how many negative markers I heard in that 30-minute period.

Bud’s got a system for raising funds for rescue groups and shelters when he does seminars. If you say “no!” to your dog while working in one of his seminars you get to donate $5 to a rescue group. Attendees are asked if anyone is working with a rescue group and whoever volunteers to accept the funds gets to keep track of the “NO” list for the 2 or 3 days of seminar.

Years ago  there were seminars where hundreds of dollars were paid by handlers saying “no.”  These days the donations are generally less than $50 per seminar. Fact is, handlers are learning the benefits of positive markers and the detriment of negative markers.

The folks from Zanesville would have been a treasure trove at an agility seminar. <g>  As I watched them it occurred to me how confused their (mostly) rescued dogs were by the negative markers (sometimes “no” and sometimes “aack!”) and how the markers retarded the learning process.

Once the negative markers went away and the treats and positive markers came out, the dogs started learning with great confidence. It was interesting and refreshing.

2 Minute problem solving packet

March 15, 2009

One of the dog-training lists I read is called BaggageAgility (@yahoogroups). It is, as the name implies, for trainers of dogs with baggage, rescues or otherwise.

They’re discussing training start-line stays and, of course, discussion has moved to “what do I do if my dog breaks the start line stay at a trial.”

I’ve posted my training protocol for training start line stays, along with the statements “On the other hand, I don’t train the stay at agility trials. If I haven’t completed my training I don’t request or expect compliance. I don’t enter a dog in a trial until she’s able to stay at the start line or pause table 100% of the time in practice, with huge distractions.”

I’m interested to see what gets the most attention from my post — the training, or the statements regarding not showing when the dog is only partially trained.

Here at Country Dream we’re not only preparing for spring, preparing for the upcoming camp season, and preparing for trial season, but we’re also preparing our own dogs and our students’ dogs for the TDAA Petit Prix in Wisconsin this coming October.

Last year we had a rather dismal showing, with my knee getting injured on the first day (taking me out of commission for the full event), with Blue’s concern over the electronic timing system, and Bud’s preoccupation with a magazine interview when he might have needed to focus on the final round of the Petit Prix.

In the grand scheme of things, the 2008 Petit Prix was a glitch, a hiccup, the result of one bad run. It’s all water under the bridge at this point, and it’s time for our young dogs to step confidently up to the line and show what they’ve learned.

At least 2 of our students plan to travel with us to Wisconsin. Their excitement over the teacup nationals is the result of our encouragement over the last 2 years to try some flavors of agility other than AKC. I’m really pleased that even a few locals are willing to try teacup agility.

If this isn’t the black hole of dog agility, it’s pretty close to it. Until we arrived at Country Dream, the local AKC obedience and agility club was the only game in town. When I knew we were going to return to my hometown, I contacted the folks from my old AKC club and requested information on membership and classes.

At every turn we were rebuffed — even when I asked if they did rally training, was told they had no rally instructor, and I offered that I’d been teaching rally for 2-3 years. No comment. It has been a constant source of amazement for me that the club continues to exist with that attitude of exclusion.

The dog-training community is, afterall, an incredibly small community. There are millions of dog lovers, but not a lot of dog trainers. We should, if nothing else, stick together and promote dog training out in the world.

ramping up for spring

March 12, 2009

Now that the weather is improving and days are getting longer everyone is showing increased interest in training their dogs.

In addition to our twice-monthly workshops, we have Thursday evening fun runs which show increased attendance. And, in response to our private lesson sale, we’ve got an increased number of private lesson scheduled.

All of this is falling at the same time as our increased work outdoors for regular maintenance AND our beautification projects AND Bud’s work-study program. This week we’re also expecting Bud’s brother and sister-in-law for a “chores visit,” where they stay in our lower cottage as a bit of a vacation and help with projects we can’t do by ourselves.

While this flurry of activity swirls around Country Dream I’ve also scheduled myself to spend 3 days this week accompanying my mother to meetings with her attorney and to the final hearing for my parents’ divorce at the end of this week — Friday the 13th (sounds ominous, right?).

This event will end a 60-year argument between my parents, hopefully. I’m sure there will be lots of loose ends to clean up, but we’ll at least have properties divided and disagreements settled. I imagine it will be years before everyone is speaking to each other. I understand from conversations with others that mine is not the only dysfunctional family.

In shelter news — I’m not going to get to the shelter this Friday but will try to go on Saturday.  This has been a really busy week with lots of projects, most involving a 20-minutes drive. So I’ve spent a good deal of time on the road and I’ve hauled mulch from the free pile half-a-dozen times already this week.

There’s been some difficulty getting possible breeds listed correctly on and on the shelter website. I don’t think it is just that the person listing the breed isn’t overly educated on dog breeds, but there’s also an effort made to entice possible adopters. I, on the other hand, believe in calling a dog what it probably is, with the idea in mind that there are people seeking out dogs of every breed or combination of breeds.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I thought about creating a notebook of breeds for the folks at the shelter. That’s probably going to take more time than I have.

Camp season approaches and we’re going to offer mini workshops at lunchtime this year. They’ll be intro to tracking or rally, obedience for agility or rally, puppy training, etc. Bud will be taking a break so I’ll be the instructor. I’m looking forward to seeing how these are received.