Archive for March, 2009

Spring agility workshops

March 9, 2009

Yesterday was an invigorating experience – our first workshop of spring – with new students joining our beginner workshops and a great bunch of returning intermediate and advanced dogs.

After the workshops we decided to plan on dinner and a movie in Marietta before we could sit down and become planted for the evening. Just as I sat down at my desk the phone rang and it was a lady wanting to know about rally lessons. She used to train with a friend of ours, Julie Hosley, who passed away this past winter from heart disease. I wasn’t aware of Julie’s passing, so that was a bit of a shock. She couldn’t have been much older than me. Also, Julie was a tremendous asset to the dog rescue and dog training community.  She trained with positive reinforcement, showed folks how to get started with clicker training, rescued and fostered dogs, and generally worked her butt off to make sure dogs were living peacefully inside people’s homes. She will be missed, that’s for sure.

I’m going to have a private lesson with Julie’s student this Saturday, and I hope I don’t disappoint her. She’s got her novice rally title and entered a trial in April — we’re going to focus on off-lead work, heeling and attention work while distracted, and she’ll go away with several weeks’ worth of homework.

When we first moved here I spent a great deal of time setting up basic obedience classes, reformatting my lesson plans to create a module approach to obedience exercises, and talking with local dog folks regarding obedience training. I’ve discovered that it takes more time and effort to set up a weekly class, getting 3-5 people interested in attending, than it takes to teach said class. So now I’m doing private lessons for obedience. Luckily, with our private lesson sale still in full swing, they’re very affordable.

Bud asked yesterday if I’ve given up on having rally obedience on those select Sundays when we have agility workshops in the afternoon. Last year rally took place each of those Sunday mornings. I think we’ll keep our emphasis on agility and see what happens with rally at Country Dream.

Our first camp starts in about 5 weeks. We’ve decided to offer little mini-workshops during campers’ lunch break. Subjects include:  1) intro to tracking,  2) intro to rally,  3) obedience for agility,  4) building motivation and speed,  5) problem-solving for barking and biting during agility, etc.  I’m going to make a complete list of these little workshops and anyone wanting to attend may “vote” for the workshops they want. I’m going to charge $5 per dog for the workshops, with funds being added to the Country Dream beautification fund.

This morning I heard from a man who met me 12 years ago, when we both had young Imagineer (breeder Gemi Sasson-Brickson), red merle, australian shepherds. His Merlin was 2 years old and my Banner was 1 year old. We sat both dogs down, side-by-side, and laughed that they looked like scoops of vanilla ice cream — his had hot fudge sauce melting down it and mine had caramel sauce. Both dogs have the same parents, just born one year apart.

My Banner is 13 now, is looking old, and is dismaying me with her diminished senses and her racing aging process. She’s the only puppy I’ve ever purchased and raised (all others being rescues at 5 months to 3 years of age). When she goes it’s not going to be peaceful here at our house. My heart’s going to be broken and no amount of steeling myself against it is going to change that. I watch her constantly, trying to prepare myself for her passing, yet I’m fully aware that a huge crater is going to form in my heart.

So it was with a tremendously heavy heart that I heard of the passing of Merlin just a month ago. He developed a bump on his head which they thought was an absessed tooth, and which turned out to be cancer.

I’ve gotten away from purebred dogs, from my beloved red aussies, for several reasons. But hearing of Merlin’s passing, and that these folks have a new aussie puppy needing trained, made me want to get a little fur-ball of my own. The idea being that I would get so involved with the puppy that somehow Banner’s passing wouldn’t affect me as much. In my heart I know I can’t ever replace her. It’s useless to consider adding another dog to this pack-of-9 just to take my mind off that looming loss.

This is the first year I’ve felt so hard-hit by the time change. Yesterday morning, before our workshops, I REALLY could have used that additional hour we lost.  Last evening at the movie, I drank a cola with caffeine, so I was up until after 2:00 a.m.  Then up early this morning for water aerobics and now I’m just exhausted and drowsy.

One of the weird things about blogging is that this truly IS my journal, yet I’m constantly made aware that others are reading and finding my ramblings interesting or amusing. I’ll not apologize, today, for being a little sad and tired.

shelter make-over

March 7, 2009

This week I attended the shelter’s BOD meeting, to give my volunteer coordinator report and observe the proceedings. The new Executive Director and new Shelter Manager both gave presentations. The shelter manager reported on the number of adoptions, transfers, and euthanasias — our stats are horrible, frankly, with many adoptions and transfers, and many more euthanasias.

Each week we get 10-50 puppies. If only people would spay or neuter their dogs! Most of the puppies get transferred, but the euthanasias are in the 500 range for dogs, a few more for cats, and it’s only March!  I was appalled. And I was discouraged by the fact that my few successful adoptions, though they saved that ONE dog, did nothing to hold back the tide of puppies created by irresponsible people, and the resulting flood of adult dogs being turned in to the shelter or turned out to survive on their own.

Equally discouraging was the comment by one board member that she’d received a complaining phone call from a local vet and that’s why the shelter’s spay/neuter policy had been cancelled. “Vets don’t want dogs coming straight from the shelter for surgery. They want the new owners to do a wellness appointment and then, 2 weeks later, bring the dog back for surgery.”  Sorry for disagreeing, but these dogs have been wormed and have had their vaccinations and bordatella. They’ve survived 2-3 weeks (or more) at the shelter. Their adopters struggle to come up with $100 for the dog and shots, plus $100 for surgery. Why should they need an additional $100 for the wellness appointment?

And now we’re back to the (largely) useless certificates. Someone suggested that, if the certificates were larger value, that folks would be more interested in cashing them in. So, instead of paying $70-80 for the dog and getting a $25 certificate for a discount on your neutering surgery, the dog should cost $90-100 and adopters would get a $45 certificate for the surgery discount.

It occurred to me, after the meeting, that if they called these REBATES instead of discount certificates, more people would keep track of them and use them.

The new Executive Director talked about his eagerness to get moving with the shelter make-over. He seems to be a real go-getter, so I’m looking forward to his changes. Also, after the meeting I got a chance to talk to him, and I shared my opinion that the shelter should be spear-heading the spay/neuter movement in this county and city, not allowing  local veterinarians to derail our policies because of their clinic policies for other customers. The shelter should be considered a good customer, and we should seek out veterinarians who are willing to care for shelter dogs the way we ask. Any vet unwilling to set aside a surgery appointment and insert a last-minute shelter dog — or unwilling to do surgery on a vaccinated/healthy dog — should be bypassed for another vet who IS willing and interested in working with us.

An interesting sidebar — last November I offered myself as a nominee for the shelter BOD but was told by the one-man nominating committee, “I don’t know you so I’ll not nominate you.”  I explained I’d be volunteering at the shelter and added, “you WILL know me, sometime soon.” Well, after the meeting he made a point of telling me he’d be calling me regarding the 3 board positions needing filled later this year. Also, the board member who reversed the neutering policy because a vet called to complain is due to be replaced this year. Things just get more and more interesting, don’t they?

Bud and I have spent the last 2 days working outdoors, raking leaves away from cottage foundations, making a compost pile, and hauling horse manure. I’ve been so exhausted at the end of the day I’ve been unable to blog and, for that, I apologize. But it has been a bit of therapy, getting out into the sunshine, working on physical labor instead of mental labor.

Between chores I heard from campers and students and was reminded that my next packet of 2-Minute Dog Trainer brochures should include some advanced behavior modification protocols — 1) speeding up a non-confident dog,  2) dealing with fearfulness or nervousness,  3) my “tambourine” handout,  4) my handout for “my dog bites me” and  5) any other solutions we’ve developed over the years. These problem-solving brochures should be especially helpful for instructors. If you have a suggestion for one of these brochures, please be sure to sent it to me (

Today at the shelter I worked mostly with 4 really nice dogs, including 2 great little terrier mixes, and —

1) Farley, the small rottweiler, walked with me and surprised me with his talent. He had, for the last 2 weeks, stood nervously next to me. He could be lured into a sit but not into a down. He was uninterested in my hotdogs. But today I took HAM, and Farley looked at me, looked at the ham, and slammed into a down. He did it so repeatedly and consistently I’ve decided that someone taught him this trick.

2) Susie, the sweetest little purebred black lab, very submissive, wouldn’t walk with me at first. She preferred to lie down and roll on her back. I showed her my ham treats and she said, “well, maybe I can walk a little bit!” By the end of my time with her she was greeting men and schmoozing with potential adopters.

I return tomorrow to take some lucky dog to the pet food store. And I’ll haul a couple of cats as well, probably. Whether or not it’s a drop in the bucket, I’ll keep working to help the few. And I’ll continue to educate folks as to the benefits of neutering.

Foundation Sport package is up!

March 3, 2009

We finally got the 2-Minute Dog Training Foundation Sport package up on the webstore (here’s the link for anyone wishing to order:

The format I decided upon was to set out each training protocol as a separate brochure. Now instructors may use the training themselves, teach from the brochures, copy the brochures to distribute to everyone in their class, OR copy the brochures and have them available to selectively provide homework assignments for students needing work on a specific foundation issue. I only ask that they not be copied and sold.

I am aware that the most popular brochures are going to be the weavepoles and contacts trainers, but it is my opinion that you can develop a stronger, more flexible relationship with your dog if you combine foundation training in housepet manners, obedience, and agility.

Every time I hear “my dog doesn’t like obedience so we just do agility” I’m tempted to say (heck, not just tempted, I usually DO say) “my dogs don’t know the difference between obedience and agility … it’s all about a conditioned behavior, put on cue, and rewarded consistently.”

I did a pet fair demo with Dash once and (though no one at the fair knew what they were seeing, they thought it was just a stupid pet trick) had him doing sets of 6 weaves, fetching his dumbell, and weaving back for me.

His rewards for dumbell work had been so high that he loved his dumbell and considered it a reward for the first set of weaves, then he got his treat for weaving back with the dumbell. I trained all my dogs to retrieve using Sue Sternberg’s Inducive Retrieval method, and it has served me very well.

Another stupid pet trick Dash does, and one with almost mind-blowing implications, is one in which I lay out all his retrieval items. The stack contains his dumbell, a squashed plastic bottle, a glove, a wallet, a bumper, a wooden spoon, and a fly swatter (I added this because he was afraid of fly swatters as a puppy, so I taught him to retrieve one).

I have Dash sit in heel, then send him for the dumbell. When he retreives that I tell him to fetch the bottle, then the glove, then the wallet, then the bumper, then the spoon, and finally the fly swatter.

Observers are impressed that Dash knows the names of these items. Then I explain what is actually more impressive — that Dash DOES NOT know the names of these items but that, instead, he has established a preference list which he adheres to nearly 100% of the time. So long as I call items out in order of his preference, he always chooses in the same order.

In my mind, “shopping” using a priority list is a MUCH neater trick than knowing the names of stuff. It shows me that the dog is thinking, choosing, considering options, and operating on a higher level than a standard conditioned response.

Still, it makes for a great “stupid pet trick” and always manages to amaze his audience. Dash is nine this year and remains the most biddable dog I’ve ever had. He’s afraid of nearly everything (the by-product of 3 months of idiotic, ham-handed, bumbling tuff-love from 8 weeks to 5 months, at the hands of a clod who used to do dog agility in northeastern Ohio) yet, with the proper rewards in place, tries to overcome his fears and be correct every time.

Bud and I were discussing our dogs, comparing their distance working capabilities, and came up with an interesting bit of doggie information on our pack. The best distance dogs we have are the two least confident dogs who, having constantly been encouraged and rewarded for obstacle focus and distance work, will perform obstacles perfectly and consistently when cued. Bogie and Dash both started as slow, cautious workers. Both were encouraged to perform individual obstacles for food.  Both dogs worry about being wrong and, in the wrong home, could have easily been shut down completely.

I’m starting the 2-Minute Dog Training Advanced Rally package next week. Hope all of you enjoy the Foundation Sport package !!

Mulch and Manure

March 3, 2009

We’re poised to begin our spring mulch and manure adventure. In addition to our regular trip to the big, free mulch pile our county road crew creates, we’re going to drive to one of our local student’s home to load horse manure into our utility trailer. Also, Bud’s convinced we can begin composting dog manure.

I’ve never heard of composting proteins (our dogs are omnivors), but he’s seen something on the internet about it, and we certain have plenty of raw material with which to experiment. <g>

These sunny days, though we’re experiencing bone-chilling temps in the teens, have us both thinking of spring. And spring brings campers, so  this will be cottage clean-up week at Country Dream. With all the winter storms the trees have dropped dead branches, there are pine cones and nut shells, all needing stacked and burned.

I’ve attempted to get a teenager interested in work-for-training but there seem to be  lots of other activities keeping our dog-training teens busy. We’ve asked them to help us with clean-up, in exchange for agility and obedience training, and had no takers from local 4H kids.

So I’m going to try to interest a couple of my friends in a cottage clean-up this week, and Bud will be in charge of hauling mulch and manure.

All this work is designed to improve the surfaces on which dogs walk and run. At the cottages we not only burn deadwood, but we want to rake up leaves and debris on the ground and throw down grass seed. I have pictures from 20 years ago when both cottages were surrounded by grass. In recent years the trees have grown and overwhelmed the grassy areas with shade AND debris.

For our spring camps I’m considering offering little 30-60-minute lunchtime workshops covering such topics as obedience-for-agility, intro to rally, intro to retrieving, and intro to tracking. Since we give campers a 2-hour break for lunch, these workshops would be scheduled while other campers are taking lunch. And I’d be teaching as Bud will be taking his break from instructing.

Sorority volunteer day at the Shelter

March 1, 2009

On Friday I got to the shelter about noon and picked up “Farley,” a dog that resembles a miniaturized Rotty.  Our HSOV staff doesn’t list anything on their website or on as a rotty or rotty mix, probably because they think they won’t get adopted, but I’ve found the rotty mixes there to be pretty solid citizens overall.

Farley got loaded into my dog crate in the back of the Tahoe, along with 3 beautiful little cats, and we headed off to We Luv Pets in Lafayette Square. Once again we were welcomed with open arms by the terrific staff and manager there, everyone made a big fuss over Farley, and he had an exciting 90 minutes greeting visitors and schmoozing with the staff. Farley walks beautifully on a leash, so I spent time walking the aisles of the store with him.

I needed to buy dog food before I left, so I loaded Farley back into the crate and returned to We Luv Pets for a bag of Nutro Senior. It took me about 5 minutes and, upon returning to the truck, I was greeted with a familiar smell.

I still don’t know if it was vomit or poop (the shelter’s food is a cheap mix of whatever-gets-donated so it could have been vomit, but the shelter only feeds once a day in the afternoon so it must have been poop) but there was a big pile of it in my crate.

Poor Farley had stepped in it once, so there were footprints on the bedding, but I got his leash on quickly, got him out of the truck, shook off the bedding quickly, then got a poop bag and picked up all the little bits I’d missed when I pulled out the bedding. A benefit of layering bedding, of course, is that you can capture messes in the upper-most layers.

I generally layer old towels and blankets in my truck crates. Poor Farley was, I believe, certain he was going to get punished but I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t give him an opportunity to take care of business before loading him into the crate. I was thinking of him like he was one of my dogs, not a shelter dog, with their constantly unsettled digestive systems.

I returned to the shelter, got Farley happily back in his kennel (he was such a good boy!) and used shelter cleaner and paper towels to finish the clean up in the back of the truck. All in all, I’ve seen much worse, and it was a pretty easy mess to deal with.

Upon returning home all the bedding got laundered, then returned to the truck, so Saturday morning I was good to go with no residual smells in the truck.

Saturday I got to the shelter about 11:30 to prepare for Marietta College’s Chi Omega sorority work day. Our shelter gets a great deal of casual assistance from Marietta College students, and a couple of these girls are in the group working up PR material for the shelter for their writing class as well.

Angie, at the shelter, had a list of things she wanted done. When the 20-30 girls arrived we wrote the jobs on slips of paper (for example, if 3 girls were needed sorting food in the garage we wrote up 3 slips with “food in garage”). Each girl drew a slip of paper and we started dividing them up. Since Angie was more knowledgeable than I as to where supplies were, what needed done, how to do it, etc., it took us 15 minutes or so to get things started.

As my big 2009 donation, I stopped on my way to the shelter at Lowes and picked up a 5-gallon bucket of white primer (good for drywall as well as masonry) and 5 cheap brushes. While Angie settled 20 girls into cleaning and sorting tasks I got 4-5 girls painting the back hallway of the shelter with white primer.

We dug up a few little step ladders, so we were able to do upper trim AND the metal strips holding up the dropped ceiling. The ceiling panels themselves are going to be replaced, but we put a coat of primer on the grungy metal framework which holds the panels in place. These strips will, no doubt need another coat of primer or (better yet) a spray-coat of white Rustoleum.

By 12:30 the shelter was BUZZING with college girls. They were scrubbing the walls of the lobby, laundering bedding, folding and sorting towels, climbing all over pallets and shelves sorting food, organizing the donated plush toys and rawhides, unfolding and folding newspapers, scrubbing the outside sidewalks with disinfectent, cleaning the doormats, picking up poop and trash, scrubbing and hosing out all the transport crates, stacking the transport crates in the storage room, cutting donated bedspreads in half and folding for bedding, scrubbing the ceiling vents, and (of course) painting the back hallway.

When they finished the shelter just FELT better. It looked brighter, smelled better, like a breath of fresh air had blown through. The shelter staff were, at first, a bit shell-shocked. The guys who spend their days cleaning up after dogs and cats were shuffling around, not knowing what to do or how to get involved, but I believe they appreciated having everything organized and straightened at the end of the event.

As volunteer coordinator, I think I’m going to try to find someone who would like to go to the shelter every week or so to put the garage in order. The job involves stacking dog food and cat food, sorting kitty litter, folding and stacking pee pads and newspaper, etc.  Not exciting work, mind you, but I’ve got a couple of people who want to volunteer but can’t bear seeing all the animals in cages and kennel runs.

This would be perfect work for an organized, soft-hearted volunteer. I’ll make that my job for this week (among other things, of course <g>).

As for the guys who work at the shelter — they’ve got a dirty, low-paying job and (like most guys, sorry if I’m generalizing) they’re not big on organizing and beautifying. Other than one older fellow who took charge of the transport cages and back walkway (providing supplies and leadership to 3-4 girls), the guys shuffled around doing animal care and generally avoiding prying eyes. One middle-aged woman could outwork 2 of these fellows.

Hopefully they’re not interested enough to read a blog about HSOV and be offended. In my years at Fenton Art Glass I saw this phenomenon quite a bit. I believe this lack-of-motivation is a leadership problem so perhaps our new shelter manager (Sue Goff) will change the attitude of the shelter workers.

After the girls started trickling out I started showing a new volunteer, Marlene, some of our SMART techniques. We talked about dog training in general, rewarding the behaviors you wish to encourage and ignoring the behaviors you wish to extinquish.

I got to meet with a young mother and her small daughter who were looking for a new dog. “I promised my daughter a dog as a birthday present and as a potty-training present.” We walked through the big-dog room and talked a little about dear “Farley.” We put Farley on a leash so Mom and daughter could take him for a walk. He got to show off his marvelous leash manners, greeted the little girl calmly, and generally was a gentleman.

The young woman said, “my parents had Rottweilers, and I always loved them, so he might be just perfect!” We returned Farley to his kennel and the woman’s husband will be brought back next week to see him. Such a nice boy, I hope he finds a good family with kids.