Posts Tagged ‘old dogs’

News from the 2-Minute dog trainer

September 7, 2009

This is Hazard’s time to shine. My hope is that, after training and trialing with me for a few weeks, she’ll turn back on to agility and be more confident. And my hope is that Hazard will run for Bud at the Petit Prix, at least some of the time.

This week I’m beginning little teacup sessions with Hazard. Our training will include narrower jumps (instead of 4-foot jump bars we’ll work on 2-foot wide jump bars), weavepole motivation and speed, but not a lot of contacts. Hazard’s 2o2o contacts have transitioned naturally to lovely running contacts and I’m not messing with that. We’ll also be doing some distance training.

In other news, I found a fiberglass double utility tub at a yard sale for $10 and Missy Holmes (formerly Richards) plumbed it for me last week in exchange for private agility lessons for her cattledogs, Gracie and Gunner.

I’ve had a terrific time in the last few days, washing 1-3 dogs a day, getting their shedding hair out and removing months’ worth of grime and grease. Aussie and Shelties don’t require much bathing as a general rule, and I know at least one sheltie person who claimed to have never bathed her dog — just brushing and trimming — because shelties really don’t get a lot of oil or smell in their coats.

A major transformation happened on Saturday when I spent 2 hours with Ringer, our 11+ year old rescue with the MAJOR black tri coat. I thinned, I de-matted, I clipped, I trimmed, I hacked away at this horrible over-the-top aussie coat. Then, when all the excess hair was gone, I bathed this boy for (probably) the third time in his whole life.

Ringer lived the first 3-5 years of his life in the bottom of a stack of crates at a puppy miller’s torture chamber. He was one of 150 or so dogs to come out of a puppy mill raided in Spencer, OH, many years ago. We fostered him and then adopted him.

Ringer was a mess when we got him though rescuers had already bathed him a couple of times. The smell of urine and feces didn’t go away for many weeks. In order to save herself work the puppy miller had removed the steel trays from the crates that sat on top of Ringer’s, so all the upstairs neighbors pooped and peed on him. To this day the slightest sprinkle of rain sends him running indoors. <g>

Ringer is undoubtably the most “grateful” dog we’ve ever had. He has several behaviors to express this gratitude including coming to give me a little kiss on the hand after every meal, visiting each of us once each evening for his hug (he’s the only dog I know who actually craves hugs — the tighter you hold him the more he delights in the contact). Puppy mills are an abomination and should be outlawed.

Today I got Banner’s toenails trimmed (a major achievement since she’s deaf and mostly blind and tends to panic attacks when her arthritic feet are touched) and I’m off to comb and bath Bogie and Birdie, Bud’s 13-year-old shelties.

I’m hoping all this grooming will relieve my house of some of the dirt and hair plaguing us this summer.

Bud’s been on a cleaning frenzy, starting with the installation of the washtub that required movement of some stuff in the basement. This led to a clean-up of the whole basement, hauling tools and tables to the green shed where they will reside from here on out, and organizing the green shed.

In between cleaning episodes, Bud’s digging down through 40 years’ worth of stacked building materials at the lower cottage. My Dad loved to save old bricks, cinder block, stones, fencing, lumber and wire. Unfortunately it was mostly stacked under some trees in the woods adjacent to the cottage.

After 40 years it takes a minor excavation to reveal exactly what sort of pile you’ll find. So far Bud’s found rotten wood piles (great, soft soil which he added to his garden to break up the red clay), brick, chain-link fencing, and field stone.

All have been dug up, hauled up to the house, and stored for future use. Hopefully we won’t need to excavate it again in 20 years. <g>

My Mom, Sister, and I drove yesterday to central WV to visit some really beautiful state parks. We started by checking out Hawk’s Nest, overlooking the New River, then drove on to Babcock State Park and the gristmill there. On our way home we stopped at Hawk’s Nest for lunch, and Glen Ferris for pictures of the lovely falls.

The lousy economy means lots of folks are doing “staycations,” but the state park system still shows signs of financial woes. But Bud and I own about 20 acres of woods and I know the battle between tame and wild that occurs whenever you try to carve civilization out of wild woods. So I guess the state of WV is doing an okay job. I wish the owner or manager of the dining room at Hawk’s Nest was a little more of a perfectionist.

An interesting thing about being judged

September 3, 2009

Once you reconcile to the fact that you will be judged, to your face and behind your back, then the only questions become,  1) is the person doing the judging cognizant of all the facts? and  2) is the person doing the judging a peer to whom I must answer?

I wanted to record here, for posterity, an e-mail I received from a total stranger. In an attempt to judge me behind my back, Lori accidentally posted the comment to my e-mail address only. Ohhhh the horrors of e-mail. Can’t snatch ’em back, can’t delete them, they’re out there forever. And, once a message is sent to an address, the recipient owns it.

Lori’s accidental post to me read, “Why is Marsha still on HSOV   I think a Anyone that DUMPS their own dog at the shelter should have their name reMoved. Sent from my iPhone”

When I let her know her post had come just to me, and informed her that the adoption agreement I signed with HSOV 2 years ago stated that Blue must be returned to HSOV if she didn’t work out in my home, I received this judgement from Lori ….

“Marsha, I’ve not met you, you’re correct in you don’t know me. I did know who the email was from, it was obvious from your blatant advertisement regarding agility training at the bottom of it. What I didn’t realize was that you were the ONLY person I was replying to in the email.

I’d like to clarify what it is that bothers me.  I know what the contract says and you’re right…you did as the adoption contract requires, for that I applaud you. However, I also know that EVERY animal that comes out of that shelter is hoping to find it’s “FOREVER’ home, not a home that will keep it until ‘something better’ comes along as in the case of the dog you returned.

I have had dogs that fight, I have been bitten numerous times by dogs I foster or my own when they were in a fight. They still have forever homes, I would no sooner ‘return’ or give up one of my dogs than I would a child that has ‘issues’.  I take the time, and have the patience to work through the issues unless they are ‘unworkable’ (I’ve had only one that was unworkable and it was a foster that ate it’s 9 week old babies and tried to attack me when I went in to remove the last living baby). 

As a trainer, I would have thought you would have been willing to work through whatever issue you felt Blue had and if you couldn’t then you should have sought the help of a trainer that had the experience to work through it. If I were looking for a trainer for my dogs (I’m not, I already have an excellent one) I would not use one that I knew returned their own dog because they couldn’t or wouldn’t work with it.  I had heard that Blue had many certificates in agility which also makes me wonder even more why he was ‘returned’ as he obviously is a very intelligent dog.

Again, it’s just my opinion, I speak only for myself.  But I don’t feel that someone who adopts and then returns an animal to a shelter is stable enough to adopt again, nor be associated with the group they represent and returned their dog to at the same time.  If your association with the shelter is monetary, I’m sure they’re grateful for your donation, if you spend hours volunteering, I’m sure they’re grateful for your help. Please continue both donation and hours as the HSOV needs that kind of help.

 Shelters and rescues need the animals to go to forever homes, not have a revolving door back to them…it’s too expensive in emotional commitments and money and time to not have adopters you can count on for forever homes.

Just for my own closure I’m going to respond to a few of Lori’s points in this blog posting. I hope to address some of my disagreements with commonly-held beliefs, and also some of the social graces lacking in today’s youth. To repeat Lori’s letter, interrupted with my insertions this time …

“Marsha, I’ve not met you, you’re correct in you don’t know me. I did know who the email was from, it was obvious from your blatant advertisement regarding agility training at the bottom of it. What I didn’t realize was that you were the ONLY person I was replying to in the email.

Time to get out the directions for that Blackberry, huh?   Yes, advertising is blatant. And I’m guilty of advertising. We run a business.

I’d like to clarify what it is that bothers me.  I know what the contract says and you’re right…you did as the adoption contract requires, for that I applaud you. However, I also know that EVERY animal that comes out of that shelter is hoping to find it’s “FOREVER’ home, not a home that will keep it until ‘something better’ comes along as in the case of the dog you returned.

Anthropomorphism at it’s finest. Dogs hoping for forever homes. The resting place of the purist. Well, sorry, but my 13-year-olds were hoping to get to retire without being beat up every day. My dogs were hoping to not have Blue’s teethmarks on their muzzles.  Most troubling in this is Lori’s contention that I kept Blue until “something better” came along. She’s ignorant of the fact that Blue was going to be my agility and obedience dog. That no one could replace her. I’ve no idea what other dog came along to displace Blue. Right now I’m without a performance dog.

I have had dogs that fight, I have been bitten numerous times by dogs I foster or my own when they were in a fight. They still have forever homes, I would no sooner ‘return’ or give up one of my dogs than I would a child that has ‘issues’.  I take the time, and have the patience to work through the issues unless they are ‘unworkable’ (I’ve had only one that was unworkable and it was a foster that ate it’s 9 week old babies and tried to attack me when I went in to remove the last living baby). 

Lori doesn’t get real specific here about just what happens to her foster dogs (must assume she doesn’t keep every foster) or dogs that eat their own babies. Either she does work through every issue or she does not. It sounds as if, at some point on the continuum of behavior, Lori chooses to cut her losses and remove the dog from her home. If she fosters she may even choose her own pack over the foster dog, putting the good of the many over the good of the one. We’re left with more questions than answers.

As a trainer, I would have thought you would have been willing to work through whatever issue you felt Blue had and if you couldn’t then you should have sought the help of a trainer that had the experience to work through it. If I were looking for a trainer for my dogs (I’m not, I already have an excellent one) I would not use one that I knew returned their own dog because they couldn’t or wouldn’t work with it.  I had heard that Blue had many certificates in agility which also makes me wonder even more why he was ‘returned’ as he obviously is a very intelligent dog.

Blue was a “she,” so I’m even more convinced than ever that Lori has never met Blue and is making a blanket judgement on me without getting all the facts. Dog trainers are no different from other dog people. Just because we train dogs doesn’t mean we’re more able to maintain a stable of fractious, dangerous dogs. My belief is that Blue’s perfect, “forever,” home is waiting out there for her. Keeping Blue put my pack at risk and kept her from ever finding the perfect home. Whether Lori feels I’m a poor dog trainer is of no consequence to me. In my heart I know I do what I can, more than most folks, to ensure that dogs are healthy, cared-for, loved, and cherished — whether they’re in my home or in a student’s home.

Again, it’s just my opinion, I speak only for myself.  But I don’t feel that someone who adopts and then returns an animal to a shelter is stable enough to adopt again, nor be associated with the group they represent and returned their dog to at the same time.  If your association with the shelter is monetary, I’m sure they’re grateful for your donation, if you spend hours volunteering, I’m sure they’re grateful for your help. Please continue both donation and hours as the HSOV needs that kind of help.

An interesting bit of adoption information is that “open adoptions,” as practiced by many shelters including HSOV, are designed to eliminate just this sort of judgement on adopters. The rule of thumb for shelters is this — you adopt a dog or cat and, if it works out that’s perfect — if it doesn’t work out please return it to us so we can try again. The most important lesson I’ve learned in the last 20 years (and clearly a lesson Lori has yet to learn) is that there is no home that is perfect for all dogs, and that there is no dog that is perfect for my home. There are project dogs, there are lovely dogs, and there are dangerous dogs. Each relies on a situation to create either bad news or good news.

Open adoptions are designed to ensure that dogs are not dumped on back roads, shot in the head, or confined to a pen for eternity. Open adoptions allow people to give a dog another chance, in another environment, in  another home, without being labeled “unstable.”

So Lori considers me unstable, though is willing to back-pedal and accept, on behalf of the organization for whom she clearly does not speak, my donations of time and money.

 Shelters and rescues need the animals to go to forever homes, not have a revolving door back to them…it’s too expensive in emotional commitments and money and time to not have adopters you can count on for forever homes.

Again with the blanket statements. All warm and fuzzy, with no real content. Blue went to the Ohio Cell Dog program, to be trained by an inmate who may have a life-changing experience with this brilliant little girl. This inmate may decide that his or her life is worthwhile, that improvement is possible, and that the future holds promise. The people who adopt Blue from the program may provide her with the one-on-one home life Blue so needs. Blue’s brilliant obedience and agility behaviors may influence them to continue her training, thus moving them into the world of “dog people.” Hopefully all this will happen without the judgements of the ignorant and/or pure.

The final message with which I’d like to leave the Lori’s of the world is this … before you judge someone  1) put yourself in their shoes,  2) decide if you’re really qualified to judge them,  3) examine your own life,  4) determine if this is how you would wish to be treated, and  5) be as kind to people as you would be to an animal.

In the end we’ll all be judged on how we treated others in our lives. Were we kind?  Did we do unto others as we would have them do unto us?  Were we encouraging, or did our holier-than-thou attitudes create a sense of anger or inferiority in others?

The dog leash

June 12, 2009

I delight in watching people with their dogs. I’ve been a student of the human/canine relationship for many years but, as I sag into middle age certain elements of that relationship pique my interest. I’ve begun to study dog owners’ and trainers’ use of dog leashes. Following are some of my observations.

First, dogs have different reactions to leashes. For some a leash is the early signal that great fun is about to occur. For others the leash is a dreaded control device to be avoided at all costs. I don’t know any dogs who neither love nor hate their leash. Ambivalence isn’t a canine character trait, perhaps.

Second, people have different associations with leashes. For some it represses their dogs’ enjoyment of life. For others the leash is the ultimate safety device. Leashes can be used as a replacement for a relationship with a dog.  Leashes can, as surely as a printed T-shirt, tell on-lookers all about you and your dog.

Third, leashes can be decorative, utilitarian, gentle, harsh, safe, and dangerous.

Some thoughts on leashes, in no particular order (just getting words onto the page at this point) — a training paper will probably follow when I’ve sorted out this puzzle.

BANNER — doesn’t need no stinkin’ leashes, but is submissive to my wishes when wearing one. She’s 13 years old and has always had a mind of her own, thank you. When Banner was a youngster I took her to herding camp in Vermont. For 2 weeks before the trip I spent time teaching her to potty on command and on lead. When we got to Vermont we spent a few hours in Honey Loring’s back yard with a dozen dogs ripping and tearing about and all the herding camp people sitting on the deck. Breaking away from the play pack, Banner ran to me, put her front feet in my lap, and barked. “What do you want?” I asked. “Timmy’s in the well!” Banner responded.  “Is Timmy in the well?” I asked.  “Yes! Come quickly!” Banner barked. I got up to follow her and she loudly led me to an area designated as the potty zone by a plastic fire hydrant. As I followed her Banner led me to the potty yard, peed, and resumed her play with the other dogs. She had been taught that peeing takes place within the length of a leash from Mom and, rather than coming to me and peeing near me, brought me to the peeing place. It was our relationship that made me follow her but she was using it as deftly as any handler might use a leash.

WIZARD — loves leashes, just loves ’em. Never gets to go anywhere but the vet’s office and an occasional trip to Watertown, but the leash signals the ultimate luxury — going bye-bye with Mom. When a leash is dangled in front of him Wizard puts as much of his body as possible through the loop, jostling with the other dogs to be the lucky dog who gets to go.

RINGER — a dog who would really like to visit the neighbors and do a walk-about, Ringer has to be walked on leash from our training building to the dog yard. All the other dogs run around, smelling where the rabbits slept overnight, then come when called to the yard or building. When Ringer sees the leash he runs full force at me, jumping up in an attempt to put his head through the leash, then pulls continually and makes a bee line from the yard to the building, from the building to the yard. However, if released from the leash even one foot from the door of the building or the gate to the yard, he veers away and takes off — Freedom!  His relationship with the leash might be described as love-hate.

BOGIE and BIRDIE and DASH — when the leash is on we have full compliance and connection, when the leash is off we have exploring and selective deafness. When any of these sweet boys are loaned to students, the leash becomes secondary to the string cheese or weiners in the students’ hand. I have to giggle as students fumble with the leash and treats. “Just take the leash off,” I tell them, “You’ve got treats and he’s not going anywhere but with you.”  Seeing Dash walk to the start of a sequence with a student, in heel and perfectly attentive, the leash tight and controlling, is an abomination. A snug leash on this dog? Are you kidding? Perhaps people are concerned that, if he’s off-lead, he’ll take off for parts unknown. Or perhaps they’ve adopted a relationship with their own dog defined by a controlling, tight leash. Regardless of the leash dependence of the handler, all these sweet boys are biddable and forgiving.  They seem to accept that, for some people, the tight leash is required to feel connected to a dog.

RED — as with most of our dogs, Red sees the leash as the first step in a journey. I get the leash off the rack to help Banner get up and get outside, and Red’s head, neck, body, have to be extracted from it twice in 10 seconds. She loves the leash. Loves it, and sees it as a barrier to communication with dogs. On lead Red demonstrates inappropriate greeting behaviors with dogs. She barks and snarls and lunges. Unlike real aggression, Red’s behavior is largely ignored by other dogs. “She’s just being a butt,” they seem to indicate. If she’s being inappropriate I drop the leash and the behavior turns off like it was on a switch. Red becomes a wiggling dog-lover and appropriately greets others. Leash tight = bad behavior.  Leash loose or off = good dog. She had this behavior when I got her at 11 months from her breeder. She had been returned by her first owner and got to spend a good bit of time fence-fighting with visiting dogs. My theory is that the leash behavior is an extension of fence-fighting.

HAZARD — doesn’t need no stinkin’ leashes. In fact, when we pick up Hazard’s leash she starts circling away and avoiding us, as if the leash has negative associations for her. Hazard experienced some intimidation by big dogs while on a leash and, in my opinion, associates the leash with an inability to escape danger if she feels escape is necessary. I’m starting some obedience (rally) training with Hazard and have established a new leash set specifically for this activity. I’m not going to use any of our English slip leads for obedience training as she avoids all of them. Instead I’m using a lightweight martingale, rewarding Hazard every time she allows me to put it on.

BLUE — loves leashes but doesn’t really need ’em.

KORY — tugs on his leash beyond the point where he’s told to stop. The leash means Go!, means fun, means treats, means training, and is just part of the relationship he has with Bud. Watching this pup follow Bud around, on-or-off-lead, is a real pleasure. They’re pals and I’m certain the leash, for Kory, is going to become a bit of unnecessary material between his neck and Bud’s hand at agility trials. A traveling tug toy, Kory’s leash will probably take a beating for the next few years.

More observations on leashes later ….

the cost of veterinary care

May 12, 2009

I hate to admit it, but I expressed a bit of irritation with the lady behind the desk at my vet’s office this morning.

After wellness checks for 4 dogs last week I scheduled 2 back for dental cleaning. I specifically asked, “how much do you charge for dental appointments?”  The answer was “about $100.”

We hadn’t scheduled dentals for awhile, so I bit the bullet and scheduled Dash (9 years, 40 pounds) and Hazard (5 years, 9 pounds) to have their teeth cleaned.

This morning I was presented with the inevitable paperwork to sign, including  required “pre-anesthesia bloodwork” for Dash — for $66.  The corresponding bloodwork for Hazard was $33 but, since she’s not considered a senior, it wasn’t required.

As I’m reading the paperwork, and complaining about the $66 charge, it goes on to say that there’s no guarantee that the required bloodwork will show existing conditions which might make anesthesia dangerous for Dash.

As I turned away from the desk I said to the clerk, “when people ask how much a dental cleaning costs the answer should be ‘$100 to $200, depending on your dog’s size and age’.  You folks shouldn’t tell people that dental cleaning is $100.”

After a few minutes in the car, where my irritation simmered, I began to question why Dash’s bloodwork would cost $66 and Hazard’s only $33.

Don’t get me wrong — I realize that bloodwork is recommended for dogs, especially seniors, prior to anesthesia. I get that there are dangers involved.

Frankly, I’ve reconsidered the plan I had to take all our aged dogs in to get their teeth cleaned as well. If the anesthesia is so dangerous for aged dogs, and the bloodwork is $66, and there’s no guarantee the bloodwork will turn up dangerous conditions, I guess I’ll just deal with dirty teeth and the possible infections.

What drives Bud nuts (among other things, of course <g>) is that this vet offers NO volume discount based on the number of dogs we have and the way we combine office visits and manage the dogs for minimal impact on her staff.

We paid over $400 for 4 dogs’ wellness checks, vaccinations, and bordatella. Two had their teeth scraped. Additionally our flea/tick preventative amounted to another $250.

There are places in the world where that would constitute a mortgage payment. So what recourse do we have?

One of us will be spending some time on the phone harvesting pricing information from other vets in the area. When we find a qualified individual with lower prices or a willingness to discount for volume, we’ll change vets.

Bud’s new puppy, “Hickory”

May 8, 2009

Well, at least I THINK his name is going to be Hickory. “Country Dream Hickory” probably, as a registered name.

I’m looking forward to getting my 2-Minute sport foundation packets out for his breakfast, lunch and dinner. As with any dog, we begin with attention to name (or re-name) and recall.

I’m curious as to how he’ll relate to the other dogs, who he’ll choose to torment, whether he’ll have respect for the oldsters.

Today I worked with my mother’s day gift to myself, a little string trimmer that runs off a battery. Convenience = 5 stars. Charge time = 1 star. I guess it runs about as long as I like to string trim, so I’ll be doing trimming in little bits.

Bud left this morning for his yearly Altoona (PA) seminar. He took Hazard and Blue — these girls are becoming great travelers though I’m not sure he’ll be able to handle them AND a puppy while traveling. If he wants to, I’m sure he will.

This morning I arrived at the YMCA pool about 10 minutes early, so swam for about 80 minutes, followed by an hour of aerobics. My goal is to build to 90 minutes by summer, either swimming alone or a combination of swimming and water aerobics.

About 45 minutes into the swim I felt so hungry I thought I’d be sick. I rested and brought my heart rate down a touch, then started again and got over the feeling. I’m very pleased with the results I’m seeing from the exercise in the pool.

After swimming I swung through McDonalds for 2 chicken sandwiches and a diet coke. I ate one sandwich and saved one for dog treats at the shelter. I’ve had no luck getting shelter dogs to each hot dogs, ham, treats, nothing. I figured they would eat chicken from McDonalds.

When I got to the shelter half the dogs were in outdoor pens. The smell was overwhelming. HSOV is using a new cleanser which deoderizes but the staff must be diluting it too much because it isn’t working very well. Or perhaps I arrived before the night’s smell had a chance to clear.

I strolled around the outdoor pens, drawn to a white GSD bitch who looked quite bedraggled. I tore off a piece of chicken and she sniffed it but refused to move from her sit, and refused to take the chicken. I tossed it onto the floor near her and turned away. She sniffed at it, but looked back up at me.

I walked 20 feet away and she leaned over, picked up the chicken, and ate it. I walked back and tore off another piece. By the time we finished our interaction she was taking little bits of chicken out of my hand and eating it. If I did nothing else today I’d be pleased that I connected — on one level at least — with this poor girl.

I worked with a couple of dogs, including a black lab mix with something wrong with his rear legs. He also had a fully engorged tick on his face so I took him into the guts of the shelter, found a worker, and got the tick removed.

We spent half an hour together in the hallway outside of the large adoption room. He decided the kittens in the towers weren’t as interesting as he thought they might be at first.

Most of the dogs at the shelter are too big and too boisterous for my trick knee, but I was able to spend a little time with a couple of them. There’s a purebred Sheltie going to rescue tomorrow so I left her alone and focused on dogs up for adoption.

The smell remained overwhelming and, after 90 minutes, I had to leave. By comparison, the Parkersburg shelter is kept clean and neat, is well-run, and is about as long a drive. Whether it was the smell today, or the 5-camps-in-6-weeks schedule coming up, I’m wondering how focused I’ll stay on shelter activities.

I don’t want to stop helping them but I question whether my contribution is worthwhile. I’ll keep restocking the 2-Min. D.T. brochures, keep talking with adopters, keep helping with dog training, and I’ll re-evaluate my committment every couple of weeks or so.

Is it really possible that the smell could drive me away?

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.

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.

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 !!

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.

Magazine contributions

February 4, 2009

I’m really excited that we’re forging a new writing relationship with DogSport magazine. NTI Global has purchased this magazine and Joyce and Rachal Raeburn are working to provide readers with interesting and valuable training information. They want to publish “how to” information and want to include lots of different perspectives.

When I first met Bud he was a published author, creator and editor of Clean Run magazine, had several impressive training manuals on the market. He said to me, early in our relationship, “we should write a book together sometime.” Yeah, right, I thought. All the training manuals 10 years ago were written by people who had dozens of titles, who always pointed out, in their biography, how many “200 scores” they’d achieved. I knew I’d never share their goals or that level of achievement, not because I felt those goals and achievements were not worthwhile, but because they’re simply not shared by me.

I’m pleased to announce, therefore, that I’ve been asked to become a contributing author for DogSport magazine. Seems my perspective and training methodologies are actually of interest to their readers. This is a pleasant surprise to me on many levels.

I’m very excited that these magazine editors are interested in dog sports from the perspective of the everyday trainer. I’ve said for many years that the vast majority of exhibitors and trainers are at shows to have fun, socialize with their friends, hang out with their dog, and test the skills they’ve spent time training.

A small percentage of dog trainers desire world team aclaim, want to get their color photos in dog magazines, want national recognition of their dog’s skills. But most of us are in it for the fun we have in class and at dog shows, or for the personal growth we experience when we challenge ourselves to do better.

So there are 3 articles in the works:  1) for the March/April issue I’ve contributed an article on adopting a shelter dog and training it for dog sports,  2) for the May/June issue I’ll be writing a piece on the application of Bud’s “laws of a dog in motion” to rally obedience,  3) for the July/August issue I’ll be writing a piece on making the sport of obedience “your own” and finding pleasure in whatever level of involvement you enjoy.

(If I were to contribute to NPR’s broadcast, this is what “I believe.”)

I believe that dogs provide us with companionship and an emotional outlet in a world where we find ourselves more and more isolated from the support of our human families and friends. Everyone agrees that animals offer unconditional love but I believe, additionally, that they are due unconditional love. A dog is not in our home to validate our training skills, to get high scores, to make us look good. You don’t get bragging rights because you’ve spent more money on your dog than I spent on my mortgage. And I believe the surest way to heaven, where I’ll join my companions who’ve gone before me, is to apply my knowledge, skill, and resources to improve the lives of dogs I meet. I don’t need every dog living in my home, and I recognize that many dogs don’t fit into my home or pack, but I believe I have the capacity to help dogs enjoy a better life today than they had yesterday. And I believe, at every possible turn, I’m called upon to show unconditional approval and love to an ever-growing number of dogs who have been ignored, neglected, or punished by others.

My goal is to assume a training path which allows the dog to achieve the highest rate of this unconditional love and approval. Allowing the dog to choose between approval (and breakfast or supper) and no approval (an unemotional do-over) is the method I choose, and I hope this philosophy and methodology pleases the readers of DogSport magazine.

Our shelter had their monthly board meeting last night and, again, I was unable to attend to provide the volunteer coordinator’s message (due to inclement weather and driving distance). They’ve got a full plate without my report. The board of HSOV is choosing their new shelter manager, establishing new positions for current staff, and putting some new rules in place. I’m anxious to know how the meeting went.