Friday, October 31, 2008

People skills in dog training

I was very sad to read on another blog about a bad experience a dog owner had the first night at a new agility class. It seems her "trainer" was not very nice to her nor very helpful. Here is her post: "What I need in a trainer"

How disheartening that anyone has to go through such an experience. Training is supposed to be fun for both you and your dog, especially a class like agility. In a worst case scenario it should at least be informative and useful. The point is that a dog trainer needs to be good with people too, not just dogs. The two go hand in hand and unless you want to lose clients you need to have those people skills to be able to effectively communicate. If you turn off a client with condescending behavior it is going to drastically effect how you communicate with each other. This is a critical component when you are trying to teach new skills.

If you end up with a trainer you don't feel comfortable with feel free to leave the class, seperate from the group, or end the session. Speak to your trainer and let them know your dissatisfaction so they have the opportunity to fix the issue if possible. Perhaps they are unaware. You are paying for a service after all. Time is money and if they are wasting your time, they are wasting your money as well.

Remember, you are the only voice your dog has. Never let a trainer do something you are uncomfortable with to your dog. Trainers are not all created equal and some don't know as much as they should about dog behavior. (some stick to training only and don't bother learning about behavior information believe it or not)

Even with a great trainer there can be personality conflicts. Keep that in mind as well. If your options for training are limited you may have to tolerate a personality you don't particularly mesh well with. However that shouldn't mean you need to tolerate rudeness. If that happens to you do not hesitate to point out you are paying for their services and can look elsewhere. Not everyone who gets into dog training has the people skills needed to do well in the field long term.

Check out another post on the subject of people skills in training here: Dog Trainer...A Misleading Job Description by Cindy Bruckart

It is my sincere hope that the majority of training is a pleasant experience for all involved. Regardless of the methods taught or the type of class or trainer you see, it should always be a fun and rewarding event you share with your dog. Anything less is just plain unacceptable.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My favorite thing

There is nothing I love more than watching dogs play. With each other, with their toys or joining in with me. The joyous jumping around and racing of the dogs, the twinkle in their eye when you play the chase game, the relaxed look of pleasure on their faces during a pause. It is all just so much fun. You can even learn things about individual personalities by watching groups of dogs or puppies playing among themselves. And it is also interesting to see different dogs or breeds with different play styles. Play is an important part of our lives with our dogs. It is even the reason some people have dogs, to have fun with them.

For a more in depth look at play in dogs check out Patricia McConnells blog with details on some studies being done on the subject.

And for fun check out the video of Jack playing with Dash a couple of winters ago.

Now go play with your dogs!

Can't we all just get along?

The answer sadly is apparently not.

Some of you may have noticed I have removed some comments from this blog and set my comments to moderated status. I have inadvertently become the target of another dog trainer that didn't like some comments I posted to her public blog. (by public I mean owned by a newspaper)

It was never my intention to irk anyone with my opinion but it is clear that is what happened. The original post was about how to become a dog trainer and I added more info for prospective trainers to her post. She disagreed with my response. Strongly. I have since been accused of "drinking the kool-aid of the positive training cult" among other things. It became a bit of a mess from there and after an attempt at a normal dialogue I tried to back away. In response I seem to have been followed. (and linked to as an example of a member of the fanatical positive trainer cult)

Now I dislike strife, in any form. I grew up in a home that had far to much of it for me to want to continue the cycle. Plus I just don't understand WHY dog trainers feel the need for infighting!? We are on the same team!!! Regardless of methods, or personality conflicts, we are all in this for the love of dogs and to help both them and their people. Aren't we? So WHY do we feel the need to beat each other up? It is incredibly unprofessional and I am so tired of it. It takes to much energy to be negative if you ask me.

So I have had enough. Lets each stay in our respective corners and continue to do what we love and help dogs. We can agree to disagree on methods and ideology. It really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things if dogs are being humanely and effectively trained. (by both sides) I was accused of having an agenda, I guess that is true. If I had to define it my agenda is to promote dog training to keep dogs in their homes.

Yes I have chosen positive reinforcement for the majority of my clients and for my own dogs. I am unsure why that can be so irksome to others. Every trainer has a choice. If you are happy with your own choice why feel the need to attack anothers choice? Why resort to name calling? I just don't get it.
I think it is possible to have a dialogue with and between trainers of different methodologies. (I have had some great debates with other trainers of different methods.) As long as there is mutual respect. Respect doesn't always equal agreement after all. When one side lacks that it seems to quickly become a war. There really is no need of it. If we can't get along and meet in the middle to some degree we might all stagnate in our journey. Is that what we really want for our future? NONE OF US KNOWS EVERYTHING after all. Both sides have things they can learn, if they are open to it.

OK enough venting. As my grandmother always says, what doesn't vent will eventually explode. I should be good for a couple more years now. VBG.
So my plea is this, if we can't declare a truce, how about we each walk just away? I'll go first.

Wag more, bark less.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fear in dogs

Last night for supper my husband cooked us some french toast and bacon. (MMmm it was good.) We noticed part way through his cooking that Jenny was acting weird. Her tail was down and she was in the hallway sitting, looking towards the kitchen. She would not be called back into the living room area that is next to the kitchen. Then we remembered, she always acts scared when we cook bacon on the stove. Since we don't cook it that frequently it isn't something we automaticly think of as a trigger for her. She doesn't seem to have the same reaction to the kind we microwave, just when it's cooked on the stovetop. I'm thinking it is about the sound possibly coupled with the smell. She sure has no problem eating some of it if offered. (she is a huge chow hound, a typical pug trait)

So we employed some classical conditioning by pairing something really good (I usually use extra yummy treats) with the scary thing. In her case the scary thing is bacon cooking. Remember, it is about what the DOG perceives as a scary event that is important. Not our perception of what they should be scared of.

Dogs being scared of something can stem from an event that happened in a fear period during their puppyhood, a normal developmental phase. All dogs go through them. Some more than one. What is important to know about fear periods is that anything that happens to a puppy (a dog under a year old) during that phase has a more lasting effect than if it happens at another time in their life. Example: a puppy is meeting new people and a man in a baseball hat swoops down just a little to quickly and startles the puppy. This could mean forever after the puppy is leery of man in baseball hats. Did the person abuse the dog? No, but to the puppy it was a very scary event that made a lasting impression. If the same event happened while the puppy wasn't in that specific developmental phase it might be scared for a few minutes, but have no issues with men in hats in the future.

The hard part of dealing with fear periods is knowing when they are happening. All breeds mature slightly differently so the age for the fear period can vary. One clue can be if the puppy suddenly acts afraid of something they previously didn't act afraid of. It may be something as benign as an end table, or boot rack. Something they may have seen and walked by every day until then. Or if they seem extra nervous about things in general suddenly.

What is also important to know is how to handle a puppy in a fear period. Do not force the puppy towards the scary thing. If possible throw tidbits near the item and act normal, see if they will approach on their own and figure out it isn't scary. (this is all going to depend on what it is the puppy is afraid of) You can praise them for any forward movement towards it. If it is about an item that can move make sure the item will stay stationary while they check it out, remember we don't want to add to the puppies fear. Once they are more comfortable with the item we can add the movement later.

If we force a puppy to confront the scary thing we are only stressing them out causing them to shut down. A dog that is to stressed is incapable of learning because it has gone into fight or flight mode, instinct vs rational thought. Forcing a dog to confront something is called flooding. While there may be times it is necessary, in most cases you'll end up with a dog that goes into something called learned helplessness. The dog acts like it accepts it but it has in fact learned it has no options. It doesn't take away it's fear, it only changes its reaction to it. (at least for that moment) Flooding MAY be used in a treatment plan, however it should only be done by a professional that is familiar with canine behavior (like a certified canine behaviorist) to avoid the learned helplessness response.

Is all fear in dogs related to fear periods? No, it is just one facet to fearful behavior in dogs. And it may be an explanation for Jennys reaction but I have no way of knowing for sure. Dogs can be scared of specific things at any age depending on how traumatic the event is. (again, to the dog) Luckily for us she will work for food, even when the bacon is cooking, so classical conditioning with her should be pretty easy in this case. I just need to put a note on the bacon to remind me for next time.

*Want to know if a dog is to stressed? Try offering a really good tidbit they normally would love. A dog that is to stressed to eat may be to stressed to learn. Fight or flight causes a physiological response in the body to shut down as self protection. (and they may also evacuate their bladder and bowels, part of the F or F response as well) This means it is physically impossible for them to eat as a result.

*Got a fearful dog? For more in depth info check out the books and DVD's available at (simply type the word fear into the search area)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Speaking of Halloween

I got an update e-mail from Dash's owners tonight. Dash was the french bulldog we fostered for the French Bulldog Rescue Network. They attend a dog related Halloweeen event every year. Last year some of you may remember Dash was the scarecrow from the wizard of oz.
This year he went as a bumble bee. Isn't he adorable? (the answer is yes of course)

Here he is with his brother Ivan.

And here they are with their cousin Duncan.
We are thrilled he has such a great family. His mom Jess works at a vet clinic and also sent along this photo because she thought I might like it. (I do) A pug puppy with an irish wolfhound. Quite the size difference.

It is amazing the variety we have in dogs. Literally something for everyone.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Function in fashion with a dash of fun

Jenny and I went for a walk today and stopped by The Loyal Biscuit Company to look for something to keep her warm during potty breaks. It is getting pretty cold here in Maine. She is lacking of her own coat in a big way so she needs a little help in that department. Since I had my camera with me it became a bit of a fashion show.

I like this one but they didn't have her size in red.

This one would be great for being in the woods during hunting season, not enough coverage underneath I am afraid for what I wanted.

I like the ease of getting this one on and off but it is more of a lightweight spring coat.

Same coat as above, it was reversible. Two styles in one. Very cute!

Not a great shot of this one, it has cute curlies on the sides. It is also a step in that Velcros down the back, much easier to put on that a normal sweater. This is the one we took home today. Jenny was cooperative tho not very thrilled with the whole process. While we were there this cutie came in to get a new coat too. She is a 3 month old Chihuahua named Roxy.
Jenny says hello.
Here they are with Roxys big sister Lou Lou. It was little dog day at the shop I guess.
Here is Missy in Jennys new coat. It is amazing that it fit her too. Frenchies are so chesty. (Fido Fleece brand, size 14 for those that are curious) I left the neck open a bit because it was snug thru that area.

She does not look impressed does she? I took some video of Missy and Jack playing but it was horribly dark and you could barely see there were dogs in it. I'll try to get some of them in better light to share.
Tomorrow I am off in search of a dremel to use on their nails. (after some cc to acclimate them to it of course) Jennys get long fast and Missys grow so close to the pads they are very hard to trim with clippers. I'm sure Home Depot will have something suitable. (I never had these problems with akitas! VBG)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Poor Jenny

Some raw feeding humor.

So friday morning I ended up having to get Jenny into the vet because she was itchy. Bye bye sleeping time. I saw it coming on and had given her an oatmeal bath on thursday morning. Friday morning when I let her out of her crate the previously pink areas were worse and she had scratched herself raw in a couple of places. She is so naked under her belly and legs as it is so any little skin thing shows up easily. It was my fault because I tried to switch her to a different kibble for her breakfast. I thought if I could get her on the same stuff Jack and Missy were eating it would make life easier. No dice. The vet agreed with me that it was proabably a reaction to the food switch. She gave her a vetalog injection to calm the itchness down and gave me a topical to use as well. I was sleep deprived just coming off a shift and didn't think to try benedryl first. (she told me the proper dose while I was there for next time)

In light of this I decided to put Jenny on full raw. It's a little more work but since she has the food issues I think it is the best option for her. On the off chance it was a reaction to a new supplement I started adding called Missing Link I am not giving her that for awhile either. I will slowly add that back after a week or so and watch her closely.

Poor miss Jenny.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Danno Graduates

Danno graduated from K-9 Corrections and went home with his new person today. She fell in love with his photo from the website because he looks like a dog she grew up with. Upon meeting him she knew he was the dog destined for her. I hope they have a wonderful life together. We will miss him.

He was a very quick study and knew how to relax during break time.
A very handsome dog. Would you believe he was left tied to the shelter doorstep one morning?

Here are a couple of videos of him during training. (excuse the poor quality) The first is him heeling. He was lagging a bit more than I would like. Not to bad for new off leash work though. Just needs more practice and polish. The second is him doing a sit, down, sit recall routine. (some call that push ups, sit, down, sit, down) I was trying to show how happily he works. My handler was new and is doing a fantastic job learning everything I am throwing at him. He can't wait to start the next dog.

Have a great life Danno!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Graduation, adoption, and the great food debate

Here is Danno. He graduates the program Friday. He has an adopter already interested in him and he will go home for a slumber party on Saturday. He and his handler have both done fabulous. He knows all the basics, can heel on and off leash, is crate trained and has a few tricks he can show off. He is also a very sociable boy and loves to make new friends. He will make a wonderful dog for his new family. I will miss him.

This is Chloie. She is an akita that is under consideration to be our next prison dog. (one of many) I thought she would get adopted quickly but the person interested in an akita came in and said "that isn't what he wanted". I have a suspicion he wanted something a bit larger and more macho. It's to bad because she is very friendly and has a great personality. His loss.

So the new raw diet is going well. With hunting season in full swing, I have access to LOTS of meat scraps that my wonderful husband is saving and grinding for me at the shop. Here it is all packaged as I get it. Fresh and ready for the freezer or fridge. (labels on the underside) I rented space at the shop in one of the extra freezers for the season because I can't fit it all in the two freezers we have.

This is a bag of liver he ground for me even though he hates working with it at all. I can't say I blame him. It is pretty gross. Next time I think I'll have him just cut it into pieces and freeze those, it will be easier. For now I have the liver bagged into smaller bags so I can mix it into the ground meat along with the calcium supplement I use. (Only because at the moment I am feeding no bones, calcium isn't needed if you feed actual bones.) Tip: when mixing meat use rubber gloves so the smell doesn't linger on your skin.

Check out my awesome B-day present. A scale is a must if you want to feed raw so you can keep an eye on proper amounts. I tried using a cheap food scale and it was way to inaccurate so be careful. Digital is the way to go. Thankfully I have a raw friend who is overseeing my progress. VBG (Thanks Lauren!)

I found this book to be excellent and highly recommend it. It will take much of the stress out of figuring out how to feed raw. It will also explain things simply in a way that makes sense. Just one of the many books out there on the subject.

I'm still giving Wellness Super 5 with whitefish for breakfast. I did switch Jenny over to that too and so far she is doing fine on it. Is raw for everyone? No, but for some of us it is a great way to know we are feeding our dogs a healthy diet more appropriate for their species. Think about it, what did dogs live on before kibble became popular? And I know I am not a nutritionist, but chances are neither is your vet. Think general practicioner vs specialist. Only my family doctor isn't selling a brand of food to us. Hmmm Food for thought?


So here is my speil: There are lots of options out there for our pets so they can eat healthy. Learning how to read labels and choosing wisely is up to us since they can't do it for themselves. The book "Food pets die for" by Ann Martin is a great start on learning what is really in pet foods. Ironicly she is against raw diets (she listens to vets) but it is still a good book about the industry. (I sound like a broken record about the book but it was SO eye opening for me!) For those that want to try raw but don't want to do the prep work or find it to gross there are some great companies out there doing raw diets. I use Primal myself when I don't get meat from hunting season. So far I am very pleased with the results I am getting and the satisfaction I have from knowing I am providing healthy meals to ALL my family members, not just the human ones. Actually considering all the additives in people food I think my dogs are eating better than the rest of us at present. For me it works, though I will try not to become the dog food nazi for others. Do what works for you and your dog. Just know there are many options out there. Don't take ANYONES word for it, even mine, do your own research and see for yourself. Good luck and good health.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sometimes I just have to say no

I hate not being able to do everything I want. I also hate disappointing people. Sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day though. I have reached a point in my life where I accept my own limitations. Even if I don't want to. The new job means less free time for fun and sometimes even training. Reality sucks.

I had to pass up an opportunity to work on a movie. Shooting right here in the area. They need a handler of a dog in one small scene. A pretty easy gig from the sound of it. But the new second job schedule and my own already busy training schedule just isn't giving me the time I would need to do it. (not if I want to get any sleep that is)
I know how movie sets work, they rarely keep to a set schedule and I don't have the leeway I used to with my time. It sucks but I'll live. I console myself by saying there are no guarantees. It is always possible the scene ends up on the cutting room floor anyhow.
I sent the casting person info of other dog people and trainers in the area that might be able to help. The script calls for a chow but they are more interested in the dog being able to do what the scene calls for than the breed when push comes to shove. Fortunatly I know a fabulous Chow Chow breeder that I sent her to as well. (Zola at Red Cloud Chow Chows)
So even though I may have missed my shot in the movies, I hope someone else appreciates and enjoys the opportunity. May it go smoothly for everyone involved. I look forward to seeing the finished movie.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A must share

Passing this on from the Pet Connection Blog from last week. Not to be missed.