Monday, November 24, 2008

Has anyone ever seen this before?

This is Birdie and my sister. Birdie was adopted by a mutual friend from a shelter out west. We have no idea what breed she is or is a mix of. We don't really care because she is sweet and friendly and a fabulous dog.

These are her housemates. A male Rhodesian Ridgeback named Xindika on the left and a female Greyhound named Nellie on the right. Sorry I didn't get more pics, I was trying to not be that annoying person with the camera. (I was at a going away party.)

The interesting thing is this:

Birdie has NO pink spot on her belly. It is completely covered with fur.

Now I have seen alot of dogs. Between working at a vets office and the 100's of shelter dogs over the years I have never run across this before. It made me curious. Has anyone seen this before or have any thoughts?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chloe the prison dog

I am in love with this dog. She is so much fun to work with and incredibly sweet. If I had the space for a 4th dog I would be in SO much trouble right now. Someone really had no idea the gem they had in this dog. Their loss!

She just loves to work and is very smart. She is also very beautiful and has bounced back from having puppies wonderfully and has filled out well. I took Jack to work with me one day and while she was to defensive to play with him this time, she had great focus on her handlers and worked well with him there as a distraction. Hopefully seeing him play with her tug toy and ball will spark an interest in it for her. We at least got some dog slobber and scent on them for her. The handlers report she doesn't seem interested in playing with toys at all. It is possible due to her past neglect she never learned to play or that she was not allowed to play.

I ordered the DVD from on The Power of Marker Training and we have incorporated that into our program with great results. There has been some adjustment for us as what I was doing was similar but not exactly the same. I am VERY impressed with the video and it is well worth the time it takes to watch. (3 & 1/2 hours) It has great detail and shows many video examples. Of course I also love the beginning where he apologizes for using some of the methods he has used in the past on dogs. This is a guy with 40 + years of experience! He even admits that he used to laugh at this training method in the past and how he was wrong. I love a man who can admit his mistakes.

So for anyone interested in learning more about positive training with operant conditioning for dogs this is a great video. And for those not interested in "clicker" training, you can use verbal cues instead, which is what I have always done and what they show predominately in the video. And luring is also allowed so it can be used with deaf dogs as well using hand cues.

Chloe is doing well and I expect she will be very easy to place when she graduates the program. It is just to bad that not all shelter dogs get to benefit from this hands on training. So many dogs, so little time.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Missy gets a new bed

Missy got a new pretty bed for her nightime spot. Since she sleeps in my daughters room I thought this would go better with her "decor".

She seems to like it just fine.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pug history 101

I like reading about the history of dog breeds. It took me awhile but I tracked down one about pugs that has some great info. It turns out that it is believed they developed from the same lines as the bullmastiff and not bulldogs. There are even photos of skulls of various dogs included. It is most interesting to note that when they were developed that they did have a nose on them, and not the extreme flat faces they have now. (or even as shown on the book cover)

I'm throwing in a bunch of Jenny photos for someone to look at that has smooth brussell griffons. It has been mentioned that perhaps she is a cross with a smooth BG due to how much she looks like one in the face and has a similar body type. I have only seen one smooth BG in person and it was such a long time ago I am unsure if this is a realistic possibility. After seeing the photos in the history book however I believe she looks like more of the original pug type. I think they used to call that a throwback.

Another thing I found interesting from the book is that is used to be very common practice to crop pugs ears.

I should have gotten more pics of her profile so you can see her nose.

We don't really care what she is, we are smitten. I have now been charmed by the pug breed. I guess that may make Jenny our "gateway" pug. :-)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rescue Remedy Warning & Bones, a yummy treat

Thank you to Nancy of "A Dogs Life" blog for the warning regarding Xylitol in Rescue Remedy Pastilles. Rescue remedy is a Bach flower essence used in both people and animals as a homeopathic remedy for stress and anxiety. It seems the new candy version of the product contains Xylitol, an artificial sweetener that unfortunately is toxic to dogs. For more info check out her blog at Maine Today. (link on my blogroll to the right)

Warning to vegetarians who may be reading: Graphic meat photos to follow.

Tonight for supper the dogs all got some deer ribs. This was my first experience giving them bones to be crunched up and eaten and I admit some nervousness. I am learning as I go in this raw food journey.

I had nothing to worry about however. Jenny had no problem figuring out how to enjoy the new treat. Of course she will eat most anything. (Sorry for the crummy pics, my camera was on it's last leg battery wise. I'm lucky I got these.)

Missy McStrong jaws made pretty quick work of it too. (she was the fastest, no surprise)

Jack wasn't to sure at first and played with his abit. He tried moving his to the rug and then his bed but I wouldn't let him eat them there. I wanted to be able to clean it up easily.

The girls finished theirs and Jack was still playing so I picked his up. Then I decided to try kenneling him as well to eat and it worked like a charm. I think he is so used to Jenny stealing his food (given the opportunity she will and he lets her) that he couldn't relax and eat. Problem solved with the crate. They really enjoyed the bones and I will definitely be getting more of them. I switched them to another Wellness for the breakfast kibble. The fish version seemed to make Jenny itchy so I put her back to the simple solutions Wellness too. (I did put her on full raw for abit but found it was easier to have one meal kibble for every dog due to my schedule.) I did wise up and started mixing their meat in bigger batches so I have enough for a week now instead of a few days. That has made things somewhat easier.
I am really happy they did so well with the bones. I want to be able to give them regularly for the dental benefits they provide. To see them crunching them easily made me feel much better about the whole process. And seeing them enjoy their ribs so much was also very satisfying. My only regret is not trying this sooner.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From the vault

I used to host a show on local cable access called "Reigning Cats and Dogs". We shot anything and everything pet related and featured animals at the shelter that needed new homes. Some of the highlights for me were: showing my former shelter cat Penny (above left) at a TICA cat show in the House Hold pet division, meeting the wolves at Wolf Hollow in Ipswich Mass and interviewing Susan Conant, the mystery author. Plus we got to share training tips for both dogs and cats. We also had segments about farm animals. Like I said, ANYTHING animal related. It was alot of fun as the producer/camera person was my friend Bev. Boy how I wish I had the blooper reel! The photo above was from a session of publicity shots for their website with info about the show. (one of many their channel produced) I still get recognised occasionally by former viewers.
Left to right is Penny, and Bridgette, both former shelter cats and Shimo and Kuma, my first 2 akitas. I think Shimo was about 7 months old in the photo but I can't say for certain. That means Kuma was either 6 or 7. I wish I had written down the date on the back of the pics. It was 1998ish I think, just after I got done working at the vets office and just before I started my dog trainers apprenticeship. We took a bunch of pics but this is one of my favorites. I have some episodes of the show on tape around here somewhere. (VCR format of course)
The show ended when the national cable company boosted their rates for the local channels. So my channels owners decided to retire instead of merging with the other local cable channel. Understandable. They have just recently started a new show on the remaining local channel under the same name that both local shelters are hosting for pets in need of new homes. It is kind of neat it has been brought back and is still being used to help animals by promoting adoptions.
I just thought I would share a tidbit from the vault. It is kind of fun to recall the past when you stumble across old photos you forgot you had. Boy how time flies.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Reading facial expressions in dogs

I have attended seminars, watched video and seen photos explaining facial expressions in dogs but have noticed a trend towards them all using, for lack of a better term, the more natural looking breeds. Like this cutie below, a smooth chow chow. Here he is showing a neutral expression, interested but not overly so. Most people can read this as not threatening.

Compare that to this guys face below. (Zeus) Is this neutral, excited or contemplative? Actually this is a trick question to a point. He is an example of needing to know your dog well. Because of his misshapen mouth the tongue interferes with what we might consider a normal expression. In this particular dogs case this is his relaxed face. (and somewhat contemplative, which I will be explaining, hint a tucked lip)

For those that think he is showing a whale eye here he is with a more relaxed body posture. Some breeds have facial features that need to be taken into account. In his case loose eye lids.

The point with those photos is to show the drastic difference in the facial structure of some dogs. Because dogs do also communicate with facial expressions, along with body language, it helps if we can read them as well as their more natural bred counterparts. I hope this post will point out some tips to help accomplish that. I know when I first brought Missy our frenchie home I felt lost. I watched at her looking at me and thought to myself, I have no idea what this dog is thinking! I was used to reading akitas, with a nice big tail and long muzzle and clear signals. I had entered a whole new world of communication. Not only was her face foreign to me, she had no tail to speak of to watch either. I think it is like speaking to someone with an accent. You sort of understand what they are saying but mistakes can be made due to lack of clarity.

Pug above on left has a relaxed open mouth and soft eyes. (for this breed) The one on the right is what I would say is less relaxed. A tucked top lip and brow furrowing. (she was actually between barks)
One of the things I read by a well known behaviorist was how a dog that never gets to the point of having an open relaxed mouth during her behavior evaluation isn't truely relaxed. (at least in that context) It has been my experience in owning what some consider bully breeds, (brachycephalic) that may not always be the case. Some examples: Our pug Jenny only opens her mouth when she is warm and needs to pant. Missy rarely has an open mouth unless she is very excited or is also panting. Dash, our foster frenchie never had his mouth open unless he was hot and panting. The same for my sisters bulldog Zeus. His open mouth meant panting. Now I know that isn't a huge cross section in general but I certainly find it interesting and made note of it.
What also needs to be considered with the smushed faces is that some pant alot due to breathing issues. So looking for an open relaxed mouth is only one part of the picture. You need to take the whole dogs body language into account.

So the first step is knowing what relaxed looks like. For that particular breed or perhaps in some cases for a specific dog. Below is showing Jennys relaxed face. She has an odd ear set to begin with (for her breed) and this is her neutral position. She is also showing soft eyes. Because some of these breeds have eyes that protrude they may not look soft compared to other breeds. Some bully type breeds can also have excessive wrinkling in the forehead which can interfere with reading what is the normal. We might not be able to see excessive brow furrowing or the furrowing around the muzzle through the normal wrinkles. There is relaxed wrinkling, vs concerned or even offensive threat. In this photo her lips are also soft and relaxed.

The photo below is a more concerned look. Her top lip is being held slightly up and tucked and her eyebrow furrows are deep. The whale eye is also a sign of stress or concern.

Here she is showing her "Oh My DOG there is FOOD!" A great example of excited or over stimulation. Besides her protruding eyes and whites showing there is extra brow furrowing as well.
The dog shown below is Jake, a boxer. This is a version of his neutral face. Slightly submissive, notice the ear set is being held back. (Typical reaction to a flashing camera for some dogs, it isn't always fun for them.) Jake is in interesting case as you'll see below.

This is what I call the "thinking face". (shown below) Notice a bottom tooth is held over the top lip. I haven't found a reference to this anywhere. I see it whenever I believe the dog is contemplating something or trying to figure out a problem. Based on my experience and seeing it at other times with other dogs as well, my theory is that it is indeed a "thinking face".

The interesting thing about Jake is seen below.

Sometimes what might be mistaken as a thinking face or other facial expression is the fact that his tongue barely fits in his mouth!!! This is a great example of why we need to take individual issues for each dog into account.
Here is another example of the "thinking face". Because she has some lack of pigment above where the tooth is resting it can be hard to see where the tooth is and it can be missed.

Here is a side view of Missy with her thinking face. It is also showing forward alert. Notice the wrinkles in front of her ears. (she is bumming popcorn, one of her favorite foods)

An ariel view of her more relaxed but still alert. She was watching other dogs in a group class. Mouth closed but lips neutral, not totally loose.

The photo below shows a neutral relaxed face but with a slight "thinking face" element to it. You can see part of her gums/teeth. The lips are long and loose however and relaxed.

Below is a great relaxed side photo of Dash. He is interested in whatever is off camera but not overly so. There are no wrinkles showing in front of his ears. Full loose lips.

Below is an example of a partial thinking face or not relaxed. Notice the top lip is slightly up and not loose. A slight whale eye though he was also suffering from Cherry eye at the time as well. no wrinkles however which shows he wasn't worried.
Below is one of my favorite photos of Dash. I also believe it is the only one I have of him with his mouth open. As humans I believe we definitely respond to the look of a smile. I remember it was taken out in the yard after a play session and he was warm and panting.

I hope this helps explain some things more clearly. As I said the thinking face is only my theory thus far. I have seen it in other breeds as well and always in the context of contemplation on the dogs part. (or my assumption of contemplation) I have no proof otherwise, only my experience as a dog owner and trainer. Because canine behavior fascinates me so much I tend to watch alot of dogs. Learning to read their actions is also very important as a trainer that works with behavioral cases. Knowing the nuances of behavior helps you best address the problems an owner may be having. (or avoid a problem when working with an aggressive dog)

For more information on reading body language and facial expressions in dogs check out the following:
"Canine Body Language ~ A photographic guide" by Brenda Aloff
"For the love of a dog" by Patricia McConnell PhD
"The Language of Dogs" DVD by Sarah Kalnajs
"Am I safe" DVD by Sarah Kalnajs

These are just a few examples of what is out there on the subject.

No explanation for this one needed I hope.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Something fun

I found this gem accidently last night at my local library. Now I never used to be "into" dog tricks. I was all about manners or straight obedience. I have since learned that there is HUGE value in teaching tricks because you always start with a foundation level. For instance, you can't teach roll over until the dog knows down. Then by building on that you can have all sorts of fun with your dog as you train. I think it is also a way to hone skills and make you a better trainer because sometimes you need to think outside the box to get a dog to understand what you are asking of them. It can also really help in building the bond with your dog at any age. Many training issues can be a lack of clear communcation between dog and owner.

This book is one of the clearest and most precise books on the topic I have ever seen yet. Lots of amazing photos and easy to understand directions. If you can think of a trick to try with your dog, it is in this book. Written by Kyra Sundance and Chalcy, of "Showdog Moms and Dads" fame. (Bravo TV) FMI on the book check out the website at

I'm thinking the prison program should have a copy of this book. Teaching tricks to a shelter dog is a great attention getter. It also shows people how smart and able to learn dogs really are!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Working dogs and the power of Yes!!

Originally this was going to be a post about goals in training but I finally read all of my e-mail from the week and found a nugget of pure gold to share that took top priority.

As a trainer I get different catalogs, magazines and e-newsletters from various sources. My top 3 favorites at the moment are The APDT Chronicle of the Dog, Off Lead & Animal Behavior, and an e-newsletter from Leerburg. As a trainer that has worked with police dogs, knowing about Leerburg is practically a requirement. They also have a ton of knowledge and some awesome stuff. Not to mention I have a huge soft spot and great respect for all working dogs. I just love to watch dogs doing what they were bred to do. This is also one reason I love tracking so much, it is using a dogs natural ability to do something they enjoy.

I was reading their newsletter and came across an article that made me giddy with excitement. (literally giddy I tell you, I may have even made happy sounds while reading it) Prepare yourselves, it is long and very in depth: The Power of Training Dogs with Markers

Since this is how I do the majority of my training, coupled with luring, I am very pleased to see such a well written and FREE article sharing the information. My only major disagreement with the article is his recommendation of using electronic collars for extinguishing self rewarding behaviors. E-collars for obedience training are best left to professionals ONLY if at all in my opinion. Timing is just to critical with them.

It looks like this will be my next DVD purchase for the prison program. I shall probably also add this link to the blog permanently as well.

Speaking of working dogs, I stumbled across a website surfing the other night with some fabulously beautiful photos. It is a doberman site but they also have a rottie and a boxer rescue. Don't forget to check out the blog for more great photos as well. (click though the older posts) Link here: VanLayne

On a sad note it seems the Law Dog program is shutting down. I for one am extremely upset to see it go. It was a fabulous program that gave some great positive PR for pitbulls. There is more information on their homepage.

(The stained glass piece is one a friend made for me of my own akita logo design. Yes, I have very cool friends.)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The next prison dog

Today I went to the shelter intending to do some evaluations and speak with the manager about the next dog we should send through the K-9 Corrections program. When I walked in I was greeted with "Can we send Chloie? Please, please, please?" Well that was easy! So she is headed to the prison on Monday to begin her training. I am actually relieved because I had wanted to send her myself but didn't want anyone thinking I chose her because she is an akita. (one of my own breeds) She was only there because I pulled some strings in the first place.

I had received a call to me as an akita rescue contact from another Maine shelter who had a hard time adopting out akitas. They recognised what a great dog she is and that she deserved a chance. So I worked out a deal with them and got her transferred to HSKC. We thought we had an adopter interested in her but he passed. (He said he wanted an akita but I think he wanted something more macho than her.) She is very sweet and a great dog all around. Originally surrendered because they "were done breeding her". She is only two years old! (Grrrr some people) She is just in need of some training to help make her more adoptable.

Here are a few pics:

Here on intake day. She is on the smaller side.

In one of the play yards checking things out.

Looking for attention in the kennel.

These are two puppies that were also there today. Lab mixes. Normally I might say pitbull X in there but they had a mastiff look to them in person. Already spoken for. (Yay!)

And because I also love cats, and am catless at present so I need to get my fix on occasion, here are some pics of the cats there today too. I can't believe this sweetie is still there. She looks grumpy in the pic but she was just sleepy.

In a recovery cage after spaying. She never even looked up.

Just one of the cages with kittens. (8 in this one alone)

A few relaxing on a couple of the cat shelves in the cat room. On the other side is a lower long window for them to sit at and enjoy too.

This guy was bumming dog treats from me. He practically dove into my pocket for them. He even ate a few of the Zukes brand.

Teresa also said she heard back from Dannos new person and he is doing fabulous. We made a great match. Let's hope we can do the same for Chloie.