Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fancy that...

What a funny funny world we live in.

Sir Wynston Churchill is lying at my feet chewing a bone.

He was a good boy on his vacation (pretty sure that's how he views it) but he tired out his new brother and was driven working dog puppy persistent. He spent an hour hoping his brother would share a bone. Whining, slipping forward, pawing other dog in the head type stuff.  His human was worried that the persistence would turn eventually to aggression (no link between the two that I know of) although there were no signs. Whatever. Puppies are a boat load of work and working puppies put other puppies to shame in that regard.

Wyn was happy happy to see us but as soon as we got in the car he fell deeply asleep. He is visibly pleased to be home.

I hadn't even had a chance to introduce you to our newest foster - we are at least her 6th landing pad since birth. She's all of 7 months old. Where ever she was born; purchased as a puppy, turned over to a clinic at 3 months old with a blockage, home with a tech for a month, with a couple for awhile until he got terminally ill, with a sporting dog person who found 7 dogs overwhelming, here. She could be long haired Chihuahua, she could be Pomeranian, I'm going with toy American Eskimo though. Not that spitz are my favourite of the the choices but it really does fit her looks. Disposition wise she's just a delight. Not perfectly house trained, prone to a little separation anxiety, not sure of how to play she doesn't sound like she'd fit in as if she's always lived here does it?

HA! She sure fooled you! Her name was Kiki which sounds so much like TT that it was confusing them both. (Kiki was her third name we were told). Big T wanted to call her Helga  - luckily she won't respond to that one! So Big T used another of Thea's nicknames "Yennifer Hlopez" which I shortened to Yen ...or Yennie ... then Wyn came back and suddenly, again, we have two similar sounding names in the house. Can't win for trying sometimes! The other names I liked were YAY and Cheers so there many be another name change soon.

Yen took a rawhide out of Wyn's mouth and has tucked herself into a dog bed to have a good chew. Wyn let her. Yen might weigh 7 pounds, Wyn must weigh 25. Yah, dominant. HA! That's what I worry about too. NOT!  Who knows what the future holds ... right now I see lots of lovely walks in my future!

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Did you hear my heart break Saturday? I tried not to let it make a sound but I fear you might have caught it anyhow.

I opened a car door and good, funny, driven, happy, smart Sir Wynston Churchill hopped on in just the way he's been taught to do. I gave his new mom a hug and a big smile and got in my truck and drove off. I didn't cry then. I haven't cried since. I have had tears prickling my soul ever since. I have called Wyn when I call the dogs, and I keep looking for him everywhere. I'll get over it. He was over it before he got to his new home.

It's funny  this masochistic (that is "tending to be self-destructive") thing they call fostering.

We've been actively fostering for 18 years and I have lost track of exact numbers. To be honest I wasn't  ever really good at keeping them but there are a number of partial lists around. Amazing how well I recall most of the individuals. Thanks to moms and their litters and some crazy projects (200 fish, 100 budgies come to mind) it's certainly over a thousand foster animals. Maybe well over a thousand animals, perhaps it's better I haven't kept track.

Many many many of them have slid into my heart and will always live there. Irvine, the kitty deliberately soaked in oil, Sadie the saddest little bc mix I've ever met, Cleopatra, the first turtle we fostered, dear mutilated Conrad the cockatoo, Rainbow the crazy calico girl, Bacchus the husky who stood on our dining room table, Lola the little rabbit who fought so very hard to survive; the list is endless yet every one of them got a piece of my heart. They gave me huge pieces of theirs back. So it all balances out right?

It's really quite amazing how happy many of the fosters are to see us long after they are very happy in their forever homes. Lola the Pom, Cassie, Emma and many others sure know how to make a person feel appreciated and special! The palliative fosters that are with us for years take a special place too - Pompeii, Pete, Kizmet, Ibby - each one of the oldies have thrived here. The orphan puppies wiggle right in too!

Wyn will have a huge piece of our hearts forever and a day. No doubt placing him was one of the toughest to date. He had been with us 102 nights and, apart from two nights when we were in Banff, he was never further than arm's reach from Sally and me. If this lead hadn't worked out it is quite likely he'd be permanent. If he bounces back (and yes even wonderful dogs do sometimes)  the same could be true. But he is in a super home and all reports to date have been  great.

How do I do it?
Simple; I suck it up Buttercup and put the animal's interests ahead of my own. By placing Wyn  I've made him, Brody and Sampson all very happy. I've made Tom, Sally and me a little sad but we will be OK. Wyn will be wonderful and that's pretty special.

Why do I do it?

"I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do." 

Helen Keller, wise woman that she was said this many years ago. I first heard it about 1980.
Her words resonate deeply with me. If I can do it, and doing it is a good thing how can I not do it? By placing our most of, and our most adoptable, foster animals we are able to give a good home to the permanent crew. We are able to know that financially we can manage to feed our gang and keep them in the style to which they've become accustomed. We could (and do) deal with an emergency bill .. and feed the worlds most expensive kibble. We can fit everybody in the vehicles we drive. We have enough love, dog beds, toys to go around. We can give back to the world in a concrete way and keep a spot open for those most in need. 

The hole is always there, sometimes bigger than others. I'm pretty sure my heart will heal and my eyes will stop prickling when I think of Wyn. Maybe not, thinking about Quiz can still make me happysad. And that's OK too. 

If you want to foster but are afraid of the hurt of letting go all I can do is urge you to try it once. If you want to be a foster failure - awesome! But if you have to let go here are a couple of tricks. If you know girls fit into your house foster boys. If you don't like a certain breed much foster it! If you aren't crazy about a certain species try fostering them. Once you develop callouses on your heart you too could try fostering an ideal puppy and maybe you too could place him!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

will it work?

Sally playing with Wyn

can't seem to get the little box ... hope this works- let me know if it doesn't please ;)

gosh your dogs are SKINNY!

I hear it all the time. Gosh your dogs are thin! Sally and Sam both often have ribs showing but they eat, and eat and eat - up to 6 cups of food over 4 meals a day at some points! I make the time to have a good long look and feel of each dog once a week and adjust diet as needed. (Oh the things Sally has taught are so  varied!)

Thea is on the right. Not our right .... her right- gotcha! She's the tallest of her sisters and the lightest too.

You can see Sally's ribs.

All you can see is fluff on Brody but if you get your hands on him there is no flab to tickle. The Arnold Schwarzenegger of Shih tzus - that's how he's known at the vets. (Even though he's a shmaltipoo! HA take that designer dog breed name)

And skinny Sampson. Even I often think Sampson is skinny! Well he is skinny sometimes, so is Sally. But I'd much rather they were skinny (not emaciated!) than obese. Latest research indicates that longevity is tied to fitness. Obesity kills. Organs have a harder time functioning. The circulatory  system is slower. And so on.

I'm lucky in that my dogs do lots of the work to keep themselves trim but we structure their lives to allow that as well. The 'big dogs' get a 2 km road walk every morning, the 'littles' get out at least every other morning for at least 1 km. They get tons of free no demand off leash running at the house daily and we try to work in peaceful free ranging farm walks too (tho not lately). They get play training time regularly too. Every dog gets at least a short mental workout every single day. (it makes a difference - honest) They get lots of food and lots of treats - don't think we starve them!

When a chubby little foster arrives we put them in the program, as much for their mental health as anything, it's amazing to watch waist lines trim down and flab turn to muscle.

Little Wyn was told he was a brick of muscle when he was at the vets last week. Amazing in a puppy but oh so good for him! Do yourself and your dogs a favour. Have a good long look and feel  and decide if they are in good shape. Everything you can do to help them get in great shape helps you too!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The tricky topic of play ...

Sampson can be extremely rough when he plays with Sally. Sally brings out both the best and the worst in him it seems. They can lie and gently mouth each other, making dramatic and funny sounds or he can get so wound up she  tucks herself in behind me until his 'fit' is over. He never does it to other dogs. Our theory is he likely NEVER met a dog between leaving his litter mates and arriving in our back yard. Hank also played too roughly at times (with many dogs). Interruption and redirection are your friends in these circumstances. Ideally you have two dogs of similar play styles.  Our foster Gus could play with Hank forever as they both were extreme players. 
Sally is a gracious,  gentle play girl (although she paws Brody in the  head when he comes out of doors- not at all appreciated by him!)

Just playing nicely here - the top picture was actually much rougher .. interesting eh?

Sally has a  lovely way of adapting her play to the other dog. Bitey face, chase games, mutual stick chewing, parallel racing whatever makes the other dog happy makes her happy.

I am very careful about who Sally gets to play with - if the other dog is rough I call Sally out of the melee and play with her myself. A rough dog is not aware of its strength generally and may be so over the top (thinking of Sampson here) that it's ability to think and respond to settling cues may be minimal. When I was worried about Hank and Gus I ALWAYS had toys and food on me and would put short tag lines on both dogs so I could reach in and catch either one without fear of an unintended grab. (Watch out for other dogs dragging the tag line around though). I use very light weight lines on dogs a lot actually, I completely understand the vision of a perfect recall and that a line can develop a reliance on management over training but around here management is a reality -not a failure!

Rough playing dogs can hurt other dogs with body slams and hard grabs but it's even more likely they can scare other dogs into not playing, not just with them but with all dogs. It makes me sad when Sam gets loopy and starts making it obvious he has lost control of his ability to play with Sally - I sometimes call him to me and get him focused on  me other times I call Sally to me and engage her. Identifying the triggers that put Sam's play over the top has been an important part of getting my timing correct so that positive methods work effectively.  For him getting overtired, getting wet and heading back to the truck can all do it. Timing is, as with so many other elements of dog wisdom so critical.

Once it's done uploading I'll post a very cute clip of Sally and Wyn playing .. nice of them to give me such excellent footage for this topic!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jessica Martin ...

For ages I've been hearing work with Jessica, work with Jessica, work with Jessica, you'll love her!

And, being me I've been saying "sounds good" but not using my limited agility time to do anything constructive about making that happen.

Then, this weekend, an amazing confluence of things ... a friend was hosting a clinic with Jess about an hour away at a facility I've been trying to get to for too long (the amazing AnticDog) , the weather gods were smiling, I needed a break from packing, cleaning etc, friends were going to be there,  so away we went.

What a fun start the morning was... we played flat work games I had never seen before - stopping and starting basically and then did some turns around sandbags (also new to us).  Sally was, as expected happy to be working and pretty quick to figure things out (quicker than me that's for sure).

Then Sally was lame. Not just a little gitchy, but wouldn't put her toe on the ground lame.
Popped her in the car -carried her inside and set her up on the couch and she barely moved for 48 long hours. She felt miserable. She ignored all action around her and didn't want to stand up or come outside at all. We moved her from couch to bed and all of us tried to make her feel better.

Suddenly late this afternoon she's cured! Well 98 percent sound and feeling 100 percent like her ....

I suspect her allergies created a sore spot in between her toes which then either got a thorn or sting and really hurt. No fun for her or us ...

The relief ... for all of us is palpable ... love that Sally monster!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Relationships are where it's at

Denise Fenzi blogged about deprivation in May and recently shared that blog on Facebook. I pondered it when first published (the first comment is mine) and explored it more deeply this week. The story of  Jaycee Dugard touched me deeply. Kidnapped, raped and held for many years,  she missed, and grieved for, the man who captured her once she was free. She felt loved.

Obie the obese Daschund has been making news around North America. Obese because his owners loved him and indulged his begging for food. He struggles to walk. He's five years old. He's in a new home now trying to lose weight. He felt loved. 

Some dogs seem a little disconnected from humans. A dog may be frantic to say hello but sometimes they paw, maul and race off again with little effort to acknowledge the human. I'm not sure if these dogs feel loved; I surely don't during our interactions. 

People do the strangest things in the name of love.  They punish, they control, they indulge. At times, they flat out abuse. 

"Spare the rod; spoil the child", the horrors of "Millionaire Dogs".  Punishment does not build anything. it can surpress behaviour but it's not laying a foundation to any kind of relationship or behaviour. 

Dogs (and people too I suppose) need structure, purpose, routine but they also need real, meaningful connections that I, in pithy moments, like to think of as love.  Relationships are where it's at. Apparently even a bad relationship is better than none for many dogs and humans. Scary. Profound. Build your relationships well.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

it's in the details ...

Hitting a bump in the pursuit of happiness?
Can't stop staring at a rock in your path?

Give yourself a break ~ you are human after all!

Give yourself time to think it through ... sometimes when you start banging your head on a brick wall and it hurts too much you might not think of stopping!

After your break address the questions - why is the issue cropping up? Is it a training or management issue? Has it grown from a knowledge gap or behavioural concern? What skills are needed to address the gap?

Years of facing the same challenge is frustrating for the human part of the equation and it can't be much fun for the dog unless the human is awfully good at faking joy.

Get as many sets of eyes on you to help you isolate the root of the issue. Decide on the musts in your plan or you may be tempted to go off the path. Make notes of progress - 2 steps forward, 1 step back is still progress! Table or contacts broken? Recall only 20%? Really doesn't matter what the issue is - figuring out the details is going to make a difference, I promise!

Yah, Wyn's still here - with as much drive as ever! And still occasionally biting flesh. Implementing the plan is part of daily life here.

Friday, September 07, 2012

never stop the learning ...

I read the blogs, the wonderful blogs out there; I watch the videos; I read books; I chat to training friends; I listen to podcasts; I work with great pros; I think about training issues quite obsessively. You'd think I'd be an accomplished trainer by now huh? Well ...

I wish my life with dogs went in the lovely linear fashion that so many other people's lives appear to. Case in point, there is a lovely little video about putting barking on a cue, then adding a quiet cue as the cure for a barking dog. It's had a bazillion views and is nicely done.  I know that the method shown works in daily life our biggest barking issue with Sampson is the middle of the night - at coyotes. Not something easily cued to cease.

Take biting. I live in a positive world. So we do the yelping when the puppy bites, standing up and walking away, giving the puppy a toy as we see him amp up and redirecting. All of them have been successful with other puppies. Wyn has good bite inhibition to date but he has puppy shark teeth. He can amp up in 2 seconds or less.  And once he's ON that's it. None of the techniques work for us consistently - he'll literally attach himself to my leg as I walk away. Yelping stops him occasionally and redirection works well if my timing is good but I'm simply not always that capable.   It's proving difficult not to get punitive, tho so far we have resisted the impulse. (I am by nature a bit reactive myself - pain provokes lashing out - something I am always aware of and keep in check).

Wyn and I  went to class this week. It was great fun and good for the little Mr. but I could literally see the lovely gentle pet folks in the class recoiling from us. Wyn was happy, curious, bold, noisy and full of spunk. He tugged happily and bounced out to the end of his lead to stare at the other puppies. He worked hard on sit, go to mat, doggy zen, and polite greetings but he was an intense little ball of energy. I'm pretty sure that the other people would be shocked if they knew how many puppies I've brought along. Polite?  Not so much - in fact at one point he got frustrated and bit at me. Isn't it supposed to get easier?

And that quite simply isn't fair for me to even think. Wyn is an amazing puppy - largely house trained, rocket recall (for now), polite on leash, travels nicely in a car, meets people happily, gentle with new dogs, sits, tugs and outs, goes to bed, and kennel, snuggles, chews puppy toys, is getting the concept of fetch, and is overall a fun little guy to live with  - but when he's biting it's as if I've never read a darn thing let alone worked with a puppy before. I'm still optimistic that his forever home is out there - but applications for him have been few, far between and bad matches for our handsome, hardworking pup. What will be will be. This I am much surer of than my ability to do this soul justice.

To all the folks who have THE ANSWER, who know exactly how to do "it" whatever your "it" is, I wish you a Wyn in your life, and soon. Sally grounded me well 6 years, and many foster dogs, ago; Wyn is a great reminder that every dog is unique, every soul deserves it's own plan. If Sally is a whole lot of dog Wyn is plenty of puppy. How fortunate am I to get to revisit this lesson?

If, by chance,  you want the real Wyn - and there is lots to cherish about him - let me know!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Ain't No Cookie Cutter!


All things I've blogged about in the past as traits being important to a great coach or instructor.

For this Action Blog Day though I want to really dig into the single most important thing for a GREAT agility instructor or coach to understand. (It is also critical to the handler when looking at their dog - because after all aren't each of us humans our dog's coach?)

It's the concept of differentiation. Every dog, every student, every team is different and deserves that recognition. In fact the best instructors know that learners change through time so what worked last year may not be the best approach now.  Without recognizing the need for differentiation an instructor; no matter how well intentioned, no matter how capable with the type of student who thrives with their brand of instruction is, will not be able to be truly great helping a wide variety of teams meet their own goals.

Some hallmarks of effective differentiation in education are flexible groupings, ongoing assessment and feedback, and a willingness to try new ways to help ALL learners. It shouldn't matter the breed or temperament, or play style of dog a great instructor or coach will keep the team moving forward.

Process, Product and/or Content can all be differentiated. Let's look at some concrete examples of how a GREAT agility instructor could do each.

Content: what the student should know, understand, and be able to do as a result of a lesson.

Do all students and all dogs need to know the exact same things? Likely not, for example: one human may be confused by terminology and do better if just allowed to "do it" ; another may not to be able to master the most basic thing without an understanding of the reason it's being done and definitions of the terms.  Of course there is content in common to all agility  - jumping, tunnels, equipment seem the most obvious - the need to change sides is pretty common too! The way to teach it may be varied, the details of what one needs to know may vary ... another example - if a student is only going to do CPE and is quite sure that is what they are going to do (perhaps it's a second or third dog) the ideal table behaviour is quite different to a venue like AAC.
Good instructors plan their content and their groupings to maximize learning, a great instructor I work with when I can is very aware of class dynamics and spends a lot of time sorting out who fits where.
(Will Sam ever do more than lawn agility? unlikely but he certainly enjoys it!)

Process: the actual doing of the thing.

A simple example - there is more than one way to teach a teeter- a huge and tiny dog would appreciate (and be able to learn) different methods. If an instructor is a rear cross junkie there is nothing wrong with explaining the hows and whys but it is critical that they understand that another team might be best served by front crosses, or even blind crosses!

Or consider the great tugging debate. Can your instructor understand that while all dogs can learn to tug, just because your dog does tug may not mean it's rewarding for them? Will your great instructor help you find ways to aid your dog (and you) with a reward structure that really make sure there is solid comprehension of the process?  Another great facility I love to work at has lessons where folks are actively learning their own way all the time.

Product: the way a student shows, applies, or extends what he or she has come to understand and can do as a result of a lesson. So, for many instructors the product they want to see is  regular trialing and winning of placements and Qs. If a student is not training for these goals there can be great  frustration for all parties.

(Sally likes her perfect snooker prize  too much to share with Sam)

While a great coach* may insist on trials (or specific classes at a trial - did I mention Webb forced me to do standard classes in July?) an instructor needs to understand that the path of learning is not the same across the board. 

Great instructors will have varied ways for students to appreciate what they have learned. Fun nights, matches, house leagues, an occasional game, video, trials are varied ways to test product and are appreciated by any student.

Truly embracing the differences, in each team in front of them,  takes an instructor from good to inspiring.

*An agility coach, to my mind takes the excellent work of an instructor and bumps it up a level. A coach is working with the team on long term planning and goals. They take information from whatever source (lesson/trial/training) and work with the team to enhance and maximize performance.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

not resource guarding...honest

Brody made up this game about 6 years ago - it's a goofy loud and hilarious game that results in good feelings all round!

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Putting my heart where my mouth is ...

Great day running Miss Sally today!!

Advanced Gamble was fun - 2 very doable mini's - tho we only did one - even so had 28 points in the opening (and I wasted time trying the one mini - DOH). The final gamble was a jump, turn, teeter, jump, tire and Sally nailed it - however I had too far to get to the gamble (wasted time) and she was slightly over time.

Starters Standard - dropped the second jump collecting for the teeter (third obstacle) so we worked on perfect contacts the rest of the run - which meant repeating the aframe once .. she got the contact but didn't hold it ... great opportunity!!

Starters Snooker ... OH MY - Sally had a dog walk suck moment and added a dogwalk to her opening - making for yet another very short run - she thought she was hilarious though!!

Been a long while (like since the comeback tour started!) since we've had a no q day - was  a good reminder that, for me, it really is about the fun and the run!

Wyn was with us too - most most excellent funny puppy - have to keep introducing him to dogs when I can find them ... today he got to meet 2 11 week old puppies and lots of different types of adults- perfect!