Friday, November 30, 2012

Never be ashamed

of being "just" a pet dog person ...

My Mum has been attending a scenting class on Sunday with a pretty hot crowd of dog trainers and an RVT. She's a smart cookie with  an awesome little dog and she is staying right up there with all the folks who make their living from dogs. She asks great questions and watches everybody else very carefully and is, it seems to me anyhow, having a blast. Wilkie is having fun too.

I have commented here that I don't think of myself as a dog trainer, in fact I  posit that the dogs train me. I cheerfully admit I enjoying playing with the dogs and learning from them. The reality is my experience with training, behaviour, and health issues reaches a  little further than many people who live with dogs.  I belong to training lists; have organized seminars and workshops and attended many more; have shelves of books about training (and animals generally); and have been paid to train other people and dogs.  I have worked at shelters, on tv shows, a film set, a stage show, competed at National competitions (successfully) and spend a lot of brain time on the dogs both here and elsewhere.

That said, I delight in watching Big T enjoy his companion animals. He snuggles them, finds lumps and bumps and ticks,  and pulls burrs gently out of coats. He walks them on meanders down the road, and lets somebody take a turn riding shot gun if he zips into town for something. He thanks them when they are polite, well behaved, house dogs and occasionally yells (although not usually at them!) if they do something bone dumb.

When discussing class schedules and content the term "just pet people" comes up quite often. I cringe every time I hear it. Pet people deserve classes that provide a solid introduction to basic skills; that challenge thinking without over facing their dog; that follow sound pedagogical principles and build a foundation to move on if they get nipped by the sporting dog bug.

I am pet people, proud pet people. My dogs are family members first and through them my eyes have been opened to a world that has improved my life, and my human student's lives, immeasurably as well as enriched the dogs' lives. Not all dogs are lucky enough to be pet dogs. Some dogs are tools, some are decorations, many have lives that make my heart ache. Pet dogs, at least the ones I'm thinking of,  have a pretty good gig.  No apology needed. Ever.

* photo credits in order Shelia Gibbons, Len Sylvester of TTL Photos, and moi!

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Brain Might Just Explode

Just finished a great weekend of learning and have LOTS to share but this representation of something Sally taught me a long long time made so much sense to me I had start with this chart.

If you consider your dog and then consider you  you will see that you could add scores for a total. Our presenter this weekend suggested that we strive for 11 as our ideal score.

We were looking at this chart in reference to drive level but it would work in many different ways. Precision, obedience, activity level, even house training vigilance could benefit through consideration of the scale. Let me explain. Wyn is a 10 in house training, I can very happily sit at 1 and wait for him to ask me to go out. In a new place he will go to whatever door we came in to ask to go out. He understands house training and has demonstrated this in many different ways. Yen has moved up to being about a 3 now. She'd prefer to potty outside (usually) but if I don't watch for her to get active, think about how long since she's been out, think of how recently she ate or drank - so an 8 on the scale- she has no issue with sneaking away to find a spot to do her business. In a strange place she would likely revert to being a 1 and I would tether her to me (a 10).

Not sure if you should let your dog off leash? Look at the scale. How's your recall?

So many uses. So easy to understand.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Stolen from Facebook ... with a couple of minor adaptations


•Your vet thanks you for putting his kids through college. (In our case it's for the new cars but same principle!)

•Your vet's staff recognizes your voice on the phone and asks “How many are you bringing in today?”  (Oh yah - just saying "yes" when they ask if I can hold is enough usually)

•The entrance to every room of your house has a baby gate across it but you don't have toddlers. (yah)

•Crates are considered part of the furniture. (aren't they?)

•Your dogs are eating premium dog food and you're eating peanut butter sandwiches. (Kd in my case but yah)

•There is a collection of leashes at every exit of your house. And a couple of spares in the car. (again, normal right?)

•You look around the living room and think “I can fit three more crates in here if I get rid of the sofa.”

•You know every rest stop and restaurant within a hundred mile radius of your home. (and mapquest is on your favourites list)

•You've had more canine riders in your vehicle than Greyhound has had passengers. (HA and budgies, cats, hedgehogs, guinea pigs and rabbits too!)

•Friends call your cell phone and ask where you are and how many dogs you have with you.

•You have a book of baby names but don't have children. (the internet is sure I have children - sure name searching is why)

•You can temperament test a dog but have no idea why most of your family isn't speaking to you. (Sad but relevant)

•You have more animal food bowls than dinner plates in your kitchen. ( not normal?)

•People don't ask how you are; they ask how the dogs are. (HAHAHA - the dogs have more friends than I do so that makes sense)

•Any time somebody is giving something away free, you wonder if there's any way the rescue group can use it. (true)

•No matter how many times you clean it, your car still has the underlying aroma of dog. (again, not normal?)

•Your credit cards are maxed out and but you haven't bought yourself anything new in months. (thank heavens not me right now but so so understand this)

•Every time you bring home yet another foster, the resident animals look at you like, “Here we go again.” (poor poor long suffering Brody)

•You feed and walk dogs in shifts. (Big T is out with a pair right now!)

•You've been late for work because a new foster wouldn't cooperate. (and dragged said foster to work too!)

•You park your car in the driveway because you have an emergency foster in your garage. (since rescue land started I have NEVER parked in a garage!)

•People know you as that “dog person”. (Animal person but same principle)

•You have let a foster dog sleep on the bed to help him adjust to his first night in your home. (and last night too)

•You keep a supply of extra collars, in a variety of sizes, on hand. (two totes full and always grateful for donations)

•You know the location of every animal shelter in every county in the state. (...and several in other states) (province but yes)

•You have taken time off from work to pull or transport a dog. (errr...)

•You handle rescue-related issues even when you're on vacation or home sick. (got special package for just this when we were in Hawaii)

•You won't drive across town to pick up a pizza, but you've driven halfway across the province to help an animal. (good thing I don't mind driving)

•You drive an SUV or station wagon but don't have any kids. (Truck now but yes have had both)

•You spend your free weekends at adoption events. (many many years of doing this)

•Your whole life revolves around the dogs and you wouldn't have it any other way! (not quite true, I hope... more Animals are not my whole life but they make my life whole)

I wouldn't have it any other way tho!

Monday, November 19, 2012

quite the arrangement ....

If I bought into the alpha dog thing (which I don't) the boys in this house would be giving me a headache

Brody is the smallest  of the boys so he should be at the bottom of the pack,  right?
But Wyn is the youngest so he should be low dog on the totem pole, that only makes sense.
Sampson is a big young dog in his prime of life so he should certainly be the alpha dog by nearly all accounts.
Brody gets the place of honour closest to me usually, so he must be just one spot  "beneath" me.
Both Sam and Wyn let Brody get in the car first but he walks behind them (and me usually) at the farm.

You get this right? Yah, me neither. Whatever agreement they have it isn't linear that's for sure.

Sampson has the utmost respect of Wyn. The puppy drops, wags, offers his belly, won't carry a toy past Sam and in every way possible represents a respectful youngster when around Sam.

Sam does much the same thing around Brody. Brody has been known to posture and demand respect from Sam.

Brody is currently disturbed by Wyn. Wyn has puppy pounced on him a couple of times and Brody is HORRIFIED. He charged the puppy today in the field and Wyn showed due deference so I do hope Brody's sensibilities are appeased soon.

The arrows represent who is currently winning the game of top dog at the moment!

Alpha dog smalpha dog. Dogs will be dogs and humans will be confused!

Friday, November 16, 2012

A smelling we did go ...

From the scent workshop ... All of the dogs filmed (except Yen) are in Saving Dinah ... pretty sure nobody will recognize one wee doggy!

from a filming day 

from yesterday - channeling his border collie self ...
amazing what  4 months will do! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Seven Habits of Effective Time Limited Trainers ...

Big T and I live with too many dogs. Some days finding play training time for one dog is challenging.  Currently having 2 puppies under a year old  means eking out play time daily. Time management is easier on sabbatical, but I continue to need to maximize my use of time.

Steven Covey's Habits of Highly Effective People tie in very nicely to the way we make it work around here! Each of the following is a Covey's Habit; the comment is my application to time limited training (TLT) . 

1.Be Proactive
Stay? On a hay bale? In November? OK Crazy lady!

In TLT this equates to: Seize the Moment ... . Going out a door, coming in, chopping vegetables, a commercial, going upstairs, folding laundry - all offer great opportunities for  play training. It's only going to be 5 seconds? Awesome! Wyn has learned down in no more than 5 second chunks (many 5 seconds chunks and now we are taking the down show on the road so we may need 10 seconds once or twice). Agility play around here can be a single jump some days. 

2. Begin with the End in Mind
Planning is your friend in TLT. If you know where you want to get to the journey may not be as exciting but I find a map can save some time.  If time is tight some minutes set aside to determine short, medium and long term goals will ensure you make the most of your training minutes. My short term goal with Wyn is civilizing the hooligan, my medium term goal is getting some foundation for sports developed and my long term goal is a scent detection trial, perhaps next fall!

3. Put First Things First
Ties nicely to  planning too - knowing Wyn needs to be civil first the vast amount of TLT revolves around that at the moment. We practice sit, down, walking beside me, and are starting the fundamentals of leave it and down. When we have a little more time (around 5 minutes) we work go to mat, hand touches, and very early directionals. When we have lots of time (here that's defined as 6 minutes or more) I drag out the scent boxes 

4. Think Win-Win
Nothing like a little recall work worked into fun time!

Break it down - of course you aren't always going to WIN it all ... but why not set TLT up so you both feel successful? Really have to do whatever you want to get done on the way to the car? It might not be the best day to work perfect heel - maybe a change of side or a front cross would be a better win-win TLT move in this context. Failure and mistakes are important to learning, I would posit essential in fact, but plan when you have time to work through that particular process. TLT should be joyful!

5. Seek First to be Understand then to be Understood
If you don't understand  what you are training TLT will not be for you. Your dog needs you to understand the plan, how you are going to accomplish it and when you will stop. Without those details in hand TLT will frustrate you, and potentially harm your relationship with your dog.

6. Synergize
Working together is perhaps the most important habit for TLT.  Work with your dog, your coach, your friends and family to maximize TLT. When I was preparing Sally for agility in the great outdoors I asked Big T to let me know any time he was going to our local beer store. Our local beer store is a busy spot with a nice grassy bit beside it and a very active hotdog stand. Sally and I travel with him then jump out of the car, race to the grass and work. Start line stays, directionals, go (to a mat I brought), and moving together were some of things we worked on when we were there.  1 minute,  3 minutes. No matter. We made the most of the time we had. Working with hot dog smells, traffic, beer bottles being loaded and unloaded makes a trial pretty tame in comparison!

7. Sharpen the Saw
Running makes Sally happy, watching Sally run makes me happy. 
We try to sharpen our saw a little every day!

The least obviously connected to TLT,  the last of the habits is actually critical. Covey means take care of your well being. The saw (you) won't work right if it's not sharp. Physical, Mental, Social/Emotional and Spiritual Wellbeing all combine to create the sharpest you possible. Susan Garret has discussed this and shown this. She works out, eats carefully and just tonight posted a cute video of her playing air guitar. Sometimes when time is tight the best thing you can do for your dog is take the pressure off and play or go for a walk. Enjoy just being. What brings you joy is just as important to define as what brings your dog joy. Time should be invested in what makes you both happy. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The play's the thing ...

Boy play can be hard work.

There is an international organization (Right to Play) to give children world wide a chance to play. There is Laughter Yoga -  based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. Apparently one gets the same physiological and psychological benefits no matter if the laugh is real or forced. (Who knew? Not me! Laugh more!) Radio shows play clips from Comedy Festivals regularly. And we, as adults lose our capacity to play. 

I have always thought of the training I do as play. Some of you already knew that.  Our  world won't collapse if something goes wrong and I am fortunate enough to be able to play with my dogs for pleasure. Teaching a new trick, learning a new activity, going for a long quiet walk at the farm, doing agility are all things we do for pleasure. Learning around here is fun. 

That said,  Denise Fenzi's blog has always had a strong draw for me. She is in California, and understandably  not keen on traveling to Ontario but I have long admired the joy her dogs have in working with her. She balances work/joy in a way that I strive to. Other people have blogged about doing workshops with her and how they have learned from her to find joy in their dog. 

I have plenty of joy with the dogs around here but really wanted to learn more about the magic that I see when I watch Professor Fenzi at play. She is adamant that play is a mechanical skill that can be taught. Well my mechanical skills can always use fine tuning so imagine my excitment when Agility university offered a course called ...da da da dum...

Building Relationship through Play, with Denise Fenzi as the instructor. 

With 10  or 15 working spots I jumped fast! So fast I didn't think about the fact that all the auditors and observers would be able to watch my struggles with whoever I chose to work for the course. 

I agonized over who to play with in the course. Then I realized I can do all the work with all the dogs. Eventually I decided that feedback about Yen would have value as well as force me to do things with her. A month into her new life the poor thing finds herself being tortured with all kinds of play. What stresses her out? I didn't know.  What does she do when she is unsure? I didn't know. Does she prefer toy, food or personal play? Well that's why I picked her - let's find out!

We are a week in and already I have to say I'm thrilled both with the feedback and with the information I'm discovering for myself. I wish I could have taken multiple working spots. I am going to video Yen for each assignment but I am going to video a second dog every week as well. 

First up is Wyn, engaging in a little personal play. This location is new to him, and you can hear Yen hollering for MORE ATTENTION now. At the time I thought it was awful but watching it now I think for a young puppy working on play  he did pretty well. If you have specific feedback good or constructively critical I'd love to hear it!  When it looks like he's gripping my arm he's actually latching on and nursing for a second. The crook of my arm and pillows still get that reaction sometimes when he's tired or thinking deeply. 

So thrilled to be using my sabbatical for learning!! 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Well hullo Masters Jumpers...

Nice fun trial Friday. As a special treat as it was an  all advanced afternoon so it was just Sally and I. Home dogs spent about 4 hours alone which I have to admit I felt badly about until I realized 9 and even 10 hour days weren't unheard of just 4 months ago.

The venue was lovely - it was a dome arena on a nice hard packed dirt surface! I had a very strong feeling of deja vu when there and could picture cross country jumps on the property so asked around - seems quite possible I rode there with a Young Riders program a million years ago.

Our first class was Advanced Gambles. We had a sweet opening - up a line of two jumps (including the 4 point) to the mini - teeter to tunnel,  nailed it,   took a minute to get organized to repeat the mini but nailed it again ... across the dogwalk down the weaves, over the jump, over the jump, up the weaves, onto the dogwalk (whistle) Sally added the spread backwards and a chute on her way to set up for gamble but she wasted no time. I love running her in gambles as a warm up - can test her weaves and contacts and she so enjoys the free running.  She missed the contact on the aframe   then turned into the tunnel and nailed the jumps. Good girl Sally. My old mantra is back.  "I must train more aframes".

Then Advanced Standard classes were next. We ended up with a pause box rather than a table which was fine by me. People truly FREAKED about the change though. Including people not running in the class which I thought was RIDICULOUS! The club was great - offered a refund on the spot to anybody who didn't want to run. Smart!
Sally's first run was lovely, except my lousy steering had her jumping the back side of one jump- DOH. Just the tiniest bit of steering would have solved the problem as she she was listening really well.  Got her contacts  with confidence. Good job!
Second standard course, Oh Sally's Been Barking was right there. High as a KITE (which lasted the whole trial) she slid off the dog walk contact (after she got it) and wasted time at the pause box but smoked the course. Second effort at Advanced Standard resulted in a Q. Good girl!
Then two jumpers. First course was fun - some tricky lines that required concentration from me - and commitment. We clicked all the way around the course. Good Girl. Last Advanced Jumpers Q.
Second jumpers I challenged myself and Sally as we didn't "need' the Q. I had one DOH moment and Sally, being Sally not Brody, backjumped to see what the heck I was doing standing staring at her! Otherwise oot perfect.
Last class snookers. Nice opening then my steering went wonky again and Sally found the wrong end of a tunnel. Our first try at Advanced Snookers so I am well pleased with the 25 or so points I think we got. As usual I didn't check the score sheets very closely at all. Fun venue and always great to catch up with friends and see favourite dogs!

Some highlights - how absolutely happy Sally was to be playing her favourite game. Not one rail for any reason. Perfect weaves. Only one missed contact.
Stuff to work on - start line may be eroding, or was I just chicken? not sure - better figure it out! Aframes! More Aframes!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Country Puppy/City Puppy

It's hard work being a puppy anywhere. All that playing, sleeping, being catered to is exhausting. It's hard work raising a nice puppy too. I've come to realize the challenges can be quite different depending on a few things -breed tendencies, size, age and where you live! The difference between an apartment dog and a house dog can be quite amazing (often apartment dogs get a lot more exposure to the great big world!).  Being raised in a city versus in the country can be quite a monumental difference as well.

Our dogs spend lots of time both in rural and urban environments. We laugh when we return to the city after a break and they bark at a city sound ("Country Dog") but we also chuckle when city dogs come for a visit and can't cope with the quiet of our home reacting to any little sound ("City Dog"). At the moment our balance is seriously country dog which means I'm working hard to remember to bring the puppies into town occasionally.

Recently we had a big trip to a city with Yen and Wyn. I found a fairly quiet park that had a children's section so both puppies got to run across bouncing sway bridges and grating - they both thought that was hilarious! They both got to greet a stranger (to them-not me!) getting into the car. Yen got to come into Pet Valu with me. They both saw squirrels, seagulls, people on bikes and buses - Yen may have seen these things before yesterday but they were all firsts for Wyn! Wyn was stopped and patted by complete strangers. (Yen was a little shy about this although she was polite enough)

It was a good reminder for me that social skills aren't ticked off the list then put away like Hollowe'en decorations to be trotted out as needed. At least for many years the investment in time doing new, interesting and opposite things will pay back in spades. Brody and Thea at 12.5 and 9.5 are pretty bomb proof now but I forget so easily how much work that was.

I enjoy having the dogs with me, with multiple dogs it takes a little more planning, who is going to get the most from a trip? Who needs it? Who can cope best with the challenges? All things I consider now - back in 2 dogs days we just took both everywhere!

A short list for your perusal and consideration ... did I miss big important things?

Things County Puppies Learn Relatively Easily
climbing, leaping, rough surfaces, wild smells don't mean vanish forever, birds, tractors and fast cars, off leash walking, flashlights predicate fun in the dark, ponds are fun, you can never eat all the horse, cattle, deer, rabbit poop so just don't bother ...

Things City Puppies Learn Easily
elevators, polished floors, people of all types can be good things, wheelchairs are no big deal,  loose leash walking, road traffic is not exciting, beeps, brakes and horns, emergency vehicle sounds (pretty sure Wyn has never heard a siren), you can walk past dogs and not bother looking

Socializing is ongoing, fun and challenging  butit's important to find the things that aren't as easy to tick of the list and it's important to revisit the list! My full list of ideas (and there are many I missed)!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Sometimes ...

the best learning creates a whole freaking chain of questions for me. The sporting dog scenting workshops did that to me. Yes they did.

We all survived it. Mind you, the door of the truck suffered thanks to Yen who dug the cosmetic thing that makes it look pretty off. It was really interesting to start a sport with a better knowledge of dog and human behaviour under my belt. The facility worked well. The never ending stream of food and hot drinks were much appreciated. A good event overall. The clinician, Karin Apel, was very positive with people and dogs, very entertaining and did a great job balancing helping with letting dogs and handlers figure things out.

I could see the handlers timing and movement having a profound impact on the dogs work. This is not a game you want to interfere with. Get the dog working and let them do their job. It's very intrinsically motivating at first (dog finds toy or food alone to start) but I can all ready see that Sally thinks the scent itself  is rewarding ... yesterday when doing homework she was pushing the scent container around the box inhaling deeply.  Wyn prefers to find a more primary motivator with the scent still. I guess he doesn't see me as quite a good provider as Sally does!

Each round gave us three searches ... some searches were very very quick;some took longer- it made me think of a snookers class - you never really knew exactly when you'd be in the ring.
The first round of searches was very straight forward ... a row of boxes without lids with food/toy/reward in one. The second had lids ajar on the boxes and they were a little more random.  The third round varied a bit depending on the dog's readiness and progress. Some  had scent introduced, some had more complicated "finds", some did a repeat of round two. By the final round every dog had scent in their box, and was pretty engaged in finding the target!

Twelve searches a dog. Two hundred and four searches for the instructor. (Each day!)
Some dogs started shy and nervous,others kept checking with their handlers to get information about what they were supposed to be doing. Some jumped right in. Guess what Sally and Wyn did?

And how!

Sally settled to work very quickly - both dogs vocalized while instructor reset the searches but got amazingly focused as the rounds continued. Sally was always keen to get to work.

Brody kept checking in with me but he was fascinating to watch - he really used his nose.

We've been doing a bit of homework - so I have 147 searches under my belt. Astounding!

The questions I have are mostly around moving forward. And figuring out how to practise with each of them.
Must. Find. Discipline.

(thanks too all the variety of camera folk who got these great shots - and many more!)