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Dog, Dog, Dog…Where are we going?


Complacency has its charms. 


For dog years and weight gain.

To create a desired easy-going dog,

Can kinda work.



I can’t just wait for a surprise destiny.


Should I or should I not face.

To create the fulfilled potential of a dog partnership.

Consistently building.



Where are we, dog and me, going?


Knowing the direction, avoiding false paths.

To create something more than ever before.

Resiliency and tenacity.


Guster Longjaws (1 yr old) being silly with his leash.


What about you? Have you thought it through? Did any of your dogs do anything special? Will this current dog be more than those prior pooches?

There are as many reasons for having dogs as there are people with dogs. There are many reasons why having a dog(s) can make you happy. Think carefully … the way it makes you feel, the friends you meet, how you feel, the achievements, the competition, how happy your dog is to do certain things and where you get to go. Write them all down and prioritize everything.

Now make a list of all the things that bother you about having a dog. Write down the things you dislike because they are scary, or things that are just a pain, or that don’t make any sense to you, or that really tick you off. Write down anything that bothers you about the sport you would like to be involved in (are involved in). Then rank those in the same manner, from the worst to the least offensive.

Now (with the two lists) you have a mini summary of the pros and cons of your dog-owning relationship. Now it is time to determine the connections.

Would you hop in a car and drive around aimlessly for years and years without a final destination in mind, without so much as a GPS to get there? That is absolutely what many people do in getting a dog. They have not established a dream and have not established any goals (roadmap).

So what do you really like about doing with your dog? Can you think about an aspect that you could pursue to maximize the pleasurable experiences while minimizing your dislikes? Would the challenge of competition, the peace of hiking, the camaraderie of team sports, or something you hadn’t even considered before satisfy those cravings?

Once you have sharpened your focus on where you want to go, nothing is insurmountable. It just takes real love of where you are headed, a motivation to get there, and some planning for the steps that will lead you to your goal. Take some time, sit down and find your direction.


Training with distractions (cat) – Obe’s progress

As a trainer, people tell me their dog already knows how to sit, down…etc., and that’s true to a point. Sometimes the point is at home with nothing else happening, which doesn’t help much when something else is happening. In order for the cues to be really useful, they need to be muscle memory-type response…a ‘no brainer.’ Often there are distractions available at home that could really help the training…think cat.

So we have this long list of things that the puppy can do, will do and will attempt to do. Some of them are pretty good in almost all situations, like sit and kiss, kiss for come (positive interrupter) and kennel up is really quite solid from a long distance/close distance and even when lots of stuff is going on. Others like down, target, tug, retrieve, sit pretty, settle, catch, heel, back up, give, etc., are good, but not distraction proof. So help has arrived…and he has green eyes and an orange nose.

This morning distraction walked in on four white feet.CatNov42012 004 The cat, Smokey, was before not a good dog training cat, but ever since I started doing trick training with him daily, his confidence has bloomed and he now thinks he is 7-month-old Doberman proof. And that if the dog is getting to do tricks for treats, that he – THE CAT – ought to be included.

A good dog training cat is very confident, stands, sits or lays his ground and is not fast to hiss or slap, but will do a measured comment and whack if needed. And if he moves, it is best if it’s a walk, and a stop if the pup seems overly interested.  The person involved must protect who-ever needs protecting and not let the situation get too bouncy. And if chasing is a history, the pup may need to be restrained so they can’t attempt to bounce on the cat, and the treats need to be really, really good (smelly cheese, chicken, beef-really good) so the reward is worth it.

This morning they had several good, close up conferences about how much a dog was allowed to sniff a cat, a couple non-pushy sniffs was the limit. Then I would get Obe to do something else, like lie down while the cat got to do his tricks. Then Obe would be treated (with dog kibble) for lying there quietly and he would get to do tug, retrieve, sit, wait, tug, retrieve. At which time the cat wanted to rejoin the fray. We did several circuits successfully and since I didn’t want bad to follow good I kenneled Obe up and the cat and I had breakfast.

These kinds of meetings…cat to dog, puppy to older dog, puppy to school age kid* are always best short and controlled (actively supervised) for the first….10? 20? or so or until it’s a pretty sure bet that no one is likely to goof it up and devolve into biting or arguing or chasing or whatever unwanted behavior.

*babies/toddlers/preschoolers need constant active supervision around dogs… see website, www.doggonesafe.com

If you have a running hiding-type cat, then it is best to find a confident cat to do training with your dog and otherwise prevent chasing.

Or you can get some cat treats and start training that scared-y-cat to do things, like sit pretty, touch your finger tip with his nose, jump between chairs, scratch the scratching post, climb the scratching post, jump up, walk a narrow board, come…and if you play briefly daily, soon your scared-y-cat won’t be as timid any more.CatNov42012 009

Finding Sticks – Obe’s preference

Everyone has preferences. Preferences in play, preferences in rewards, in people for friends, in what’s comfortable to sleep on, in things to chew up or retrieve or retrieve and chew up.

Obe the Dobie likes sticks. He likes them a lot. He likes finding them from the favorite fallen poplar tree down the road and carrying them back and then playing fetch with them and best of all, if I’d let him, bringing them in to chew up. Sticks are the reason he is now wading through spring melt ditch streams – water is fine with a stick in it.

A rather large stick was the preferred choice today.
A rather large stick was the preferred choice today.

He likes perusing the options. Sometimes picking one up, then deciding maybe there’s something better on the other side of the road.

Maybe a good one over here.
Maybe a good one over here.

Then, once he has the one he wants, to truck on back to the yard to play with it. I mean there is no reason to waste any more time dawdling. Get a move on…its stick-time.

There are a row of sticks on a shelf outside the door that didn’t get in. There are sticks balanced in the apple tree branches as extra fetch items, just in case.

What is taking so long?
What is taking so long, I’ve got the stick?

As you may have surmised the size of the sticks is enlarging and the stick quality is declining. He’s been picking out the best ones each time, the not-so-good ones are starting to be the ones left. There is a large branch with a lovely broken section that he has tried to hoist several times, but alas it is too large. Oh the promise of delicious delight thwarted.

Scent Games – adding details

Identifying specific handlers scent to mark – in competition this is an AKC Utility dog level, but actually any dog can learn to do it.

Previously I have raved on about dog’s abilities to smell scent that is old, under water,and in incredibly small amounts. I am mesmerized by this ability, although I still don’t want a hound (my first dog was a beagle mix and she taught me a lot about my preferences). No hounds for me, I’ll not be convinced otherwise – ha, ha.

Hmm, your foot smell good...horse pasture, bunny, grass, squirrel...
Hmm, your foot smells good…horse pasture, bunny, grass, squirrel…

This week my canine crew and I are working on scent discrimination. (Before you do this kind of work you probably want your dog to be willing to pick up and bring to you whatever you indicate, because in this definition they are learning to indicate only things with your own fresh scent on the middle of them.) I’m sure you can train it both ways, but I think it might be easier to generalize first.

I’m using Utility competition dumbbells, leather coated and then aluminum ones, but anything would actually do. Dogs tend to like the feel of leather much more than metal, so we start with leather or wood, a clicker, a bunch of treats and an area with no/little other distractions (this is a brand new piece for the dog to figure out so extra stresses are to be avoided).

Scent one object’s center with your palms (just hold it for 5 seconds or so, no need to do rubbing or anything special). Then hold it so the dog can touch/scent the middle of it. Then click/reward. Do this several times. You’re looking for them to smell it more than try to take it, but either way is fine at this point. Then add another twin item (if it’s numbered or otherwise labeled it’s easier). Hold them on the edges (dogs can tell the difference in scent and scent placement). Click/reward each time your dog indicates the center of the scented one. After a series of immediate right ones, change sides to see if the scent is what is the thing your dog is keying in on…click/reward for right choices (ignore wrong choices). Take a break.

Re-scent the center of the item. Play the game a bit more, if the choices are consistently correct put the items on the floor and see if he can pick the right one there. (If the process falls apart, do an easy one again, take a break and start from the beginning again…reward the right choices, jackpot reward the excellent times). My guys are so used to getting things for me that I’m getting a lot of retrieves with no specificity for scent…which is fine, I just made it simpler again so they would have success.

Once they can choose the right one out of two items, add a third. Note; don’t name this game yet, wait until you are sure they know what they are doing, then name it so it becomes a specific ‘find handlers fresh scent on middle of item game.’ Call it whatever you want to, but remember what you called it.

Basically they already know it’s there, they just don’t know for sure what I’m asking for – so my job is to try to be as clear and easy as possible so they can figure it out. Since I know it’s there, but am clueless about what they’re really thinking I’m wanting, it’s a little tricky. But trust the process.

Once they can do three, change the items…metal, rubber…whatever and start again. It should go faster. At 18 or more right out of 20 times, time to name it. Then your dog will know I’m to do this game with this name/cue.

Max really, really likes this game, much better than last weeks carry the pink Easter egg purse with treats in it game. Although he was liking the companion game of directed milk-machine inflations retrieving game (it’s America’s Dairyland and I can get those for free).

Persistence – keep on keeping on dog training

Wishing the barking would stop
Wishing the barking would stop     photo: j. renzoni

A fair number of people unintentionally train their dogs to be really, really persistent at the things they don’t want them to persist in doing. I’m thinking that right now as the dog I’m working with is hollering from her comfortable crate at a level that scrambles my brain and makes my dogs look concerned.

She has been out for a good romp, had an enjoyable training session, had her breakfast as part of said romp and training session, pottied, had a good drink; in other words she doesn’t need anything, except OUT< OUT> OUT. But she can’t be out, she has hardly any manners and she needs to learn how to be quietly in. She even barks, howls, whines at demanding high volume if left briefly in a car. And she is loud and prone to destruction.

This is the third day of our cohabitation and she is much less persistent in her yelling, yodeling, demanding than she first was. Actually, she has stopped now, thankful quiet descends on the household.Well, this is much better, she is learning.

Oh man, she was trained to persist. I started out with her close and rewarded any possible quiet, but her volume and sheer vocal continuing wore us all down…so I moved her to a closed-door bedroom in her crate for her ‘quiet’ times. And she must be quiet  and not pawing the gate or I won’t open the door or then the gate or then put on her leash. The things she values must be preceded by the things I value. I don’t value loud crazy, so she’s got to at least make an effort at impulse control. And although that’s what I first accept, now we’re up to her dropping into a down and waiting for me to completely open the gate before rising to come out.

She is still of the opinion, although I do see her thinking more and trying other options, that barking straight and continuously at me will get her out, that it must and will get me to reach for the latch. She thinks the same way about the leash, pull, bolt and the destination shall be hers, but it won’t, not here anyway. She seems to have practiced her ways a lot in her short existence and they must have worked for her especially if she persisted and did them more. Thank goodness, this most recent trip outside included a dog face looking at my face often, yes!

Oddly enough, teaching dogs to persist in things you want them to do works the same way. Reward early with something they value, then variably later and then only with their persistent effort.

But reward (and a reward may be attention, even bad attention) the things you don’t like and well voila’. So in other words at her own home she made noise in her crate and was let out, later when she made noise nothing happened so more noise and she was let out and on, so she learned to be very noisy and very persistent in her noisiness demanding release. And considering the level she was at it would be hard to withstand it if you didn’t know you could get it resolved.

She’s starting to understand that there are ways to get what she values, just not the ways she has used. She’s starting to realize people are more important than she previously thought. And that there’s a use for the previously meaningless education, i.e. sit, down, come, wait, shake, drink…

It’s fairly easy to think of something as cute, then realize oh no I didn’t want that, have you made a mistake in your puppy training?

Spear head trek – hiking with Max

Sometimes when the winter snows melt down into crusty, icy shallow layers it’s just as easy to hike, in fact its easier to hike than to use any extra equipment. I like this hiking spot because it’s gated off in the winter (so it’s unlikely we’ll run into anything motorized) it intersects the Ice Age Trail so much more hiking available if I want it, it’s pretty and there’s some nice big evergreen trees in one area that give a cool protected feeling.

I use this area as a good introduction to freedom for people and dogs who haven’t been let off leash ever (or at least never when they didn’t have walls of some kind around them). I think it’s important to trust each other and in the off-season (winter) this area is fairly remote and partly a peninsula, plus there’s outdoor pottie houses for the less ‘in the woods’ types.

The road in is curvy and hilly, so there are surprise views or another way of thinking of it is it requires attention to where I am now as opposed to looking very far ahead. Max offered me information about something that smelled exciting and that he would like to track, especially if I would help. It involved heading down the Ice Age Trail and then into a valley. I exclaimed over his find, but demurred on following up. The tracks he found may have been a fisher’s (larger weasle-type). He however wasn’t impressed with dry, brown leaves in the snow, which I thought looked pretty neat. A bit of culture clash.

The games he and I play on hikes include; find and retrieve my glove (I am a terrible loser of gloves and this time he ran back about 50 yards to get one that had dropped out of my pocket), hide and seek (I hide, he seeks – somehow I always find this to be delightful) and speedy come with drop or without drop somewhere on the recall. And one of his favorites is ‘see if you can find the treat’ or even more fun if I help him hunt something.

We saw some fishermen on the ice quite a long ways away and scared up two grouse from a cluster of thick spruce. A great hike, good exercise, fun company and interesting things to see.

Do you go to national forest hiking trails with your dog? Any worry-some animal conflicts? (historically, with airedales we found a few too many porcupines and always carried needle nosed pliers for emergency quill removal).

Superdog, photos of Max – Belgian Shepherd

Something in the grass, it calls for ‘Mighty Max!’

Maximus is super dog. From unknown origins, from cage number 40 after four months of incarceration I met Max. He was one of the only dogs not barking in the shelter facility and he was quite focused on me, a bit like he knew me, but more serious than silly. I took that to mean he was logical, he was. After years of only having carefully selected, pedigreed pups, I chose an adult from who-knows-where. And it took me three visits to commit, but he kept being the one. Not to say that he was perfectly behaved when I got him (there’s a reason he was stuck there for four months), but it just wasn’t that hard, he was a quick learner, nicely food focused and wanted to please me.

Willing to save random kayakers (my husband and Denver) Max guides them to the docking station.

Max was supposedly a stray. As my husband says, “he’s always running away, maybe 12 feet from your side.” I truly don’t know how his original people got away from him. I’m thinking it was in a pickup truck, because when I first got him he kept looking at and thinking about following certain kinds of pickups. Well anyway, they missed out on a good deal, ‘cuz he can do just about anything from serious protection, playing Sandy in the “Annie” play this summer to licking out the bottom of peanut butter jars.

Max on the shore of Sackett’s Lake contemplating retrieving a kayak.

Checking back, his person does walk slowly sometimes especially when she’s taking pictures.