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Puppy progress (Siggy)

Siggy is a black, Golden Doodle, 27 weeks old.      photo: J. Renzoni

Siggy has reached, 6 months,  50#s, has grown up teeth, has had a tussle with Reggie (Jack Russell) and been told off by Jazzie (heeler) and Max (shepherd). Getting to be a big boy. His jumping ability is prodigious, his speed is considerable. He’s visited the horses several times and shows reasonable care about it, although I wasn’t on-board with the last tour. His own efforts at becoming a hunter/gatherer, he’s captured and dispatched a vole and climbed into the compost bin and fetched an orange peel out of it (it’s now more thoroughly covered).

He likes carrying large things … boxes, throw rugs, branches and jumping up on things … gates, raised garden beds and perches of any kind.

photo: J. Renzoni

All of the training we began with has grown, changed, adjusted with his needs and the differences he is showing now. But much of it is just a rule we continue to do each time … like sitting at doorways or at gateways to be released on through. His training is a game of choices … he makes the right choice and gets rewarded – for laying down, heeling, going to crate, fetching, tricks, settling on dog bed, coming … etc. I just counted about 25 cues, plus there’s a bunch of things we’re working on that aren’t named yet. Training comes in layers, in stages – one piece of learning makes it possible for the next piece. And if the foundation isn’t solid, neither are the next steps. Each piece, if played with, approached from many angles becomes better and better understood.  For example: sit … if you teach it at doors, from standing, from you sitting, from lying down, in the middle of tug or before and after, beside you, in all locations … then it becomes a clearly understood cue.

The same thing is important about recalls. With his added speed, confidence and capabilities comes the increased need to practice different levels of recalls … distance recalls on walks, recalls away from other dogs or people and recalls away from fun things he likes. However, if the basic games of coming here when there isn’t distance, when there are hardly any distractions haven’t been done … then now would not be the time to test it and fail.

The recall games begin close, begin with lots of quickly given rewards, begin with fun, but without distraction and without a likelihood of failure.

Photo: J. Renzoni

Now, with Siggy, I know how good his recall is, so I know when to ask and I know when not to ask. We’re getting to the point of a really brilliant recall, at all times. Now, for us, is the time to find out when it will fail, and use that to clarify expectations.

So many things he’s been taught, building on up. Training certainly isn’t done … actually never done, but he’s becoming a great dog.

Photo: J. Renzoni

He’s been my demo puppy for two classes, in a couple of weeks we’ll start the third class he’ll be involved in. He goes as a sidelines pup to agility classes (I use it as training time with active dog distractions going on).

photo: J. Renzoni

One puppy kindergarten class with 6 sessions is just not enough…whatever kind of dog you have. It’s a great beginning, but would you be prepared for life with only the info you got in kindergarten?

This week is Westminster Dog Show, I never went to Westminster, but I did do dog showing back in the 1990s, obedience and conformation. And I know most people don’t even consider doing competition, but one of the things competition teaches is how much effort is needed to get to the level of being able to do things really well as a team (dog/person).

I think we all want to be able to do things with our dogs … in order to set that up there needs to be clarity and understanding on the part of the dog, and the person needs to know the dog’s likes, preferences, fears and strengths and play to those. We can change things for the better, it takes a persistent, fun, building-layers effort.

Don’t stop, when you’ve just begun…


Dog Emotions

Signal at 8 weeks. Photo by J. Renzoni.

Emotion drives learning, it drives action, change, and behaviors. There are some emotions that are the same behavior from the canine … these are core emotions.

Anger or Rage = snarls, bites, escape physical restraint. The lower level of this is frustration, which is sparked by mental restraint.

Fear = freeze or run away, when survival is threatened in any way.

Social attachment/panic from abandonment = separation calls, basically “come back, don’t leave me” in barking, whining and howling.

Seeking or Anticipation = animal moves forward, sniffing and exploring to make sense of the world around us. Seeking is also wanting something good, and looking forward to getting something good, and curiosity.

There are three more positive emotion systems identified: Lust – description not needed, Care – maternal love and care-taking, and Play – the roughhousing all young animals do which is a sign of good welfare, because a dog that is depressed, frightened or angry doesn’t play.

Max and Signal seeking.
Max and Signal seeking – Max knows what he’s looking for, Signal, not so much.                         Photo: J. Renzoni
Signal has discovered the joys of horse apples. Photo: J. Renzoni

Rule of thumb: Don’t trigger anger/rage, fear and/or panic from abandonment if you can help it; do trigger – seeking and play.

Exception to the rule of thumb: Do trigger frustration as a way to train impulse control … ie., stay, wait at doors, gates, crates; and as a way to build resilience and tolerance to failures (willingness to keep trying when not understanding a training goal). So we do want dogs to understand that they need to wait to get something they like (freedom, toys, food, fun), and we also want them to keep trying to figure out what we want from them and not just give up and go find something else to do.

The risk is that frustration if too much becomes anger and rage.


Signal at 10 weeks. Many things are fun.
Signal at 10 weeks. Many things, including grass, are fun.      Photo: J. Renzoni
Smokey at 10 years.
Smokey at 10 years. Puppies might not be considered so fun.      Photo: J. Renzoni

I have a new puppy named Signal. He is ten weeks old, has wavy black hair, black nose and essentially black eyes. He would like to run after our cat, Smokey (10 years old, brown tabby, dog-wise). I have been preventing him, Smokey has been preventing him and sometimes his X-pen fence is preventing him.

This frustration has built up some bouncing and some barking and even a little dodging and weaving. Picture tail high, play bow with intermittent sideways puppy leaps. I am offering food when he’s quiet and looking, I’ve removed him from the scene, and I’ve distracted him, all to make sure the mental frustration doesn’t get too high. I want a pleasant relationship between the two of them.

The cat, has meowed, in an irritated way at him. No hissing or batting and I want to keep it that way, this pup seems like he’d escalate if that were to happen.

This morning when Smokey was doing his jumping routine for treats next to the X-pen. Signal got rewards timed to keep him occupied while Smokey did his thing and got rewarded for it. Soon the two will not think of each other as so novel.

Frustrating, yes. Leads to learning. Anger, no.


(To learn more about puppy training join the Puppy Kindergarten class, next one scheduled Oct 15th. See fb for more information).



Weighty problems – excess kills

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-photo by J. Renzoni

Spicy was my beagle-mix. She was a 30#, brown velvet eared, lovely eyed beauty of a dog.  I took her along with me when I went to live with my Grandfather and go to college.  She was an easy dog in many ways, people friendly, and soon had the  dairy-farming neighborhood in her pocket. I assume she saved up the rolling in cow pats for her return to grandpa’s jog, because her new friends were not put off and rewarded her mightily for her visits. She gained weight and needed baths at an alarming rate.

I tried lots of things to keep her in trim, but grandpa and the neighbors were beyond my control. I was gone to college classes most of the days and grandpa freed her to go visiting. He seemed not to mind her love of manure.

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photo by J. Renzoni

Food and exercise imbalance, with neutering thrown in to make overweight more likely is a common problem. For many there is an assumption that dog attention needs feeding, there is a delight/naughty, shame/guilt burden around the use of food to cajole and win friendship, about eating food, about sharing food, about them not having enough or feeling hungry or worried over getting food.

As a dietitian (RD), I personally have trouble with food compulsions – I think (and studies back me up on this) that personally having tried lots of diets and focused so much on external eating/satiety controls creates excessive attention on food. But I have no difficulty at all (barring Spicy) keeping my dogs at 4 – 5 on the 9 point body condition score. I believe the science that says they will live longer and better.

Here is a site with evaluation tools for identifying body composition score   http://www.pet-slimmers.com/pet-obesity/how-to-tell-if-your-pet-is-overweight.aspx

Ideal body condition looks ‘underweight.’ More and more I’ve noticed people thinking a working weight dog (close to ideal) looks underweight to them. Quick glance evaluation – look at the dog’s head compared to his body. If the head looks small, the dog is overweight. If the head looks large comparatively, then maybe he’s underweight (take the dog’s breed into account).

Sparsely coated dog? The last several ribs will be visible through their coat when they are at close to ideal weight.
Sparsely coated dog? The last several ribs will be visible through their coat when they are at close to ideal weight.
Max at 11 years old, he's 12 now and doing well. He's pretty furry so a hands on eval is needed.
Max at 11 years old, he’s 12 now and doing well. He’s pretty furry so a hands on evaluation needed. Photo by J Renzoni

From studies on overweight/obese dogs – owner factors of importance (these are not necessarily causes, the relationship could go either way or be connected to a third unidentified issue) related to obesity in dogs: duration owner observed dog eating (longer in obese dogs), interest in pet nutrition, obesity of owner, health consciousness of owner (both for pet and for themselves) and lower-income. It seems the more we concentrate on the problem (especially without adequate funds) the more difficult it is  to resolve or conversely the more difficult it is to resolve, the more we concentrate on it.

Overweight dogs are more likely fed inexpensive vs expensive food, fed more meals and snacks, fed table scraps, and be present when owner is preparing their own meal. Type of diet: prepared pet food vs homemade didn’t matter. And fiber levels had to be above 21% to have a positive effect (obviously more intake of cow pats and horse apples needed –  ya hey, free fiber and doggy perfume in one package).

In a study of free feeding (eat as much as they want) vs controlled amount feeding (25% less than the free fed ate), the energy restricted group had body condition scores closer to optimal (ave. 4.5 out of 9 vs 6.8 out of 9 for free fed dogs), lifespan averaging 2 years longer than the free fed dogs and less hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis and improved glucose tolerance.

We want to be happy.  We want our dogs to be happy. My grandfather felt Spicy should get to roam, the neighbors thought she needed rewards for her visits, Spicy thought cow poo was delicious to roll in and I thought they all were making me crazy (she was getting fat and needing baths all the time and I was worried about her getting hit by a car). My answer: I gave up and let her be grandpa’s dog. She lived to 11 out of a likely life span of 13-15 years, obesity has a price tag.

Happiness includes being comfortable in our body.

Reggie, 9 year old, neutered, JRT at near ideal body condition.
Reggie, 9 year old, neutered, JRT at near ideal body condition.  -photo J. Renzoni

It’s a short and long-term thing. Short – I want that, that is good; long – being able to do things is so fun. Imbalance can mean too many limitations either on the short-term side (being fearful of offering anything) or on the long-term side (being overweight, becoming chronically ill and having mobility problems).

To decide how much to feed I use a combination of things: printed recommendations on the food being offered, appetite, seeming too hungry (I’ll increase measure up to 25%), stool consistency/frequency and volume (too much/too loose = decrease quantity), dog appearance (are they gaining or losing weight when I want them stable?) and occasionally the veterinarian’s scale compared to the breed standard (many of them give weight ranges).

I’ve had veterinarians express concern about using food as a reward (and teaching people in class) for training – worry about too many treats.

I use many things as rewards; toys, games, praise, pats, massage, lap privileges and food. Robust appetite and enthusiasm for food is a positive indicator of health – both body and mental.

Food is a great reward and when I’m training I may use all of it in training, so very little gets offered in a dish, but it is still measured out for the day.  For younger dogs it is important to feed some from their bowl or they may think they only eat from my hand (which is not something I want them to think). Growing pups and mother dogs nursing pups get much attention to appetite and body composition.

Food is calming, licking food may be even more calming. Food tends to encourage thinking. Food is a good thing to use to start the process of training something new. Food doesn’t usually increase speed – if you want speed add a toy/game. Food for rewards can be kibble (high quality is preferred) or very high value to the dog, like cheese or meat. The amount is the size of one piece of kibble and for a jackpot, several pieces the size of a piece of kibble given in succession – adjust size of reward to size of dog. Dogs do know the difference in size, large being better than small, but for training, a series of small pieces, given in sequence is more effective.

“The way to his (her or its) heart is through his (her or its) stomach.”

I read a blogger’s comment about the advantages of free feeding, they did not think that being observed offering food was a significant advantage for the dog/person relationship. I believe they were unobservant. Years ago when my husband needed to get my dogs to pay attention to him I offered him the task of feeding them. It made a significant difference in a short time. In class when a student is having trouble getting their dog to focus on them and not on everyone/everything else, I ask them to hand feed all food, voila.

Food is a primary need, of course the source is important.

What about the picky dog? The one that is uninterested in food. After assuring there is no medical cause then make the food more interesting – the dog has to find it, work for it, figure out something to get it and cut back the offered quantity by 25%. Dogs, like children who are picky, are seldom actually underweight and often get significant attention and excellent tasting replacement foods for remaining picky (unfortunately the replacement foods are often lower nutritional density – ie not as good for them).

What if there’s actually a medical cause and coaxing is in order? Then offer variety, and high value foods in small frequent meals. Just like in people, having too much offered can overwhelm and discourage intake. Elderly declining dog – give them what they will eat.

Prevention and early intervention when a dog starts getting overweight is the easiest.

Many dog professionals are hesitant to say anything about the dog’s weight because just like a child’s weight, it’s a touchy subject. Of course, most dogs aren’t touchy about it at all. And if I need to decrease the amount given the most I’d cut it back by would be 25% and if they seemed to want something more I’d offer raw veggies, which are a favorite of my dogs anyway.

I’ve noticed the time likely for problems is when the pup’s growth spurt has ended and they’ve also been neutered. This combination decreases their food needs abruptly. Another time is after they’ve matured, somewhere in the 3-5 year old zone and their activity may decline with less play, decreasing food requirements, but if the same amount of food is offered most dogs will continue to eat it.  Also switching from a large chunk/disk kibble to small pieces (the small pieces fit more weight in the same volume scoop), so slow weight increase can happen, oops.

Has your dog run into a weight problem?




Training update: Obie’s progress whining, recalls and other stuff

Recall training fun in the fenced agility area.
Recall training fun in the fenced agility area. I want full speed, fast responses and he’s giving them.

Whining!! The problem that was bugging me the most — is markedly reduced, at an 8 before in a 10 point scale of bad, now we’re at a 5.   The whining when I open the door 90% of the time has disappeared as has the whining while he is tethered waiting for me to feed the horses. Whining when asked to do something is mostly gone as he has faced the result of vocalizations slow the process instead of speeding it up. He’s still offering complaints (whining, barking and occasional howling when confined in his crate during the day – but this is 1-5 minute duration). So we’re still at the halfway point aiming for a  minimal, complaining-type noise =1.

What did I do to get these changes? I followed the plans I set out in the earlier post. Organizing Training- making a plan for whining.

  • Added remote delivered treats as I opened the door, then since this was working and he was quiet as I approached the door I started adding praise as I opened the door instead of food. He is praise motivated too, not at the same level as food though.
  • Froze (stopped any movement) if he started whining and only moved if he was quiet and still. (thanks Scarlybobs for highlighting this – you helped me re-think and I decided to emphasize this since we were beyond him escalating to louder and louder in my presence, so I didn’t need to turn away or walk away)
  • It was the addition of wild bunnies in the hay that distracted him from whining (he’s added some bunny droppings to his diet — whatever works) when he is tethered in the Cover-all while I feed the horses.
  • Supervised the automatic feeding using the Treat and Train – to make sure he wasn’t putting in a whine just before a food delivery – accomplishing an unintentional, whining reward. I’m a speedy remote, stop-the-treat, button pusher.
  • Ignored the whining with cues. It’s mostly gone. I expect this to re-occur with excitement and arousal situations, but should diminish with practice and him sure about what’s expected.
  • Added some verbal praise and occasional treats to the down in entry while I’m gearing up or putting away outside clothes. It is mostly solid (other people going thru is still iffy) and no whining. I was aiming for and he  is doing it automatically to get a dog who waits calmly and out-of-the-way while people get ready.

Other stuff we’re working on.

Released to 'go play.'
Released to ‘go play.’

Recalls at a 4 before, now at a 6,  in a 10 points is best scale. Steadily improving. Still working at low to moderate distraction levels.

  • Aiming for 20 recalls three times per day – one session outside in the agility area, two sessions in various places inside daily for the next 7-10 weeks. At 200 recall practices completed. The cat remains a high level distraction as does the poor, misguided bunny who got himself stuck in stop-action mode and frozen solidly into the fence (weird I know, but not removable, except by extreme measures).
  • Fave games – run to find food and return for tug or more food rewards. Hide/seek. Sit/wait/come/tug.ObiesettleDec22014 001 Go play, come, chase, treat.

Settle during TV time or dinner or computer work at a low 2 before, now at a 5 out of a desirable 8-10. The busy-ness, searching for extra comfort, bugging for attention and long time to lie down and stay there has abated much. He’s on leash, so there’s a ways to go before he could be off-leash and would likely automatically settle. (Note I can tell him to down and he will – that’s not an issue, what I want is for him to just do it without micro-management.)

  • Practice with treats delivered when he isn’t paying any attention to me (just calmly settled).
  • Continue Treat and Train protocol on dog bed – we’re at the distraction set ups, but still fairly short duration between the treat deliveries. (I postponed some of this to get the whining under wraps).
  • No attention, even for nicely bugging – like big Doberman chin rested on knee. It’s very important not to give attention if he is bugging for it, because then the likely hood of being settled and not a pest disappears.

Focus during times of distraction (dogs, new people, stuff), he’s pretty good until the distance is 20-30 feet, which then becomes less and less good the more the space collapses. Rating? 4, maybe higher as he acclimates quite rapidly, but I want less attention spent.

  • Always wearing Gentle Leader head halter when out of crate or kennel. It works marvelously to turn him away from staring/fixating.
  • Tug games in all situations – I need to take him to more places and play
  • Use  of higher value rewards (the usual kibble is not adequate) especially initially.
  • Yup – so I want excellent focus when I need it and as above in the settle routine I want calm non-focus in that situation – we’re working to clarify the ‘when’.

Other stuff – tricks, balance, body awareness, agility basics and other things that make him easier or more helpful. I add these in for variety, to make him more capable, because it’s fun. And because some things don’t need to be tallied, just enjoyed.

Other, other stuff – his appetite and willingness to eat with gusto is at an 8-10 (previously3-4). He goes(poops) quickly, within 5 minutes of being outside, instead of waiting for 30 minutes and the morning walk turn-around. He’s willing to tug on anything I offer (he has preferences, but they are waning). He’s holding control cues until told ‘break,’ most of the time (I expect, if I’ve asked and especially if I’ve rewarded the control posture should be maintained until he’s released). He automatically sits for all entries/exits/gates.  He runs to his crate or to his dog bed when asked if he wants to do something – he knows they are the starting points of most in-house games.

Summary – So now that the noise thing is in better balance, I feel much better. Undesirable noise is very hard on the nervous system. I think that tallying, quantifying and making clear plans results in less frustration, more acceptance and better judgments. I don’t think that everything needs to be tallied or significantly planned, but certainly the things that are upsetting do. Especially when it feels like it’s getting worse or not resolving in any way.

Managing the problem can and should be a first step (oh yah, I’ve avoided the things that cause the issues and I’ve put on headphones at times), but the process of fixing it (if it’s important or if it risks the relationship) needs to occur right away too.

Did this article help you get an idea of how much and what kinds of things to do? Were there things I need to explain better? Do you like the photos?



Woods hikes – walks on the wild side

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Have you been too worried to go on a hike with your dog in the woods? Worried about your dog getting lost? Or worried about risks of being on the hike?

Taylor County in northern Wisconsin has great places to hike and most of them are dog friendly. Not to say there aren’t risks, but in 30 years of hiking with dogs I haven’t had anything really serious happen on the hike and I’ve hiked with lots of dogs, lots of times. I’m not saying we didn’t have some things happen. It’s why we go into the wild.

Exceptions to the hardly any risks, aka doggy adventures. The time one of our Airedales charged into a pond swimming after and briefly catching a beaver. He had the bite puncture wounds and vet visit to prove it. He responded to being called before anything worse could happen (it was a big beaver). If he hadn’t come in would we have joined him in the pond to become beaver gladiators? Who knows.

Getting skunked or porcupine quilled happened several times (certain dogs had a knack for it). We ended up always carrying needle nosed pliers with those dogs hiking (it’s much better to get as many quills out as soon as possible, you wouldn’t believe how quickly they embed if left unattended). Skunk spray stinks amazingly bad and there’s nothing to carry along to really neutralize it.

I saw a bear on the trail once (it was a big bear with a white splotch on its chest), but I called the dogs before they saw it and the bear skeddadled  – I did head a different direction. What about wolves? I’ve seen tracks, had one time when the dogs seemed worried – about what I don’t really know, but no wolves and you’re not likely to ever see any.

We don’t have any poisonous snakes and the toads are only mildly toxic (cause mouth foaming and face rubbing).  There are hunters – currently bow season, small game and bird seasons are ongoing.  During deer gun season we don’t hike in the woods and orange vests adorn the deer colored dog(s). We did have one dog get her foot caught in a beaver trap – we got her out and no broken toes.

There is a lot of water, bogs, streams so dehydration is unlikely, all our dogs have been good swimmers and willing to get muddy. Giardia from drinking contaminated water is possible though and has happened on several occasions more recently. Which is not fun.

In the early years there were some ticks, but not like now. Now ticks are very prolific, so the risk of Lymes, anaplasmosis,  ehrlichosis or some other version of tick borne disease is quite high. So I use flea/tick repellents and check the dogs over after the hike (visually and I use a flea comb) and do it again the next day (by feel) and the next. The most likely areas for ticks are on the face, ears, neck and shoulders of the dog.

So despite the exciting hazards it’s the ticks that are the most worrisome for dog and person alike. Check, check and check for them.

The fun and experience of woods/trail hiking with your dog is worth it. Beautiful, great exercise and a feast for the senses. Some of the best times I’ve ever had with my dogs have been hiking, x-county skiing and snowshoeing.

Still worried, thinking you’ll lose your dog? Or get lost yourself?

Go on an established trail and go with someone who knows the area and hikes it. Update ID, vaccinations and licenses on your dog’s collar. Bring a leash and use it if leashes are required and if your dog doesn’t listen to summons to come it’s time to improve their come here anyway, now you’ve got an even stronger reason. I’ve never had a dog get lost…keep moving and they’ll move with you. FYI rabbits circle, so if your dog chases one they will head away for a while but then come around closer again (I had a beagle as a kid so I know).

Your dog not fit enough? Start with short hikes and play hide and seek with your dog to sharpen their ability to keep track of you.BoatrideChelseaLakeOct112014 012a

Reading your dog – why use video

Top of head pat? (note a rub is different than a pat). Well pat attempted for photo several times, he ducked away so I could touch his ear and neck. Right after, he offered me another chance at petting being very obvious about where I should pet, perhaps hoping for a better attempt.

I get a fair amount of push back from people when I say things like “patting him on the head isn’t a reward, he’s not liking it.” And maybe I should be more factual, “when you patted him on the head he ducked away and left you, or he started sniffing the ground, or he moved away and came to me, or he sat briefly then became rowdy with the kids or other dog.” Which means he did not feel it as a reward because when we’re rewarded we want more attention from the one rewarding us and we don’t feel the need to escape or distract.

One of the easiest ways to know how your interactions are going is to video them then review it several times; first time to see how silly you look, second to focus on what you wanted to look for, third to find other things you might want to improve and fourth to find the really good things you want to keep in place and be proud of for you and your dog.

Look for body posture that is open and interested, training that is fun for both of you. Look for consistency and clarity in how you ask for known cues. Look for patience on your part and persistence in trying to figure it out on the dog’s part. Look for the relationship. What do you think your dog is telling you with his actions, where does he look, what does he do if something is confusing? Just look and then think about what you might want to do. Jot it down so you remember.

I’m also in northern Wisconsin where a common training method is threatening – looming, angry voice in the ‘do it or else mode.’ I was attending an outdoor sports show today and at the tail end of it a man went walking by with his off-leash retriever, who he kept threatening to keep the dog from leaving him. The dog was low body-ing it and showing fear by ducking and tucking his tail, also he sat 4 feet away and wouldn’t come closer to his handler. I kind of wish I could have shown the guy a video of his training, I wonder what he would have seen.

Sometimes if a certain way of doing things is pervasive, it’s hard to see a problem in it. The video can give you a separate picture, a different point of view. And even if you would never think of being threatening, often the video process can make you a much better trainer because it lets you see what you actually did, not what you thought you did.

I know it’s a hassle to set up, but it’s really cool to see and very worth it. Then maybe you can tell the trainer what kind of rewards your dog really likes, because you’ll already have noticed that patting him on top of the head just doesn’t cut it.



Cat training – its better than scratching furniture