Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Year in Review

I have to start out by saying....WOW.....what a year! So many great things to speak of.

To kick it all off, I finally opened Courteous Canine Training Services as a business this year. It's been long in the making, even longer in the waiting, but finally is here. All is going great, I'm learning so much and having a blast. I have wonderful clients who have wonderful dogs, and I am very appreciative for all that has happened this year. I am very excited at some of the plans for 2011, from marketing ideas to new classes to new services being provided.

We had a great year in Rally-O. Despite only being able to get to two weekend trials, Shimmer has blown me away once again by showing me how much her confidence has blossomed and how much she loves to work by getting six successive qualifying scores in six trials. Of those wins, we saw: Two High In Classes, one perfect 100 (in her second trial ever), and four other scores 90 or above.

Agility took a hit this year with Gaci's back injury right before the second trial of the year, which put her out of commission for two months, which is a lot during the trialling season. Shimmer, though, made a great debut into agility, obtaining 1 qualifier in her Jumpers run, with a 1st place finish, and has shown again great work ethic and drive. Once we get her teeter and her weaves polished up over the winter, 2011 will bring on some great agility weekends I am sure.

Both Zipper and Shimmer got their Canine Good Neighbour certificates in July. I am very proud of both of their accomplishments.

We got to take part in several community events over the course of the year. Some of the more memorable ones were the PEI Humane Society Dog Jog, Blue Ribbon Pet Supply's Grand Opening, and the Santa Claus Parade. I am aiming to try to increase the number of community events we take part in next year, and have to start planning it out now.

I got the wonderful opportunity to foster a super-sweet 7.5 year old Mini Schnauzer male, Harley, who had some special needs and was in need of some re-training. After two months of care and training, he made the trip to his new family, and they love him to pieces. I just had a nice visit with all of them before Christmas, and he is settled in like he's been with them forever, and he still remembers all of the fun tricks and games that we developed together. I wish him, and his family, the very best for the future.

I'm looking forward to all that 2011 will bring. Business growth, more training, and who knows, maybe a whole new training *project*?  Wink wink.

Here's to the passing of 2010, and to ringing in 2011!!!

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Don't worry.......He's friendly!!"

It is a rare dog owner who has not heard these very words, or something similar, as an offleash dog comes barreling straight at you with no signs of slowing.

Some might be thinking, "No big deal", right?

Unless you are the owner of a fearful or reactive dog, or even just a dog in training.

Despite the fact that all towns, cities, and parks in Prince Edward Island have explicit leash laws, many people still allow their dogs to run free and to approach other dogs and people uninvited.

Many dogs do not enjoy meeting other dogs while on leash, as it is very limiting and does not allow a dog to express its full range of communication to other dogs. Yet others do not enjoy interacting with other dogs much at all, and may even be fearful of the approach of other dogs offleash.

Dog owners who have dogs with issues try to be proactive with their dogs to keep everyone safe, through leashes, training, and managment, only to be run upon by offleash dogs that cause a reactive outburst. Then the owner with the reactive dog is blamed, when in reality the offleash dog rudely interrupted the dog's space which is a no-no in dog-speak.
Also, many people without dogs are not interested in having all manners of uncontrolled dogs running at their dogs, without knowing the true intent of the oncoming dog's actions. Some people think that anything other than fighting is "friendliness", but there are many other pushy, overbearing, and bullying things that these offleash dogs do that go unchecked. Even people walking without dogs do not always enjoy the assaults of offleash dogs running at them. And letting an offleash dog run up to others without invitation may result in undesirable consequences for your own dog, if for any reason the other person/dog thinks there may be a threat and responds accordingly.
Being a responsible pet owner means keeping dogs on leash in leash-law areas, and if in an offleash area, under control with training so that your dog will leave other dogs and people alone unless invited to interact. Being responsible involves acknowledgment that others use the same areas and may want to be left alone.

Just remember -your dog may be "friendly" - but not all others want to make friends!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Family Matters

Last night I had one of those nights where I was reminded of the depth that a relationship between people and dogs can reach. I've always been open in saying that of all of my dogs, Gaci is my true heart dog. We have a bond that surpasses mere training, something that cannot be put into words. She has taught me more about patience, trust, and understanding than any other person or dog.

That said, Gaci is an independent, sassy, self-thinker. Extremely clever, she figures out easily how to get what shw wants, and as a bit of a control freak sometimes let's her dismays known. Those who meet her fall in love with her, despite the fact that the last thing SHE wants is to make friends with strangers! She has that effect on others, and her lot-of-dog-in-small-body cuteness just aids that.

She's not a cuddler. She likes to do her own thing most of the time. So when I was greeted last night with a very upset gal, who looked for me and stood by my side with pleading eyes and shivering like mad, I knew something had frightened her. Without question, upon invitation she crawled into my lap and sat there for some time. I stroked her ears, massaged her cheeks, which helped to calm her. Eventually she laid down and with a big sigh finally fell asleep. After about a half hour she awoke as though nothing were wrong. She gave me a final lick on the nose and hopped off my lap to do her own thing.

I don't know what frightened her. She doesn't get scared at environmental things. But the other night the power went out in the middle of the night and flickered several times, causing the smoke detector to make some strange beeping sounds. That startled her, although she settled back into sleep. I can only think the oven timer, which sounds similar, may have triggered a scare as it happened not too long before.

Regardless of why, it once again reminded me that while she may prefer to do her own thing, and definitely has her own opinions on things, when it comes down to the serious stuff she looked for me, for acknowledgement, for comfort, and for company. A trust that cannot be expressed in our language, and stronger than any description can even begin to measure. It's something you just know when you experience it, and it makes your heart feel as big as the world.

Gaci may not be perfect. But there aren't too many things that feel more right than that bond that we share.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Looking Back......

I recently attended the Grand Opening for a local pet supply store, Blue Ribbon Pet Supply, in which I was invited to attend to answer questions, help out, and put on training demonstrations. The weather wasn't the greatest, it would rain on and off, and the ground was quite wet in general, so we were limited in what we could do outdoors, but we made the best of it. But, it was a super-busy time and there were lots of people out and about!

Shimmer and Zipper were pretty model citizens in terms of being greeters. They would practice their down/stays on mats while customers milled about, stopped to see them, and asked questions - the biggest one being "how did you teach that?". It was a nice segue into clicker training and how to teach behaviours that will hold up in even high distractions.

Shimmer practiced some of her Rally-O behaviours, some heeling, fronts, pivots, etc, and some fun tricks that she knows. She is a fun demonstrator because she gets quite into it and really bounces around. Gaci had the opportunity to show off some of her tricks as well. She practiced cleaning up her toys, opening/closing cupboard doors, climbing/perching on various objects, as well as some other tricks like Take a Bow, Spin Left/Right, etc. Gaci found the situation a bit stressful at first and was distracted by all of the folks looking at her, but eventually she settled in to work.

It's hard with Gaci though because people are so drawn to touching her and interacting with her, and she really doesn't enjoy it, so I had to balance the fun stuff with putting her to bed before I had to do too much of the "She would prefer not to be petted, but you can give her a treat!" routine. I am still torn on pulling her from public demonstrations altogether because of that, but at the same time she does enjoy the working aspect as she loves to work. 

All in all, it was a good demo weekend. There are some things I would have done differently, although the weather did dictate what we could and couldn't do, but not bad for a sort of last-minute planning situation. Here are a few more photos from that day.

Cleaning up toys!

Taking a *perch*!

Shimmer practicing some Rally obedience! 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Successful Rally Weekend!

This past weekend was an eye-opener for me, in just how much Shimmer has progressed from the sensitive little girl that she was, to the wonderful girl that she is today and continues to become. We entered our second Rally trial together this past weekend, a total of six trials. She had two Q's from her last trial, so she only needed one more to get her Novice title, which she got in her first trial along with taking High in Class and a score of 94.

At that point she moved up to Advanced. The biggest difference is that it is all off-leash, and there are several new behaviours to learn. We had been training at that level, and was pretty confident that we would do okay. There was only one skill that we hadn't yet perfected, and I told myself that if we faced it I would take the 10-point loss rather than have her attempt to perform a semi-learned skill in the ring. Anyway, her second trial came out with her first Advanced Q and another High in Class with a score of 96! That ended day one, in which we were all tired and headed home to crash for a few hours.

Day Two yielded a busier day, as there was also obedience and conformation going on and there was a lot more going on in the arena than there had been on Friday. It was a much louder morning. Shimmer showed a little bit of stress-sniffing and some other calming signals, but she handled herself well and came out with two more Q's that day and a second and third place (her third place was a result of that 10-point loss that I mentioed above, that I knew I would likely run into), which I was very very grateful for considering that I knew she was showing more stress the second day.

After having gained two new titles in two days, I knew we were not fully prepared for the Excellent Class, so I decided to pull her from her last two trials. I'm sure we could have gotten through it with a Q, but I would prefer to take the time and work through the exercises to a high level of skill and get the good scores I know she can achieve, rather than just *get the Q* with a lower score. I also didn't want to frustrate or confuse her with things she hasn't faced before and risk having that affect her trialing, as it wouldn't have been a fluid performance like her other ones, so we enjoyed our third day at home. Shimmer slept most of the day, as she was quite tired.

All in all, a fabulous weekend and I could not be more proud! She did so well, continued working in the face of some stress, and came out with a great weekend and great performance. I'm excited to see what the 2011 Rally season brings, and it gives me a focus to work towards over the slower winter months!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

5 Tips for a Safe and Stress-Free Halloween

1. Keep chocolate and other tempting candy out of reach. Chocolate is toxic to dogs, and can make them very ill. Many other popular Halloween treats can also make Fido ill as well, especially candies with the sweetener Xylitol - it is highly toxic to dogs and can make them very, very ill. You might trust your dog to leave goodies alone, but with the noise and bustle of Halloween festivities, Fido may give in to temptation and try to sneak a bite, especially if you are occupied with little ghouls at the door.

If Fido does consume chocolate or candy that you are unsure of, you should call your vet for further assistance. Just remember - just because we can eat it safely, doesn't mean our dogs can.

2. Use caution when allowing children in costumes and masks to approach and pet your dog. Your pooch may not realize that these monsters and zombies are simply children in silly outfits, and may believe there is a real threat and act out defensively. If in doubt, keep your dog in another room while treat-or-treaters are out and about.

If you need to take your dog for a walk, plan your walk earlier in the evening before the kids come out, so that you don't find youself in a tight corner with children running all about and doing things your dog might find frightening in the dark.

3. While dogs should always be supervised when outdoors on a normal day, it is much more important that you keep Fido indoors with you on Halloween night. Children may decide to play *tricks* on your dog, or may try to feed him treats through the fence that they don't realize are unsafe (or that they know are unsafe!). It will also keep Fido from finding any dropped goodies on the ground left by excited travelers.

Just remember - no everyone shares the same ideas of "fun" on Halloween night. Sometimes one person's *tricks* are another person's tragedy. So keep Fido safe on Halloween night and keep him indoors with you.

4. Some Halloween music, with its cackling and screaming, can be very threatening and frightening to dogs, who don't understand that it's all in fun. If you are one of many who like to celebrate the season in style, with the full selection of decorations, lights, and eerie sounds appearing from the darkness, it is a wise idea to ensure that these lights and sounds are not scary to your dog before Halloween arrives.
If you are thinking of holding a party, or think for any reason that your dog may not enjoy the sights and sounds of your Halloween spirit, Fido may be more comfortable staying in a bedroom for the evening, or staying with a friend or family member for the night who will keep things a little quieter.

5. You may think that nothing can or will happen to your dog. Just to be safe, be sure that your dog is wearing a properly-fitting collar, with up to date ID tags and contact information. You can never be too safe on a night when the tricks may happen as much as the treats! Keep your vet's number on hand (which should be quickly available in case of any emergency anyhow!) just in case you need to place a quick call.

Some dogs do love Halloween. For those dogs who seem to enjoy the evening-long festivities as much as you do, with visitors coming and going, you can make a memorable evening for your guests. Some dogs like to dress up (but some don't!), Fido can show off some fun tricks, the kids can give him some treats (that you have provided for them), and you can safely involve him in the activities of the evening. If you do involve Fido as part of the evening events, just ensure that you have him on leash while the door is open or keep a baby gate in front of the entrance so that he cannot bolt out of the door in excitement!

Plan ahead. Keep your dog safe. A little thought can go a long way to make an enjoyable holiday.

Happy Howl-oween!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Harley Finds His New Family

It is with great pleasure, and a little bit of sadness, to announce that Harley is headed to his new (hopefully, keeping fingers crossed!!) forever home. He completed his second in-home visit tonight, and everything has gone splendidly. His new family understands all of his little quirks and that he will take some time to settle in, but he was very happy to play with, take treats from, and go outside on leash with the family so I don't think there will be any problems with him settling in. He ate his supper there and hopped up on the couch to solicit some attention. They are a quiet, retired couple who just want a dog to love, and who do not have any children in the home. So, barring any surprises, it's pretty much the perfect match for what Harley needs.
I'm going to miss the little guy. From that first day I brought him home and he was basically feral, to seeing him warm up and blossom with us, and then my parents, and then some new strangers, it just melted my heart to see him become a real dog and start to see the world as a less scary place. He was the easiest dog once he settled in, always stayed out of the way when you were busy, but played hard, loved hard, and was a real heart-stealer. The family said they would send regular updates, and I will be checking in as well. I'm sure this is not the last I have seen of him by any means, but I want to give them time to settle in and get to know each other before I had back for a visit.

To Harley, and all the challenges he has overcome, and to finding the family that will give him the home, respect, and love that he needs, and wants, for the rest of his days. Love you buddy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Antler Chew Toy Review: Two Paws Up!

If you have a dog who is a really heavy chewer, who can go through chew toys like they are candy, then this chew toy might be for you!

The Antler Chews from Blue Ribbon Pet Supply in Charlottetown have proven to stand up strong to the Schnauzer Trio, and their chewing power. I have had trouble finding a natural, healthy, long-lasting chew for my dogs that can stand up and last longer than a few days to a week. It is now the favorite chew toy in my house, and from morning until night there is always one dog chewing on it; you will also generally find a dog lying in wait nearby waiting for their turn to snatch it up given the opportunity.

The only store to carry them in PEI, Blue Ribbon Pet Supply carries antler chews for several sizes of dogs, and so far the quality can't be beat!

Playing the "bone game". Shimmer dragged the bed into the sunny
spot in the center of the kitchen. Gaci is chewing on the bone,
and the others are patiently waiting for their chance to snag it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Harley and his Favorite Game

Things continue to go very well for Harley here at my home. We're coming up on a month now that he's been staying with me, and have still come across no serious issues. He continues to come with me on errands to be exposed to his surroundings and is taking it all in stride. He even handled a 12-hour day trip driving with three other dogs and going to different touristy sites with 30 other people, and handled it like a champ.

I've been wanting to get a video of Harley playing his favorite game of all - ball. He will do anything for the ball, anytime, anywhere, no matter what is going on around him. He's quite the comedian with it, and it is one of the more pleasurable times of his day.

I'm also very pleased to have gotten our CGN certificates from Zipper's and Shimmer's test in July. They look very nice, and I think I am going to get a double frame for them and hang them here in the office. A nice memory of the shy, sensitive girl Shimmer used to be and how far she's come, and a plain ole reminder of how Zipper's wonderful stability.

Next we are looking forward to lots of fun in our upcoming Rally trials, with the expectation of one, and the hope of two, new Rally titles!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Two Weeks and Looking Good!

Harley has now been with us here for two weeks.

Any issues about him being stressed about being left alone have seem to have dissipated. He goes to his room quietly and calmly, and will run right in the room when I say "Time for bed!", when I go to work or when it is actually bedtime. No more whining or barking, and he doesn't stir until we get up in the morning. He has had two nights of snuggling up in bed with us while we watched TV, but he is still sleeping in his own room at night.

He's settled right down with the eating pattern, and he's now eating in the kitchen, two meals per day, along with my other three dogs. We are working on his sit/stay during feeding time while I set down his dish and he waits patiently for his release word. His targeting and down behaviours are coming along nicely as well, and he's started to gain a bit of interest in puzzle toys, although he clearly doesn't *get* them. He'll eat the treats that come out, but doesn't really get the concept of pushing them around to work for his food.

I've been taking him outside to play along with Gaci and the ball. Gaci's not much of a ball player, but she loves the chase, so we've been playing games where he catches and brings back the ball, and Gaci races him down and back. In the beginning he was a bit guarded, and guard-y, of the ball with her, but he's beginning to understand that she's just having fun running with him, and doesn't want the ball. He's taking a bit of a rest though for a few days since he seems to have overexerted himself a bit and was tender on one leg after playing. I'm guessing he just jumped a little too much or stepped into a little rut in the ground, but all is well, just needs a little rest for a couple of days.

He had his first haircut with me this past week too, as he was pretty scruffy! And he was just the most perfect guy, didn't flinch at all and stood nicely the entire time I clipped, combed, and scissored him. The next task to tackle will be his nails, as they are quite long, but I figured that was enough for one day for a new challenge. Baby steps!

He really is developing into the most affectionate, sweet little guy. He loves his rubbies and he loves his snuggles, and is just looking for a little dose of attention here and there without asking for too much. And of course, he loves his ball!

A couple of photos of him and Gaci playing (30 foot line attached). He is the one who always has the ball in the photos.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

One Week In

So we're one week in with our *new addition* to the home. Things have settled out a lot since that first day that I was met with a terrified, shaking, sad dog. He now greets us in the morning, and after work, with a wagging tail and looks forward to his snuggles and attention. He spent the weekend being cared for by my parents, and he took to them as well, so that is now four strange adults under his belt that he has developed the beginnnings of a trusting relationship with.

He is still coexisting with my own dogs quite well. They don't really interact with each other, aside from the occasional bum/facial sniff, but they are all for the most part relaxed with each other and he has developed an interest in watching them play, sometimes resulting in a wagging tail and so far we've had one brief play bow and a little "garuff" of interest.

Since we now have the foundation of a working relationship, he is learning to lay down and to target my hand with his nose. We will be soon starting on Karen Overall's Relaxation Protocol as well, which he will derive a lot of benefit from I think. All of these behaviours will come in handy in the future both in terms of working out in public and if he is deemed rehomable. Regardless, though, he enjoys his time interacting one-on-one and enjoys learning, and he is a lightning-fast learner, let me tell you! After discovering for myself his intense joy of any and all forms of balls, we are using that as a big reward in different situations. He has more drive to work for a ball than he does with food, although now that he is destressing and his body is returning to a more relaxed state, he is becoming more interested in food as well so we switch up between the rewards depending on the exercise.

His housetraining is perfect. He eliminates quickly outside and has not had any accidents in the house. I'm not 100% sure, but I think he is even *asking* to go out by going to the door, although time will tell how consistent that is.

He did have a a bit of a difficult night settling down last night. He is such a velcro-dog at heart, a real soft dog, that we are combining controlled freedoms with some alone time in his room, as I don't want to risk developing *too* strong a relationship right off the bat that is too dependent on us and results in separation issues. It will come in time, he is just stuck in that middle grey area between fear and trust right now, that will take some time.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Two Days In......

So we've settled in a bit after two days.

In the beginning, the only way to describe our little man was shellshocked. He was suspicious of everyone and while he walked on leash with me, he remained at the end of the leash seeking escape, eyes wide as dinner plates and shaking heavily as everything he knew had just been ripped out from under him. He took up refuge under the kitchen table, and then under the bed in *his room* that I had set up for him. We did end up removing access to under the bed, so that we could safely handle him to get him outside.

Treats were a no-go for the first day altogether, although two days later we did share a philly cheese/steak wrap and he did approach to take several pieces of steak from my hand. Although he did reject the pure salmon and freeze-dried chicken. He only ate his supper after we had gone to bed and we could hear him crunching kibble in the other room.

The next day he got to meet my guys through baby gates and expens, and while not over friendly, he did not appear to be too worried either. They spent the full day seeing each other with no contact. I continued taking him outside to do his business, and just spent time sitting with him and being there. Only making contact if he wanted, the first day went pretty much touch-free except to put on and remove his leash. However, he did bring a smile to my face when he approached me the following morning while I was on the computer and gently nudged my hand with his nose for some verrrrrrrrrrrrrry small attention. Fast forward to last night I was sitting in the living room with him, I sat on the floor and just sort of looked out the window, singing softly. And much to my wondering eyes did appear, Harley came out from under the coffee table to sit beside me, and nudged my hand again. I gently put my hand down and brushed his back, and when I stopped he placed his head under my hand to acknowledge and give permission to continue. We sat there for about fifteen minutes, following this pattern of 30 seconds of massage and gentle touch, and leaving him to decide if it was enough or he wanted more. It was satisfying compared to the day he came home.

He is still frightened of quick movements and I cannot say there is any sort of trust yet, however I think it's under there and he's trying to reach out. He is now dragging a leash through the house during supervised times, and follows me (and my partner) everywhere when we leave the room. He is now loose with my three dogs in controlled situations, and we'll see how things progress. He's not showing any interest in them at this time, and is quite tentative understandably, but he's also not being inappropriate. He made one totally appropriate warning to Shimmer when she got in his face a little too quickly and assertively, and a quick "Leave It" was a solution to any pending arousal.

Time will tell how further progress is made. I am most surprised, and impressed, with Gaci, who I thought would be the last dog to be understanding of his situation, with all of the issues she has gone through. Yet she is the one who is sending out the most calming signals, is the most relaxed with him, and seems to understand that he is in a bad place right now. Who knows, maybe even she can understand where he's coming from. It's definitely the opposite reaction of when I had my last foster here.  Whatever it is, she seems to know where he's at, and is responding accordingly.

One day at a time, that's all we're at.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A little boy, and his quest for decisions.

I had originally questioned sharing this on a blog, but I figured in the end, no matter the decision, this little boy deserves to have his story known.

I was called in last night, on a more personal note, when a male, neutered, 7.5 yo. Mini Schnauzer bit an infant (approx ten months old - crawling age) that he lived with.  Upon questioning further, it quickly showed that this dog was extremely fearful of the child since birth, seeing as the dog had 7 years of being a loved family pet, and then had it's world turned upside down by a new baby in the home. 

The family's life was also turned upside down. Their beloved dog committed what is often considered the *ultimate sin*, biting a young child. In reality, the baby was being a baby, and the dog was being a dog, with loose access to each other, and it's almost always a recipe for disaster.  While we explain how important it is to socialize your puppy to young children and babies even if you don't have children of your own, as you just never know what can happen, it's easy to think that you have done all that is needed until that time comes that trauma strikes.

As of this writing I have a room set up for this little dog, to see where to go from here. I don't know what the fate of this little dog will be - all I know is that we all agreed that the dog needed to be removed from the home immediately, for both the wellbeing, but also the safety, of all.  The option of immediate euthenasia came up, and was discussed at length, but for the time being it was agreed that I will take him in and assess him overall to see what options he *might* or might not have for a future home. The goal is to discover if there would be an option for a child-free home, or if that risk itself is too high or if there are any other issues presenting that might alter any decisions made for him.

I will update with progress, regardless of what that progress turns out to be. I have some big choices to make in the near future, and that is whether or not this dog can live in another home, or whether euthenasia may be the kindest option. Only time will tell.
So please, please keep this sweet little guy in your thoughts, for whatever ends up being his fate.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's All About Fun!

I have to say, my dogs are often what helps me get through day to day. Between the stresses of daily life, unexpected changes, and when you can't control the things going on around you, my dogs are always consistently there to make me smile, laugh, and bring me up to a better place. So I just wanted to share some of the fun they bring to me, in some of their *different* moments!

It doesn't matter what I do, or how tiring my day has been. At the end of it all, it's moments like those that make me realize that everything will be okay!

Monday, August 16, 2010

What I learned at my last agility trial

I always hope to bring something home from each trial that I attend, and this past trial weekend was no different!

1. That Gaci is still showing more stress in the ring than I would like. Also, Gaci is more negatively affected by the heat than I first realized. In training situations, she is fabulous, even around other people and dogs. The first day of her trial went super well, and she was focused and driven, and the only reason she did not Q was that she came back out of the chute (last obstacle....gah!!!) when she hit the fabric. The second day, however, she was spent before we even got started. I ended up pulling her out of the run early so that it wouldn't adversely affect her even more. I probably should have scratched early, but gave her the benefit of the doubt.

In talking with my trainer (yep - even trainers still have trainers!!), we are going to go back a few steps again and address some of the stress issues. This may involve paying my entries but only going to the ring for training, and doing 6-8 obstacles and running out of the ring to go for a swim or get a reward, to keep her motivated. Or it may involve her just trialling one day per weekend, before she starts showing signs of negative stress. I am going to up her training around distractions and do more simple training like focus/fun tricks to keep her thinking that the trial site is a great place to be. Time to get back to fun and less on the drilling.

2. Shimmer is going to be a fabulous agility dog! She is surpassing my expectations so much, and she came out with a Q and 1st place in her Starters Jumpers run (which is all I entered her in this weekend). We are developing such a great working relationship between both Rally and Agility that I can't wait to see where it all leads. I have a feeling she'll be a great multi-titled dog. Her level of focus and happiness around other people and other dogs continues to surprise me, considering the natural sensitivity she usually has to her environment. She was a social butterfly with the people, and she tolerated other dogs in close range very well.

3. Shimmer/Gaci both have a limit on how much *close contact* they can stand with each other for one period of time. They spent most of their downtime together either in the expen or the the large custom-built kennel in the van, but it seems that for the ladies the amount of time spent together was a little too much and they started picking at each other a little bit. Nothing worrisome but enough so that I knew they needed a break from each other, and they drove home in separate quarters. The combination of trial stress, first time camping, and just the long weekend was enough to get them a little tired of each other. However, they are playing at my feet as I type this, so I know it's no serious issue. Just something to keep in mind with future trials!

What a great weekend though, I couldn't ask for better weather or a nicer time. I think I enjoyed this trial the most so far, as it was quite relaxing. Once again I learned a little more about the sport, my dogs, and how it affects them, so that I can make changes where needed and continue helping them to be the best they can be.

Looking forward to September's trials. I've only got Gaci entered in two runs as we work on having more fun, and I've put Shimmer into four runs - two Jumpers, a Snooker, and a Gamblers. Can't wait to see how it pans out for her.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dogs Love Their "Place"

Teaching your dog a "Place" cue - in which your dog goes to its mat and lies quietly until released - has many benefits for dog and human alike.

For the dog, it involves increasing impulse control, teaches a dog to relax in one spot no matter what else is going on around him, and it can become a favorite spot that he chooses to go to when he wants to rest or play with a favorite toy.

For the people, it can come in handy in many situations. If you have a ton of groceries sitting about and want to put them away without Fido being in your way, you can ask him to lie quietly on his mat in the kitchen. If you want peace and quiet in the kitchen while eating, it is handy to have a "Place" cue so that Fido knows exactly what is expected of him. When you have company over, sometimes that company isn't as fond of dogs as you are, but yet you want him to be part of the social scene - well, then he can lay on his mat with you in the same room but keep the peace with your company (although if you are like me, most company knows this is the "dog zone" and the majority of visitors to the home also tend to be dog lovers!!). You can teach Fido that he gets special treats only in the bed and know he will stay in it instead of dragging food all over the house. And besides, it can be just plain fun!

It's great too, because you can also take a mat with you (you can get really neat thin material that you can fold up quite small) and use it in parks, at dog shows, if you are the company at somebody else's house and want to bring Fido along, or if you have to stay in a hotel room and don't want to drag the kennel inside.

Dogs who experience behaviour issues, such as fear, aggression, or just have downright poor door greeting manners, really thrive when they can follow a "place" cue and know what is expected of them. It takes the weight off the dogs' shoulders to try to make decisions (that generally end up being poor ones when they do make them), and to know that we humans have it covered. It can also be a way for more nervous dogs to see people from a safe distance and get rewarded for appropriate behaviour, without being forced to greet people at the door.

Teaching dogs a "Place" cue really does have an endless amount of benefits and will make life a lot easier, and simpler, for the Dogparents. And if you take the time to make it fun, dogs really come to love "knowing their place"!!

Below is a video of Zipper learning to go to his mat and lie down until released. It follows from the first steps right through to completion and performing the behaviour with his housemates. He is still "new" to the process of shaping in clicker training (a process in which you reward successive approximations - small bits - at a time until you end up with the desired behaviour - most of the steps are outlined in the video), so he looks to me for the next step a lot, but I let him work it out so he learns to try things out on his own.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Give a Dog a Job!

As I had briefly mentioned in my "Natural Career Path" blog post, I "employed" Gaci with various jobs at home as part of her treatment in some of the issues she was having. Giving dogs a job to do at home carries many benefits, many of which were what helped Gaci during her transition to the dog she is today.

It exercises the mind. This cannot be understated, as it may be one of the most important concepts. It has always been said that a "tired dog is a good dog". This is true, however a lot of dogs may get lots of physical exercise, but end up with a mind that still has not been stimulated and challenged. Thinking and interactive games ("jobs") really can calm down, and tire out a dog mentally so that they aren't left with pent-up stress and energy they need to release in more unappealing ways, such as chewing, barking, digging, etc. Even ten minutes of challenging the brain can be more effective than a drab half-hour walk on leash around the block.

It exercises the body. It can work to keep the body in shape as well, by focusing on muscles the dog may not use a lot in everyday behaviours. It is fabulous for exercising on rainy days or during storms when you just can't exercise in other ways.

It helps build good manners. Any form of successful training will help to build manners and impulse control, but doing it in the form of fun tasks where the dog can do something actively (like closing a drawer) really makes you relevant and makes it a lot more fun for the dog. This type of fun activity can also bleed over to some of the more mundane tasks like sitting, waiting, and laying down that dogs don't always enjoy quite as much.

It is a great relationship builder. Once again, we live in such a busy society now that any little bit of time you spend directly interacting with your dog will go far in improving your relationship. It can really strengthen relationships by working together to accomplish a task. This way too you generally know where your dog is more often, so that perhaps your dog is not off becoming self-employed in, say, the laundry hamper. It can increase your overall communication with your dog so that you learn to read each other better, and in the end it's just plain fun.

It can boost confidence. This is a bit harder to describe, but giving your dog jobs that she knows she can be successful at, can go a long way to building confidence in other areas. You can see the glimmer in Gaci's eye when she is doing one of her "jobs", and she does it with gusto, to the point where the more eager you get, the more eager she gets, and it becomes a game of how animated one can make the game.

It can help treat or prevent behaviour conflicts. This one applies to Gaci in many ways, in the "treating" part. I was able to use a lot of her fun "jobs" to work through her fears of strangers, her trust in me (that I would handle situations and not force her to make decisions that always ended up being the wrong ones!), her focus on me around arousing distractions, and to build better associations with those things she didn't like. Whenever we have small social functions at the house, generally somebody will ask about Gaci and whether I can bring her out to "visit". Now, their version of visit is generally different than mine, as Gaci does not overly enjoy busy social gatherings. However, I can put her to "work" and let her demonstrate what she can do, and then let strangers reward her, and it takes away often the need of people to want to touch and coo over her. For a dog that doesn't really "like" strangers, she seems to enjoy putting on shows for them!

Some dogs need a job to do. Not all dogs are created equal, in the needs that they have. Some purpose-bred breeds - often seen in the herding dogs, the working dogs (Shepherds, Malinois, etc), and some terriers - do best when they have jobs to do. Not only do they do best, but every inch of their being tells them they need to do something. The realistic part of it all is, if you don't help them by letting them know what appropriate jobs they can do, they can, and will, become self-employed, and find their own jobs to do. But you can prevent many common issues if you pre-empt that, acknowledge the need, and give them things to do before they make up their own games.

So take a few minutes, give your dog a job - she'll thank you for it!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Self Control Saves Lives

These days it seems that we live in an instant-gratification society. We want everything now, without having to wait for it - after all, there is not enough time in the day. Our dogs also live in an instant-gratification society. The difference is, but it can come with some heartbreaking consequences. Dogs run out doors and get hit by cars or run off never top be seen again; they trip up their human family on stairs. Squabbles break out as several dogs rush doors at once and compete for space.

Many dog owners become irrelevant as soon as that door opens, or as soon as that food dish comes out, simply because they have never taught their dogs to control their impulses around doors and pay attention to their humans at that threshold. Some simple exercises can make you more relevant in your dog's lives, and they will pay more attention to what it is you want.

Teach them that they can get what they want, by first doing what you want. It makes life a lot easier, and it does save lives.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Natural Career Path

I got a great question the other day in response to blog post ideas (well, I got several, actually, but this one seemed a good place to start). I was asked how I became a dog trainer, and what drove me to make that choice.


In many ways, it was a natural career path. I was born into a home of dogs. My parents were dog breeders, who bred very successful show and hunting Labrador Retrievers. Most of my childhood days were spent with dogs of some age group. Along with the Labs we always had some kind of "different" breed as well, like Cairn Terriers, Mini Schnauzers (the first one I grew up with was in my preteen years), Shelties, and a few mixes. I grew up going to dog shows, watching my mother training, teaching little tricks to some of the dogs. This part of my life took up my first thirteen years.

 Then, as fate would have it, some larger life changes happened. My parents divorced and that part of my life ended. We still had some of the dogs, but that part of my life was over, until a couple of years later my mother decided to get back into breeding - this time Mini Schnauzers, a breed she fell in love with from having had our very first Schnauzer. One thing led to another, and I got involved again. I started training some of the Schnauzers myself. I did some conformation showing, trick training, and then Gaci came into my life.

Gaci is a special girl, in ways that I can't even begin to explain. The day she entered my life, her mom (my beloved Moxie, RIP), left my life as well. An emergency C-section gone bad resulted in a litter without its natural mom, and without the initial colostrum required for neonatal health. This resulted in the litter getting sick with a severe respiratory virus. The litter pulled through, they were all fighters. Gaci was met with some challenges growing up, though. She had great fears of strangers, despite normal socialization. She had a keen interest in moving objects (albeit normal behaviours....not so much on vehicles though). She had serious space issues with the other dogs she lived with, and tolerated minimal inter-female interactions. She had a prey drive to gawk at. She ended up causing a few squabbles that resulted in minor injuries to other dogs. I knew I had to do something, but....what?

When it came to tricks, I was doing alright. But more serious stuff was not within my grasp at that time. So I started researching. I found clicker training, and immediately became absorbed. It was fascinating, and it was almost as though it was made for me. I picked it up quickly, and before long some of Gaci's issues were clearing up with ease (the chasing of cars while on-leash, and some of her space issues). But I wanted more. I wanted to understand why she was so fearful, and why clicker training on its own didn't *fix* it. I looked into the local trainers, and could not find anything that I felt comfortable doing with my dog, and it was clear I was not going to find what I was looking for.

So when I graduated high school, I took up university. There I spent four years immersing myself in biology and psychology, studying animal behaviour, learning, motivation, and started delving into the brain and why it is the way it is. I learned why fear isn't something you can "train out" like you would teach a trick behaviour. I learned what it is in the brain that causes a dog to experience a fear response, and how the brain changes when it does experience that response. I was learning a whole new way of looking at dogs.

While doing my degree in university, I started doing some studying on the side as well. I started developing a library of the current books in dog training and behaviour. I questioned, I researched, I wrote things down, I tested things to see what worked, what didn't, and why - and I read some more. I started looking further than just training, into lifestyles and individual personalities. I started finding out what dogs really are, what they need to be happy and stable, and why they do the things they do (to the extent we can understand it). I realized that there were other changes I needed to make with Gaci, such as diet changes, exercise modifications, and developing routines that made her life easier. I also employed her - I came up with jobs for her to do, and she thrived.

One of the biggest things I learned, and in the end I learned it from her, was acceptance. Accepting her for what she is, continue pushing forth and helping her blossom, while accepting what cannot change now, and possibly ever. It's what makes her, her, and I value her every day for it (well, somedays she does become "his dog" and not my dog, but that's more me than her....!!). And we keep working, and she is a totally different dog today than when she first started. Just at her last vet appointment, a comment my vet made gave me shivers it moved me that much. She said "I can't believe how far she has come. She used to come in like a loaded cannon, and now she is a totally different dog".  She still might not be the social butterfly and appreciate human fondling, but she's just right for where she needs to be, and there's a lot of people who are proud of her.

Gaci basically was the one who began shaping my life as a trainer, as she taught me more than I could ever know or learn from a book. Living in a house of 8-12 dogs helped me out greatly along the way, watching the dynamics and relations that go on in a mixed group of dogs. Then my own dogs....... Shimmer, my sensitive girl, has taught me even more in patience (of a different kind), and Zipper is my wise old man (from 12 weeks of age he was a wise old man) who I am endlessly grateful for his patience, skills, and kindness to all he encounters. Every dog I have worked with over those developing years, I am eternally grateful to, for helping me become who I am today.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

There Are No Bad Dogs

Continuing on from the last post, there are many behaviours, such as digging, that are considered "problem behaviours". These are often the behaviours that cause the most anger, frustration, and upset for people. These are also some of the things that people need to take their dog to training class, or to call in a private trainer, to "fix". The most popular problem behaviours reported in dogs include:
  • Digging
  • Pulling on leash
  • Barking
  • Chewing inappropriate objects
  • Being separated from you.
  • Stealing food or counter surfing
  • Protecting valuable things
  • Jumping
  • Hunting small animals
  • Mouthing clothing or body parts
  • Aggression
  • Fear
  • Rubbing in/eating dead things
  • Marking
That is not the complete list, but as you can see there are many behaviours that people consider inappropriate. However.......

These are all 100% natural, normal dog behaviours! All of the things listed above are actually things that are considered totally normal in canine society. I'm sure if dogs could talk, they would tell you there was no problem at all, except that the human got unnecessarily upset at their actions they consider absolutely normal. That's like getting mad at a friend for brushing their teeth, or holding your hand, talking on the phone, or defending him/herself and family from a robber. All natural behaviours for people.

Does this mean you have to live with these behaviours? Of course not. The entire joy of living with animals comes from having a mutually understanding relationship. But it does mean putting some effort into understand what dogs are, and what behaviours are natural to them (and why!), in the same way we expect dogs to change almost all of their normal lifestyles so that they can live in harmony with us. We ask our dogs not to pull on leash, not to bark, dig, steal food, be upset when we leave, hunt or scavenge, to protect personal items, or defend themselves when pushed to their limits. We are actually expecting a lot from our dogs, and rarely do we give them credit where it is due! The least we can give them is a little understanding, and to help them learn to adjust to the ways that humans live.

We need to realize that these things don't come naturally to dogs (much to our chagrin), and that it is our responsibility, and ours alone, to teach our dogs what it is we expect. So many dogs would keep their forever homes if this was more widely understood. The old "But he knows __________" is a classic example of how we are not understanding our dogs. We expect them to conform to our ways - so it is our job to help them, understand them, and have patience with them while they learn.

And we do not need to teach our dogs to fear us to obtain these results - we do not startle, intimidate, or cause pain to those we love when we teach them to drive a car, or to do algebra, or to bake a recipe. It is the same when it comes to our dog's behaviour. Using compassion, kindness, patience, and clear signals that dogs are able to understand will help both human and dog build a strong relationship that leaves both partners happy and fulfilled.

Within the next few posts I will cover some of the above behaviours listed, what makes them problems for people, and what makes them normal behaviours for dogs, so it becomes more clear why the onus is on us to make positive changes and have our dogs and their humans remain happy while doing it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Springtime, Gardening, and....Digging?

I had an email this week asking me how I manage to control my dogs' digging in the yard, since I have terriers. I had to think about this, because I've never had to "control" my dog's digging, and we don't have any digging problems at home. The Schnauzers love to dig at the beach, you will often find Gaci digging up an animal's nest on a hike, and well, the typical way you'll see one of the Schnauzers in wintertime when they hear the mice digging paths under the snow is......above. So I clearly have dogs that love to dig! Why is it, then, that they don't dig in unwanted ways?

The biggest reason comes down to boredom and lack of exercise. Dogs who dig are generally dogs who don't have anything else to do. Dogs (those prone to digging) will often dig if they are not getting enough exercise. An underexercised dog will try to find ways to use up that extra energy, and digging is a great energy burner. Dogs that do not getting regular training, and toys to keep their minds busy, may find that digging is a great game to play.

Next, a more obvious reason (generally works in sync with the first reason above), is that they are unsupervised! Dogs who are supervised don't get the chance to dig holes, as you are there to witness and interrupt. Dogs who are placed outside in backyards, or on tie-outs, and left unsupervised for great lengths of time, will find something to do with their time, and can become successful landscapers in a short period of time. If you are not supervising your dog, you can't teach it about digging behaviour.

Digging is a totally natural behaviour for dogs. For some dogs (like terriers), it comes naturally and can be quite enjoyable. But like anything, you can teach a time and place for digging, you can teach incompatible behaviours for digging, and keep your gardens and grass intact. If it works for your home situation, you can build an appopriate "sandbox" that your dog is allowed to dig in. Teach your dog to dig in that one spot, and help out by hiding favorite toys and treats in there for Fido to dig up and enjoy. If you find Fido digging in your garden, interrupt his behaviour and rush over to the digging area you have created and encourage digging there. Reward for proper digging (hidden toys will be rewarding on its own as well). You can also take your dog to the beach or somewhere where digging may be allowable, to allow them that natural outlet.

For those who can't work with a solution that allows a dog to dig, the solutions are simple (but not always easy!). First, make sure your dog gets enough exercise for its energy level daily. Digging dogs tend to be higher-energy dogs, so it may include an hour or more of hard running, fetch, chase games, etc daily. Make sure you have puzzle toys that give your dog the chance to work at them (Kongs, Tug-a-Jugs, and Tricky Treat Ball are all great ones, but you can find many other types) and use up some of that energy. Make sure to always supervise your dog while it is outdoors - if you leave it unsupervised and it digs a whole or re-structures your flower bed, it's not the dog's fault. If you are watching your dog, you can control what it is doing. If your dog is digging to find a cool spot in the summer, ensure there is adequate shade and water for the pup to cool down. Consider offering a kiddie pool of water as another way to cool Fido down.

Digging is one of those utterly natural canine behaviours that we humans all too often label as "problems". Next time I will touch on the issue of "problem" behaviours and what it really means - to person and to dog.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Open for Business!

Courteous Canine is officially open for business! It's been a long wait, and in some ways came so quickly, but I am so happy to finally be starting on the path of what I hope will be a life-long career. There's still lots to do, and much more work to be done, but step by step we are getting there. I've had so many people help me out along the way, I can't begin to name everyone but I hope you all know who you are. I don't know what I would have done without all of you. I only hope I can someday, in some way, repay you for all the support I've received throughout.

I can't wait to bring some fresh training ideas to my community, and get involved with all there is to offer the public in terms of everything dog - raising awareness, education, teaching people to build or re-build relationships with their dogs, help dogs find their forever homes, and increase the number of happy, well-adjusted dogs that surround us every day.

I know my own trio has been super patient with me, and helping me at some of the most troublesome times in developing the business. There's nothing like the support of the ones who drive my career choices, with their wiggles of happiness and the humor with which they brighten up every day. If I could spend hours and hours running with them through fields and forests I would do it, to repay them for all they give me day in and day out.

On another note, we have our first agility trial of the year coming up next week. Gaci is my only entrant for that trial, but here's to getting our first Q's (we hope!) for my little spitfire!