Diesel Is Too Skinny!


Diesel is too skinny!  We need to put a few pounds on him.  I still believe that feeding a measured amount of a quality food on a consistent schedule solves 90 percent of eating problems, but this wasn’t working for Diesel.  He just wasn’t eating enough to gain any weight.

Diesel is currently feeding on Orijen Red Meat dog food.  For those of you who are dog food snobs like me, you’ll recall that this stuff is about 90 bucks a bag.  So I was a little miffed with Diesel when he turned his nose up at it.  He eats the stuff, but he’s not crazy about it. 

Orijen is the same food I give to my labs and they wolf it down like… well… labs!  My point is that I have a pretty good idea how much of this stuff to feed a 70 lb dog.  Diesel was only eating about half as much as I would expect.

Lyn, my wife and resident dog food expert/fanatic, suggested that I put probiotics in his food to help get his gut working right.  Her thinking was that once his digestive system was properly populated with all the necessary flora and enzymes that his appetite would improve.  I agreed, of course, and started putting the probiotic powder on his food.  I have seen this particular brand of probiotic work extremely well on other dogs but it takes time to work.  I was getting impatient.

On a whim, I decided to crack a raw egg over the food just to see if the old trick might work to get my skinny foster-dog to eat a little more.  It worked.  He started eating kinda tentatively, but soon began slurping and gobbling his food like a proper beast.  I was happy!

Behold, my shame-faced admission of a dirty little secret: I have snickered quietly at the last hundred people who told me the old wives tale about the raw egg on the food making the dog’s coat shiny.  Nope.  Not really.  It doesn’t do much for the dog’s coat that we’ve seen in the last five years of owning a groom shop.              But raw egg does seem to boost appetite!

At least it’s working for Diesel and that’s all that really matters to him.  I’m still gonna do the probiotics like Lyn said, but now at least I’m feeding the stuff to the dog instead of the garbage can! 


Dog Poetry


My dog, Peck, wrote this poem:


Oh, chartreuse orb!

Collector of spit

I long to leap

Through fields of wet grass

Sniff you out

Love in your every bounce

Rolls right in

My happy snout


I told him I thought the 2nd line was a bit unnecessary, perhaps even a tad overwrought, given the lighthearted nature of the piece.  He responded that I had totally missed the objective correlative element of the 2nd line and suggested I re-read T.S. Eliot’s lectures.



All Work and No Play…



We can’t work all the time!  We’re trying to work in some fun stuff with Diesel’s training.  By keeping the sessions fun it makes Diesel a better student and it makes me a better trainer.  We spend maybe 10 or 15 minutes on Sit and recall trials, then we get ourselves a good chewy toy and we lure Diesel thru some agility moves.  He loves it!

By using his favorite toy we help overcome his reluctance to try new stuff like jumping through the tire or walking up the ramp.  He caught on to the tire thing really quick!  The ramp will take a bit longer because I need to build a new one.  As you can see from the photo, the one I have is too narrow and too wobbly.  Wow!  Who built this piece of junk?

Maybe I should drag my lazy self away from this dog gone computer and go fix that ramp, huh?

In the meantime, would you please wrack your brain and see if you can think of the perfect guardian for Diesel so I can get him re-homed before we get too attached to one another?

The perfect guardian for Diesel would be a person who has some experience with the breed.  Diesel would prefer to be an only dog.  His new guardian should be fit and have lots of energy and time for exercise.  Diesel’s next home will need to have a fenced yard.  Diesel likes cats, but not in a way that cats would find acceptable, so no cats please.  We’re still working on getting a hold of his AKC litter registration so his new guardian could register him.  I’m currently taking care of all his expenses, but I will charge a re-homing fee to cover his training.  I’d like Diesel’s next home to last forever, that’s why I’ve decided to get his basic obedience in place before I let him go.  That being said, his new guardian could be training with us right now.  This would be much better than just driving away with a dog you’ve never worked with.

If you’re interested or you know someone who is, please call or email.


What a Bunch of Sit!


Diesel’s training is progressing nicely.  We have a Front-Sit that’s working well.  In the coming days we’ll try to build a Heel-Sit too.  First I think we need to work on steadying his Front Sit so that I can walk away and trust him to hold Sit reliably.  I begin this phase by stepping carefully to the right or left while he is in Sit, then returning to my position and reinforcing his steady Sit with a click and treat.  As he becomes more reliable I will stretch my movement until I can walk completely around him while he holds the Sit position without moving his furry little bottom.

I don’t normally train a “Stay”.  I think Stay is a goofy command because its meaning is so arbitrary.  Want the dog to stay in the car while you run in the store for a minute?  You tell him Stay, right?  Want him to keep sitting next to you while you fumble with your house keys? Tell him Stay!  And what do you tell him as you walk out the door and want him to remain in the house?  Stay, right?  Each one of those Stays means something different to the dog.  In many cases he can be expected to break the command because you really can’t expect him to remain on Stay for 4 hours until you get back, so he breaks stay the minute you’re out of sight.  If you’ve used Sit and Stay, he now gets to blow off 2 of your commands in one fell swoop!

What does Stay mean?  And, since your Stay command is arbitrary to the point of being almost meaningless, why should he listen with rapt attention to your other cues/commands?

So, Sit is a big deal in my program because it’s the cue/command that replaces Stay. 


Book Report: Positive Gun Dogs


Positive Gun Dogs By: Jim Barry, Mary Emmen and Susan Smith

This book is the result of a collaboration between members of a yahoo discussion group dealing with clicker training.  It is published by Sunshine Books which is part of Karen Pryor’s clicker training empire. 

Jean Donaldson’s blurb on the back cover states that this book is never preachy in tone.  Apparently being a clicker trainer herself has made Jean tone-deaf because this book is preachy as hell right from the get-go.  Already on page one of the introduction the authors describe “force fetch” as if it were some kind of torture carried out by medieval henchman in dark dungeons.  By the time you finish the first page of chapter one you will read:

If you were to ask the average gun dog trainer to explain learning theory, he or she would not be able to do so and might even scoff at the idea of needing to understand such a thing.

Blanket statements such as the quote above do nothing to enhance the view of clicker training in the eyes of the “traditional trainer”.  Rather, these kinds of derisive comments serve only to alienate so-called traditional trainers and boost the egos of the authors who apparently harbor a sacrosanct belief that theirs is the only “right” method.

My question is this: If you truly believe in positive reinforcement then why don’t you just present the positive and effective aspects of your methods rather than using so much space to criticize and impugn the methods of others?  In a book as short as this (100 pages) it seems that all the space used to denigrate other methods is a product of the authors’ insecurity with their own techniques.

On pg. 13 the authors tell us the one area in which they use traditional training methods is in “snake avoidance training”.  For this kind of training the authors grudgingly admit, “electronic collar training is the most reliable.”  Apparently they don’t want this kind of reliability unless it’s a life or death situation involving a reptile.  Many trainers prefer to have this same degree of reliability in other situations as well.  We’ve never hunted around snakes, but having a 100 percent reliable remote-sit has saved my dogs from peril more than once. 

The chapter on basic learning theory is helpful if you’ve never read anything about operant conditioning. The information is straightforward and well presented. There are some good explanations of the operant conditioning quadrant, the Premack Principle and other learning basics. 

The next two chapters go on to explain more detail about the practical use of positive reinforcement and how to keep records of training progress.  Here the book shares a problem typical of clicker training literature, namely the seemingly endless use of jargon and acronyms.  One would think that a tome espousing the wonders of learning theory would find some way to make its contents easier to digest without all the alphabet soup.

In Chapter 4, Obedience Fundamentals, I was dismayed to find:

…,in hunting the dog can drop the bird on the ground rather than delivering to hand as the dog must for tests and trials.

This statement indicates a lack of familiarity with hunting retrievers and the job they perform in the field.  All of the bird hunters I know require their retrievers to deliver to hand.  Dropping a bird at the hunter’s feet is a sure way to cause unsafe situations in the field because wounded birds can create quite a disturbance in a duck blind or a small boat.  A quick game of “chase the bird” in a crowded duck blind is never a good idea.  Loaded shotguns and wild bird chases in a confined space are a recipe for disaster.

Another thing I find disappointing is the attitude that hunt test and field trial dogs are somehow superior to hunting dogs.  As in the example above, such attitudes are often based on deeply flawed assumptions about the role of a hunting dog in the field.

What follows in the next 4 chapters is basically an adaptation of Rex Carr’s training system that has been used to train retrievers for 50 years.  The system has been adapted to focus more on the carrot and ignore the stick, so to speak, but most of the underlying structure and drills are the same.

I must admit that I experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance as I read the book.  I attribute this to the unusual combination of its condescending tone, and political correctness combined with the fact that parts of the book actually mention bird hunting as if it were acceptable to the authors.  In one paragraph the reader is admonished on the horrors of inhumane training and in the next we read about the importance of retrieving “crippled birds” quickly before they get away.  All the while the book consistently uses the female pronoun for dogs; her, she, etc., as if the authors thought they were addressing a group of feminist duck hunters.  Odd, perhaps that was their target demographic?

While the authors admit that virtually ALL the dogs performing at the top levels of gundog sports have been trained using traditional methods; they claim this is simply because the science of clicker training is so new that it hasn’t had time to reach the top levels of these sports.  I seem to recall Karen Pryor making similar claims in the 80’s.

I spent a considerable amount of time and money to learn what I know about clicker training.  I’m very glad that I did.  Within the realm of positive reinforcement are some very powerful tools to help learning and behavior change.  What I’ve also learned is that they are not always the best or most effective tools for every dog in every situation. 

Nothing in this book has changed my view which can be summarized as follows:  Traditional methods work.  Clicker training works.  If you observe carefully, a dog will show you what approach or combination of methods works best for him or her.  If you decide what approach to use based on human traditions or your own ideological convictions, you have ignored the dog.

In closing I would like to add that $24.95 (plus $5 shipping) is entirely too much to pay for this book. 

I Hope This Clicks!



Diesel’s training is underway!  Before we could really get started I wanted him to have a day or two to settle into our routine.  I also needed time to observe and make some decisions about methods and tools.

I decided to employ positive reinforcement and clicker training with Diesel.  Those who know me will already know that I use traditional methods with some dogs and clicker training with others.  I try to let the dogs tell me what is going to work best with them.

Diesel showed some timidity when I approached him with a training lead in my hand.  He also showed some other signs of subordination and/or submission that didn’t seem appropriate to the situation.  Basically, we’re dealing with some fear issues.  When I play with Diesel and get him in the mood for some rough-housing, the timidity goes away and he shows a bolder, more confident side.

Of course I could use traditional training methods to develop obedience in Diesel, but I would risk losing that happy, playful demeanor he shows when we’re just goofing off.  The trick here will be to get him to a place where he is making good decisions about obedience and still keep that happy-go-lucky attitude that makes him such a fun guy to be around.

Wish me luck!

Tall Tails and/or Science

Interesting article in the Washington post today.

NPR has the same story here.

Wonder of wonders!  Researchers have discovered that the manner in which a dog wags his tail reveals something about his present emotional state!  They even drill down to the evidence that shows a “right wag” or a “left wag” can give clues about the dog’s intentions to attack or remain relaxed at the approach of another animal.

Personally, I would probably be looking at the other end of the dog, you know, the end with all the teeth?  That end usually gives the most accurate clues about the dog’s emotional state and intentions.

I really enjoyed the comment section just below the articles.  There are some funny folks out there!  As you can probably guess, the discussion quickly devolved into emotional condemnations of docked tails and other atrocities.  Meh… not so fun.  People really love to criticize each other for their “wrong” ideas about dogs, don’t they?

Just so you know:  I’m wagging to the right at the moment.  Friendly and relaxed!