Fred STOLEN!!! (just kidding… don’t freak out!)

We had the pleasure of having Fredman join us on our morning walk today!  Fred doesn’t get to come with us very often because my wife, Lyn, is afraid we might steal him and make him into a bird dog.  Hmmmm… maybe!

We parked the truck in one of our usual haunts; we all jumped out and were on our way.  It was a bit foggy at first.  After a few minutes of walking, I felt the sun warming the back of my neck and I saw a long shadow leaping out in front of me.  I knew it was going to be a good day!

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We could hear a bunch of trucks and heavy equipment working in the distance.  It looks like there’s a some road maintenance going on.  Large dump trucks full of crushed rock were rumbling down the road every 15 minutes or so.  At one point we were close to the road when I heard the truck approaching.  Just to be on the safe side, I blew one sharp blast on the whistle which I constantly carry on a lanyard around my neck.  I was glad to see that Fred still remembered his training.  His butt hit the ground just a fraction of a second after the labs.

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The dogs remained seated while the truck thundered past and I reached for my camera and shot this photo.  I think this will be a good visual aid to use when I’m teaching my obedience class.  I can show this picture while I’m explaining how the SIT command can keep a dog out of trouble.

The only thing better than a good, reliable SIT response is a good, reliable, remote-SIT response!  It’s easy enough to teach, especially with pups and young dogs because you can make it into a game.  Just move your SIT command over to a whistle by using both during drills, gradually shifting from “sit-toot” to “toot-sit” and eventually just TOOT.  Then you can begin throwing in a few toots while playing to see if the command/cue is sticking to the behavior.  If this goes well, you can carefully begin to extend the distance between you and your dog as you give the sharp TOOT for SIT.  Like other behaviors, keep your distances short and aim for 95 – 100% success before you extend the distance.  Most importantly, have FUN!  You have serious reasons for teaching this command, but it’s much easier to teach with a fun-and-games attitude.  Teach well and it will be there when you need it!

 

Slack Leads!

Beach Mutts!

Every year, about this time, Lyn and I take a trip out to the ocean.  Sometimes we take the camper and spend a few days beach-combing or fishing in the coastal rivers.  This year it was just a day-trip, but what  glorious trip it was!  We brought all four of our dogs with us which looks like this:

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It’s hard to see in the photo, but the back seat has been removed and I built a flat, stable platform for the dogs.  It’s a bit crowded with four of them, but they get along really well, so it works.

It takes about 2 hours to get to our favorite beach.  The dogs are very excited when we get there!

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This is Ginger’s first trip to the ocean.  She can barely contain her excitement!

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The trail meanders along the Copalis River.  What a great spot for a swim!

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Peck is determined to catch a seagull.

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He made at least a hundred attempts, but was never successful in bagging one.  That didn’t stop his enthusiasm though!  We walked along the beach for a little over 2 hours before we headed back to the truck.  The dogs never seemed to run out of energy, but they all slept soundly, in a big pile, all the way home.  Here’s a few more shots from the beach and the river trail.

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We were very fortunate to get a break from the rain.  We also had the entire beach to ourselves!  That’s one of the advantages to visiting the ocean at this time of year.  We did run into a couple people on the walk back to the truck.  Fortunately they were dog lovers and they didn’t mind being greeted by 4 overly friendly beach-mutts!

Except for the cost of a few gallons of fuel, this is FREE ENTERTAINMENT!  Go get some!

Stubborn Dang Dog!!!

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, “I love my dog, but she’s so stubborn, I can’t get her to do anything!”  Or maybe this variation:  “I’ve tried over and over to get him to stop digging, but he’s such a stubborn mutt!”

People love to imbue their dogs with human characteristics and stubbornness is one of them.  It seems completely harmless on the surface.  We have trouble teaching our dog a certain behavior so we just assume they are stubborn because we can’t get their compliance or cooperation.  Most of the time when I hear folks say this, I know they’re just being silly, applying a liberal dose of whimsy to a difficult situation.

The problems crop up when we say that our dog is stubborn and we begin to actually believe our own silliness.  Branding a dog as “stubborn” is tempting at times because it relieves us from the responsibility to modify behavior, “I wish I could get him to stop barking, but he’s just so dang stubborn!”  See how that works?  There’s a problem with a behavior, nuisance barking.  We try to fix it, we are unsuccessful, so it’s the dog’s fault because he’s “stubborn”.

I don’t like to make big, unequivocal, blanket statements, but let me go out on a limb here:

There is no such thing as a stubborn dog.

There.  I said it, knowing full well that I have opened myself up for a bombardment of allegedly stubborn behaviors, many of which I may have insufficient talent to fix.  Be that as it may, I will stand by my statement, “there is no such thing as a stubborn dog”.

Often, when a client or customer describes their dog as stubborn, I tell them, “There are no stubborn dogs, only unmotivated dogs.”  Then we look at the behavior we’re trying to achieve and we start searching for an effective motivation.

What I’ve found is a dog who knows you or accepts you as a handler will do anything you ask as long as the following 3 criteria are met:

1.       He must understand what you are asking.

2.       He must be physically and mentally capable of the behavior.

3.       He must be properly motivated to perform the behavior.

Number one is where things most often break down if we fail to gently teach the dog what we want.

Number two breaks down when we have unrealistic expectations about our dog’s mental or physical abilities.

Number three is the easiest one to miss.  I’ve seen traditional trainers use excessive amounts of force trying to motivate and I’ve seen positive trainers using inappropriate rewards in their attempts to motivate their trainees.  The possibilities for screw-ups are almost endless!

Let me tell you about my screw-up yesterday to illustrate my point.  I was running a T-drill with a retriever yesterday morning.  He had run the same drill in a different place the day before and he had been running this same drill with varying levels of challenges for quite some time.

The T drill is a common retriever training tool in which we place piles of bumpers at the top of a T and at the ends of the arms of the T.  Imagine the T as a big letter, written on the ground.   It can be just 10 or 20 yards tall for beginning dogs or over 100 yards tall for advanced dogs.  We stand at the foot of the T and send our dog in a straight line toward the top.  We have the option of stopping him anywhere along the line and sending him, via hand signals, to any one of the 3 piles of bumpers where he is to pick up one bumper and return to us by the shortest route.  More often than not, we just send him to the top pile where he picks up a bumper and returns directly to the handler.  That way he gets the idea that his main job is to run far and fast unless we say otherwise.

Peck was running the drill yesterday and for some reason he was running the route to the back-pile in a big curve.  I don’t mind a little variation from a straight line, but I don’t want to see big curves that slow down the return or put the dog in territory that is clearly off the line.  One of the main points of this drill is to teach straight lines so we can send a dog on a retrieve without worrying about him wandering into the next county or getting himself into trouble while he’s making a retrieve.

So… here’s Peck running out to the pile and making a big curve to the right, then making a big curve at the same spot on his return with the bumper.  This happened on two retrieves in a row, so I began to put some pressure on him to run straight.  I applied this pressure by yelling the command, “BACK” just as he neared the spot where the curve began.  Nope… didn’t work.  He still ran a curve, out and back!

DANG STUBBORN DOG!!

At this point I was getting frustrated because Peck is capable of running this drill perfectly.  I was tempted to up the ante and nick him with the e-collar to add more pressure to my BACK command.  Fortunately, I recalled my own little sermon about stubbornness.  I decided to take a walk and find out what was going on.  I sent myself on the same retrieve and took the curvy route that Peck had taken.  I paid extra attention to the wind direction to see if there was some scent that was pulling him off the line.  Sure enough, there it was, a partially eviscerated rabbit had been abandoned by a predator and the scent was pulling Peck off the straight line.

If we think about this scenario in terms of motivation we can see that it was actually amazing that Peck didn’t totally abandon his retrieving and go check out the tasty morsels that were lying there like a bountiful buffet line!

Peck had to decide if he was gonna make a perfect retrieve or if he was going to go have rabbit for breakfast.  I shudder to think that I was about to zap my dog for nothing more than obeying his nature.  This kind of stuff is going on all around us every second of every day in dog world.  There are constant motivators at work.  Some of this stuff is really difficult for us humans to even see.

So what did I do?  Well… I want my dog to be able to work in the face of challenges like this, so I shortened up the lines of the T and continued running the drill.  By shortening the lines I was able to increase my influence without resorting to force.  We cut the drill down from being about 125 yards to about 50 yards and it made all the difference.  Peck didn’t forget about the rabbit, but with me in close proximity he was more motivated to work with precision and less motivated to take a bunny-break.

The lesson I’ve taken from this is to look for the hidden motivators behind any behavior I am trying to modify.  Every behavior has a consequence and every behavior has a motivator.  There is no such thing as a stubborn dog.

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Happy? Excited?

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I’ve been watching dogs for a long time now.  I think observation is crucial for anyone who wants to work with canine behavioral issues.  Some dogs I’ve watched only briefly while others I have watched since they were born.  My yellow lab, Peck, was born into my waiting hands and I’ve been watching him ever since that moment.

One of the things that still intrigues me is the line between happiness and excitement.  Sometimes they look like the same emotion.  Other times there are well marked boundaries between them.

 An example of excitement for Peck would be when he sees me getting our stuff together for a walk.  His excitement is obvious, but there’s also a good measure of happiness thrown in too.

Another example that shows more happiness and less excitement would be when Peck approaches me for some petting.  Like most labs, he enjoys a good butt-scratch.  At these times his happiness is obvious but there isn’t the same wild excitement about him as there is when he’s anticipating a walk or a hunt or a training session.

Immediately after feeding is another time when my dogs show a good measure of happiness, wagging their tails, rubbing against my legs, licking my hands and face if I let them.  We could just call this submissive, food-seeking behavior, but I think it’s more a show of happiness in the form of gratitude.  Some of you may dismiss this notion as a gross anthropomorphism.  Maybe.

The reason I’m going on about the difference between happiness and excitement is because I see so many people who don’t seem to recognize any difference between these 2 emotions.  I’m sure you’ve seen it too.  One of the most common cases I see is when a person pets a dog roughly in a clear attempt to elicit an excited response from the dog.  Kids are great at this, especially young boys.  I often see young boys roughhousing with a dog and it’s easy to see they are both excited, but are they both really enjoying it?  Is this happiness?

Excitement and the hormones it releases also bear with them a measure of stress.  Hormone-fueled stress can have detrimental effects on humans and dogs alike.  It simply isn’t possible to avoid stress entirely, nor is it desirable.  On the other hand (paw), it can serve to make us better guardians and deepen our relationship with our dogs if we approach the dichotomy of excitement / happiness with a sharpened awareness rather than allowing things to “just happen”.

I’ve learned a lot just by trying to see the difference between happiness and excitement in my dogs.  Some of the stuff I’ve learned has made me a better handler and guardian.  Honestly, I’m not absolutely certain there is a clearly defined difference between happiness and excitement.  Maybe it’s kind of like comparing apples to apples.  But I know that looking for a difference increases my awareness and that has to be a good thing.

Try it!

Diesel’s Saturday Field Trip!

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I know quite a few dog trainers in our area and I’m happy to say that I really enjoy sharing tips and tricks with them.  Dogs, like humans, are individuals.  We can get a lot of knowledge in a general sense by working with a few dogs, but because of time constraints, we can only have direct experience with a limited number of individuals.  Anyone who trains for a living is going to have some experience to share that increases my knowledge and raises my competence.

I am fortunate to have a friend in a truly gifted trainer right in our back yard.  She is highly skilled in training for Agility which is one of the dog sports where I have no experience.  That’s why I was so excited when Kari Hammargren invited me to bring Diesel to her training facility in Graham.

On Saturday, for the second day in a row, Diesel loaded into the cab of my pickup with no fuss at all.  He settled right down as we headed for Kari’s place in Graham, about 20 minutes from Muck Creek Kennels.  We arrived after the usual Saturday class had gone home, but Kari was extremely generous with her time.  She dropped everything and opened the facility for us so we could try out some of her agility equipment.

Kari had us start out with a few easy things, a low A-frame, a wobble board and some short jumps.  Diesel breezed right through this stuff like he was born for it!  After we got through the easy-peasy stuff, Kari let us into a fenced area with a tall A-frame, a tunnel and a dog-walk that you can see in the photo above.  I was impressed with Diesel’s confidence and his willingness to try all this new stuff!

I guess we were at Kari’s place for about 45 minutes.  By the time we loaded up and headed for home my face was sore from smiling so much!  Wow!  That was fun!  One of the coolest things about Agility is the way this activity brings out the personality of the dog.  Diesel’s goofiness was in full bloom and it was a joy to watch him do his thing.

I can heartily recommend Kari to anyone who wants to get started in Agility.  Her number is 253 302 0856.  Thanks again for having us over, Kari.  We’ll be back!

Diesel Goes To Town!

We’ve been working towards the day when I could load Diesel up in my vehicle and take him to Woofers for a nail trim and (maybe) a bath.  I still have fresh in my mind the memory of his arrival here at the kennel a couple months ago.  During that brief trip he had managed to empty his entire bladder in the back of an S.U.V.  Apparently he was very nervous about riding in a car.  I didn’t want to repeat the experience in my pickup.

My solution was to spend several days getting him used to jumping in and out of the cab of the truck before we ever started the engine or put it in gear.  The first time I loaded him up he was very skeptical so we used the irresistible power of treats to get him to hop up into the cab, then we lured him out again.

I think it was very beneficial to proceed slowly.  The first 5 or 6 times we did the load-up drill, we never even started the engine.  That was the next step.  This step included leaving him in the vehicle while I got in and out a few times and later I would walk completely around the truck while he sat inside looking at me with that quizzical expression on his face.  After a couple days of running this drill, I finally put the truck in gear and drove back and forth in the driveway for a few minutes while a gave him lots of (calm) praise and finally stopped and let him out with very little fanfare.  Needless to say, each of these drills was preceded by a nice long potty-walk so the need to eliminate would not cause him to have an accident.

Yesterday I finally decided it was time to go for a real ride.  I talked my Mom into riding with me and keeping an eye on Diesel so I could concentrate on the road.  The trip went fine and we had no accidents!  Diesel was nervous at first, but finally settled down and just laid on his blanket in the back, where he enjoyed getting spoiled by my Mom who loves him.

After a 20 minute drive we arrived at Woofers Grooming & Goodies.  Diesel heeled to the entrance and walked inside with a minimum of fuss.  Once inside, I made a point of taking him directly to the Biscuit Buffet so his first experience after walking through the door would be a good one.

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From there, we went back to the grooming area where Andrea proceeded to give him a bath and trim his nails.  I did not stay in the grooming area because it’s almost always easier on the dogs if their owner isn’t present during the grooming process.  I was delighted to get a report form Andrea after the groom.  Diesel had been almost perfect.  The only thing that he didn’t readily accept was the blow drying around his neck area.  He’s still kinda sore there after several days of rambunctious play with Zeke who had a tendency to grab Diesel’s neck and hang on for the ride.

After his bath and about 30 minutes in a cage dryer, we headed back to the Biscuit Buffet for another round of snacks before the trip home.

Diesel Loves the Chicken Bites:

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These cheese gizmos are good too!

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Well… should we head for home?

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I love you too, buddy!

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Slack Leads!

That’s Just Ducky!

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The ugly, disheveled, saliva encrusted duck you see in the picture above is my dogs’ most beloved toy.  Every dog in our household (currently 4) has played with this pathetic, threadbare mallard at one time or another.  I’ve had “duckyducky” since 2009 when Kaia was a pup.  Duckyducky lives on top of my rolltop desk and he’s the focal point of all the dogs’ attention whenever they come into my home office.

We first began playing with Duckyducky when Kaia was about 8 or 9 weeks old.  This was her first retrieving object when we would play fetch in the hallway.  For those of you not familiar with retriever pups, the hallway is where we first start retriever training because it encourages a direct return with the object by limiting the directions in which the pup can run, walk, leap or fly.

Since Kaia’s puppyhood Duckducky has been instrumental in the training of several other pups and also some adult dogs.  The little, stuffed critter has been through some tough times, but like bumpers and other objects used to train retrievers, he is not abandoned to the dogs to be shredded like normal toys.  Rather, Duckyducky has become a kind of sacred reminder of the bond between the dogs and me.

He’s also a reminder to me about my role in the game.  When you look at this raunchy little ball of fabric you can see nothing that would explain the kind of intense interest that all my dogs have in this crusty toy.  That’s because there really is nothing special about the toy itself.  It is merely a representation of the bond we have built through playful interaction.

As we proceed into this New Year I want to renew my promise to share quality time with my dogs every day.  We will hunt, walk, train, or play together every single day.  Forever.  I promise!

Slack Leads!

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