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!

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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!

Happy New Year!

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Among the 40,000 new laws that go into effect today is the new Tethering Law that takes effect in Illinois.   While some people see this kind of legislation as a win for the dogs; I see it as one more area of life where common sense is no longer necessary as the govt. steps in to regulate our relationships with our pets.

I don’t see how this law will really help dogs.  Responsible dog owners already know that tethering or chaining is a dangerous practice to be avoided whenever possible.  No amount of legislation will help uncaring or negligent dog owners to see the light.  This law simply legitimizes a hazardous and neglectful practice.  The new law regulates the length and weight of the chain or tether.  It’s kind of like having rules for how hard you can beat your dog.

Have I ever tethered a dog before?  Yes.  Often, while camping, I have placed a dog on a tether to be sure he or she didn’t run off into the woods while I was cooking or attending to other chores that took my attention away from the dog.  Obviously, this is a different situation than the person who leaves a dog on a chain all day while they are at work.  The use of a chain or tether as a primary means of containment for a dog is an outmoded and dangerous practice.  Statistics show that chained dogs are responsible for an inordinate number of dog bites.  All things being equal, a dog is far more likely to bite or exhibit other aggressive behavior if he is left on a chain.  Tethering, over time, can lead to behavioral changes and psychological damage to the dog.  At its worst, chaining also causes terrible physical damage to the captive dog.

So perhaps we should entirely outlaw the use of chains and tethers?  Nope.  That won’t work either.  The legislation of commonsense does nothing for animals, but worsens their plight by shifting the burden of common sense from the dog’s guardian to the government.  Do we really want to rely on government to dictate what is and is not “common sense”?

If we allow our government to decide how long a tether should be, how long will it take before we allow our govt. to decide that it is illegal to leave a dog in a car?  Wait a sec… that’s already illegal in some places.  So now, I am unable to take Fido with me to the store if I live in one of those places.  My dogs LOVE to ride with me in the truck, even if it means waiting for a half hour while I shop or do an errand.  Would I leave them in a hot vehicle on a hot day?  Of course not!  Fortunately I am blessed with enough common sense to make good decisions about my dogs.

It seems to me that people who support government control of every aspect of our lives simply don’t believe that they or their peers have as much common sense as the govt.  It boggles my mind that they can maintain this kind of blind faith in our corrupt, bloated, controlling nanny state.

Before you write me off as just another wild eyed, anti-government whack job, I challenge you to name one aspect of your life that is not already controlled or regulated by govt. in some way.

How’s that working out for us as a nation?

Slack Leads, People!

Video I Posted Yesterday

Yesterday I posted a video on the Muck Creek Kennels facebook page.  The video showed a kind of taste test that happened at the kennel yesterday morning.  One of our boarders, Zeke, a 6 month old Dobie pup, was not eating his regular food.  The stuff his guardians sent with him was Purina Pro Plan.  I put down a dish of Orijen Red Meat right next to the Purina he was ignoring and guess what?  He chowed down the Orijen like he hadn’t eaten in a week!  Then, later that day at evening feeding time he chowed another bowl of Orijen like it was going out of style!

You can see the video here.

In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you that I also sell dog food for a living, so I have a vested interest.  Keep in mind though, that I realize most folks who read this blog live hundreds of miles from our store and will never buy so much as a biscuit from us.  So, I’m not trying to sell you dog food, I’m trying to show you that sometimes when you have a feeding problem it’s because the food does not contain enough protein, it’s inappropriate for the dog’s needs and he knows it!

The argument can easily be made that there are tons of dogs who do just fine on Purina and other supermarket brands that contain mostly corn.  I would like to point out that for the first 30 or so years of my life I did just fine on sugar, fast food and beer.  Things started to change in my thirties though.

Another argument can be made that what a dog likes is not necessarily what’s best for him.  That’s a good point.  I have a dog that would happily gobble Twinkies all day long.  That certainly doesn’t mean that Twinkies are a good dog food.  At some point we need to put that argument aside and just look at this dilemma through the clarifying lens of common sense.  Cheap dog food contains large volumes of corn and corn gluten meal.  Why?  Because it’s cheap!  Ever see a dog grazing in a cornfield?  I didn’t think so.

Now that I’ve made myself sound like another whacky dog food snob, let me confess that I used to feed Purina to my dogs.  For many years, Purina and other popular brands were trusted names in the pet food industry. About 14 years ago, when I got a dog with hip dysplasia, I got to learn a lot about dog food. It started with the guy at the local feed store and I’ve been reading and learning about dog food and the dog food industry ever since.

You can learn all this stuff yourself too.  The info is all readily available.  If you don’t have time to go on your own quest for the best dog food, just take this advice:  If it’s cheap, it’s cheap for a reason.  If it’s spendy, there’s a reason for that too.  The easiest way to get a good dog food is to read the ingredient label.  Look for protein percentage in the mid thirties to fourties and NO grain, i.e. rice, corn, soy, wheat, etc.

Honestly, table scraps would provide a better diet for dogs than corn-laden kibble.  Before WWII there was virtually no kibble on the market.  Dogs ate table scraps, butcher scraps and bones.  There are lots of advantages of feeding kibble including the ease with which we can provide consistency and balanced nutrition.  The challenge is in providing a good healthy kibble.  Because the dog will have little variation in diet, the kibble he eats needs to be of very good quality.  Once again, the junk food analogy works well here.  We can eat fast food once in a while, but if you chow down at McDonald’s three meals a day for few years you might eventually develop some diet related health issues.

What I Did On My Christmas Vacation

Here’s a couple of good buddies:

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Zeke, the dobie pup is boarding with us while his guardians are vacationing.  After a couple of days of being kenneled close to each other these guys had to get out for a some romp time together.  I introduced them very carefully because they are both young, unaltered males.  They’re both high energy dogs and it was a blast to watch them together.

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Zeke also enjoyed some romp time with Bailey, who is always the life of the party when she boards with us!

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Yep, they all love Bailey!

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She’s not afraid of a little dirt.

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Bye, Bailey!  See you next time!

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