Archive for July, 2008

AKC Finally Takes Action in Denver

This just in from AKC:
      (more than a little overdue….)

AKC Represents Dog Owners in Challenge to Denver Breed Ban

 

[Wednesday, July 30, 2008]

 

The American Kennel Club® (AKC®) will be joining Karen R. Breslin of the Progressive Law Center, LLC of Lakewood, Colorado and the Washington D.C. office of Kaye Scholer LLP in representing dog-owning plaintiffs Sonya Dias and others who are asserting that the Denver ordinance banning pit bulls within the city limits is unconstitutional.

In March the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, where the plaintiffs’ 2007 lawsuit was originally filed, dismissed the suit without granting a hearing. A brief is being filed today in the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit asking to reverse that court’s decision and grant the plaintiffs/appellants a hearing on the unconstitutionality of the Denver breed ban. The original lawsuit stated Dias and the other owners were forced to move out of Denver with their dogs because of the ban which they asserted was a violation of, among other things, their constitutional rights.

The Denver ordinance bans ownership or possession of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier and/or any dog with a majority of physical traits of one or more of these breeds within the city or county of Denver. Since 2005, as a result of this ordinance, several hundred dogs within the city limits had been euthanized.

The AKC supports reasonable, enforceable, non-discriminatory laws to govern the ownership of dogs. The AKC believes that dog owners should be responsible for their dogs. We support laws that: establish a fair process by which specific dogs are identified as “dangerous” based on stated, measurable actions; impose appropriate penalties on irresponsible owners; and establish a well-defined method for dealing with dogs proven to be dangerous. We believe that, if necessary, dogs proven to be “dangerous” may need to be humanely destroyed. The AKC strongly opposes any legislation that determines a dog to be “dangerous” based on specific breeds or phenotypic classes of dogs.

July 31, 2008 at 10:45 pm 1 comment

So.. What IS it Worth?

In today’s Albert Lea, MN Tribune Tim Engstrom wonders:

But if you are the owner of a trained dog, don’t you sometimes feel society gives little reward to you for the time and money you invested in obedience school? Don’t you wish the graduation certificate could function as a permission slip to bring your dog in stores or at least more stores than at present? Or even into government buildings and places such as trains, bus stations and shopping malls?

Today, we as dog owners find ourselves in an untenable situation.  At the same time that the number of dogs living in our country has dramatically increased (by approximately a million animals a year since 2000 according to the Pet Food Institute) the number of places we are allowed to take them has dropped precipitously.

The current politically correct, obsessively all-inclusive environment is the root of the problem.  When we reward everyone who just shows up, we cheapen the achievements of those who did much more.  Worse yet, we also create a society where extrinsic rewards are the focus.  Unlike the fleeting rush we get from extrinsic rewards (like money and ribbons,) intrinsic rewards (like the feeling of achievement one gets when hard work is rewarded) give us a deeper, long-lasting sense of accomplishment.  And since they  are internal (self-rewarding) rather than external (must be given by others) intrinsic rewards are available at any time and in any place.

We have come to expect the extrinsic rewards of instant gratification’s drive-through speed and convenience in nearly aspect of our lives.  And in a world obsessed with instant gratification – programs that emphasize (correctly) that training your dog is a lifetime pursuit are not likely to thrive….

This politically correct, all-inclusive, one-size-fits-all view of the world is – in reality – utterly intolerant of true diversity.  It’s not politically correct to allow some people to have more rights to public access with their dogs simply because they are responsible pet owners who train, socialize and clean up after their pets.  Current ‘wisdom’ says that we simply must reduce access privileges to meet the limitations of the lowest common denominator – those who can’t be bothered.

So, bit by bit and piece by piece, the rights of responsible pet owners everywhere are stolen chipped away by entitlement-driven, feel-good pet owners who put more effort into choosing a pair of shoes than in making the decision to take an innocent life into their hands.  And for some reason – we sit back and let them do it.

Your dog, your rights.  What are they worth to you?

July 31, 2008 at 5:37 am 2 comments

Why Zombies Make Great Dog Trainers

The only completely consistent people are the dead.
                                                                   —
Aldous Huxley

The perfect dog trainer?

Consistency is a key factor in dog training. Dogs crave consistency – a consistent world is a predictable one.  The problem, as Huxley noted, is that humans don’t seem to be programmed for consistency.

Some days I think that the only thing the typical pet owner is consistent at – is being inconsistent.

I hound my students endlessly about this. 

The thing is, if you don’t make the effort to give your dog consistent input on his behavior – good or bad – he’ll look elsewhere for that information.  And he’ll find it.

Many dog owners get frustrated when their dog doesn’t obey a command.  They nag the dog a bit, get frustrated and give up – “too busy” to follow up with enforcing their command.  The problem is made even worse when the various members of the household have differing ideas about what is or is not important for the dog to learn. 

Most of these mistakes are insidiously subtle in nature.  Normal humans are not programmed to notice that Billy lets Fido jump up on him all the time; gramma has a fit every time he jumps up on her and Susie thinks it’s fine for the dog to jump up as long as she’s not wearing good clothes.  The problem is that your dog is hard-wired to notice and remember these things.  Keeping track of that kind of information is how he makes sense of his world.

Inconsistent behavior is confusing to a dog.  It takes your dog time to understand the concept that he must obey commands and have good manners in a wide variety of situations.  Our dogs need our help to learn to generalize – and in many cases our actions are (albeit unwittingly) proving to be more hindrance than help.

Many dog owners get into the unfortunate habit of giving their dog a command when they aren’t in a position to enforce that command.  When this happens too often, the dog, being a brilliantly observant student, learns that listening to his owner and obeying him is optional.  This is probably not the lesson you want your dog to learn – but if you consistently put him in a situation where he is not required to obey your commands, you are doing a zombie’s very effective job of teaching him just that. 

You must have a plan in place to enforce each command before you give it.  Especially in the early stages of proofing behaviors.  It’s simple to teach a dog to sit for praise or for a treat.  It’s much more difficult to teach him to sit calmly for long periods of time, in strange places around distractions.  If you don’t have a plan and you aren’t consistent, you’ll never achieve that goal.  And the cold, hard truth is that when this happens, you are failing to be the kind of owner your dog deserves.

Consistent behavior creates habits and habitual behavior is very strongly retained.  Your training program and your day-to-day interaction with your dog should be one and the same so together they can form the basis for the manners your dog lives by instead of a set of tricks he performs on command.

– And no, consistent training absolutely will not turn your dog into a mindless zombie.  Zombie infection is a tick-borne disease, not the result of effective training. –

July 29, 2008 at 11:39 pm Leave a comment

Dogs and Logs

bff Audrey and I drove up to Stillwater, MN today (Sunday) to catch the finals of the Dogs and Logs DockDog World Championships.  My friend Sue Meyer and her 9-year-old German Shorthair Pointer Tanner of Team MyTDog, qualified in the Big Air competition, so we’d come to cheer them on in the finals.

Sue and Tanner in front of loggers doing ‘the creation of adam’
Sadly, they didn’t make the finals (results are available here).  This is Tanner’s last year competing and even if he and Sue weren’t friends of ours, we’d have been rooting for him.  He’s a beautiful, sweet-natured, athletic, highly-disciplined dog.  Just my type.
 
Audrey and I enjoyed the event even more than we thought we would.  The folks who put this event together did an absolutely fantastic job.  The DockDogs events (big air, extreme vertical and the new speed retrieve event) were interspersed with the Stihl Ironjack World Championship events (chop, saw, climb, axethrow, crosscut, boom run), which kept the action moving at a pace that left us unable unwilling to leave our seats.
 
Here are a few pics of the event, taken with my pocket digital.  Sorry for the so-so quality.
 Blast off!
Acrophobics need not apply
Hang time
 They all stayed dry!
The logging championship was, I must say, as entertaining to watch as the dockdogs competition.  The men competing were incredible athletes – strong, quick and agile with amazing endurance.  I think it was the fellow who won the overall world championship who, in his acceptance speech – thanked his orthopedic surgeon and chiropracter.  Yup.  Considering the fact that these guys climb high, run fast, walk on water — and do most of it with very sharp things in their hands — that made perfect sense.
The dogs who took honors in the DockDogs finals didn’t make speeches.  They mostly just grinned and cavorted at their owner’s feet while they accepted the trophies.  I had the distinct impression that, lovely as they were, those trophies meant nothing to the dogs.  They were just there to enjoy the journey — and were therefore winners, every one of them.

July 28, 2008 at 6:25 am Leave a comment

New in Books

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

I don’t read much fiction, so I tend to be pretty darn choosy about what I do read.  David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is proving to be well worth my time.  It’s a fascinating book that weaves bits of Skakespeare’s Hamlet, Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain, Scott and Fuller’s Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog  and Vicki Hearne’s Animal Happiness into a coming of age tale set in a kennel in rural Wisconsin during the 1970’s.  I’m thrilled to report that the book avoids the quirky adorableness, purely positive political correctness and glorification of indulgent dog owners who act as mere spectators in their pet’s lives – that far too many of the dog-related novels written today have tortured me with.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is most definately not a feel-good story, and at 576 pages it isn’t a quick, easy read.  But it does provide a fascinating look into the lives of rural Wisconsin and the lives of dog breeders and trainers.  The kennel and training routines depicted in this book are some of the most authentic and insightful depictions of this life I’ve read in a work of fiction.

As many of the reviewers on amazon.com have noted, I agree that (as good as it is) the book could have been much improved by a more thorough editing.  But, unlike most of those reviewers, I wasn’t put off by the long, detailed descriptions of the Sawtelle’s day-to-day activities with their dogs.  I found them fascinating.  It’s obvious that Wroblewski is well-read on the subject of dogs.  I’d love the chance to sit down and chat with him.

UPDATE July 27, 2008:  This interview with Wroblewski was just published in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune.  It just reinforced that gut feeling that I’d like him.

Dog Behavior, Evolution and Cognition

Eotvos University in Budapest, Hungary is the Mecca of canine ethological studies today.  The work being done there is brilliant and ground-breaking.  So, of course, this new book by Adam Miklosi, the head of the school’s Department of Ethology was a must read for me.

From the author:

Until now, the study of dogs was hindered by the view that they represent an ‘artificial’ species, but by accepting that dogs are adapted to their niche, as are other ‘natural’ species, comparative investigations can be put into new light.

From a review in Current Biology:

Whether one is a behavioral geneticist, a population biologist, a psychologist, an anthropologist or just a dog lover, one cannot help but wonder about the lives of dogs and our lives together with them. But even though Darwin began the Origin of Species with examples of dog domestication, and Pavlov’s dogs were the first to reveal to us classical conditioning, until now there has been no place to obtain answers to questions such as these that are based on rigorous scientific research.

Adam Miklosi’s new book aims to fill this gap and will be a landmark contribution to the study of animal behavior, evolution and cognition. Over the past decade there has been an explosion of interest in dogs and it is this work that Miklosi uses to provide us with the first modern scholarly review of all there is to know about dogs — and the first review of scientific research on dogs since Scott and Fuller’s pioneering book Genetics and Social Behavior of Dogs published in 1974.

Miklosi himself has been at the center of the surge in research interest on dogs over the past decade. So there is no one in a better position to write the first modern review of dog behavior, cognition and evolution. He has played a leading role in the work of the largest research laboratory working exclusively on dog behavior and cognition, at Eotvos University in Budapest, Hungary. In many ways this book is also a tribute to the hard work of his colleagues. Miklosi and his team have published scores of empirical papers on all aspects of dog behavior and cognition that test phylogenetic, ontogenetic, and even functional explanations of behavior. 

The book is organized into eleven chapters. The first two summarize the history of canine research and discuss conceptual and methodological issues related to the study of behavior. Each of the next eight chapters has a theme: dogs in human society; dogs in comparison to other canids; genetic versus archaeological evidence of domestication; the perceptual world of the dog; physical and environmental cognition in dogs; canine social cognition; behavioral development; and temperament and personality in dogs.

Also from Current Biology:

This new book is a testament to the bright future of research on dogs. Miklosi has made the case for how important the dog is becoming in the study of animal psychology. The days of dogs being considered artificially created animals for use in conditioning studies have given way to the recognition of the dog’s rich social life requiring it to adapt to the most complex primate of all. With the increasing costs and ethical dilemma often created by keeping nonhuman primates in laboratories, dogs may provide a particularly attractive option in the future for psychologists interested in studying the cognitive processes in nonhuman animals (pet dogs are recruited for non-invasive research as in studies of humans). Miklosi’s new book will be a central fixture in all future work on dogs, as it will be the first place that students and experts alike will go to review unfamiliar topics or search for new research ideas. And it is not just researchers who will benefit. The book will be essential reading for all those using dogs as helpers for the handicapped, assistants to law enforcement, or just those who want to understand their best friend a little better.

If you are a dog lover or a student of animal behavior – you NEED this book.

A Dog In Hand: Teaching Your Puppy to Think

This book written by George Gates, DVM is a lovely little guide to using pressure/release touch to control and calm your pet.  Temple Grandin writes:

As a person with autism, I can relate to Dr. Gates’s use of hand pressure to calm and train puppies.  Pressure applied to large areas of my body induced relaxation.  These methods work because they imitate the natural behavior of a mother dog teaching her pups.

This insightful book contains an abundance of practical information on puppy behavior.  The use of these methods will help prevent future behavior problems in adult dogs.

In this surprisingly short and simple book, Dr. Gates writes about the way that modern society has become removed from nature and animal husbandry – and the impact this has had on pets and pet owners.  He talks about the difference between love and respect, and discusses why just rewarding good behavior and ignoring bad may feel good, but it won’t instill respect — or show a young animal that you really care about it.

Along with several good examples of how to use touch to restrain, settle and calm your pet, there are a lot of little gems of wisdom in the book.  Gates says:  “The easiest thing in the world is to say yes; there is never resistance to yes, while there is always resistance to no.”  And, “If a puppy is allowed to do any and every thing he wants to do and no one says no, how will he believe that any one cares what happens to him?”

Limits and boundaries may not be the current fad in dog training – but they’re a vital part of raising any youngster (human or canine) to be a functioning part of society. 

It is perfectly natural for young animals to resist authority, and perfectly natural for their elders to require them to submit to authority.  Their resistance is driven by a need to learn the trust and respect they need to acquire necessary skills of self-control.  Imposing our will on them gently but firmly, teaches young creatures how to control their excitement and anxiety through trust and respect.  And it is a vital part of any partnership.

July 27, 2008 at 12:56 am 2 comments

Summer Safety Links

Its a busy Friday.  I have dogs to train, contractors to meet and I need to go make some final selections for the kitchen project.  Since it’s also the height of summer, it seems like a good time to post links to blogs with summertime safety information.

Gus gives Ghillie CPR - note his excellent form!

Gus gives Ghillie CPR - note his excellent form!

This post from GunDogDoc has excellent information on recognizing treating heatstroke.  While you’re there, look around a bit.  Dr. Joe Spoo has an excellent new blog.  We’re regular visitors.

FrogDogBlog – appropriately (since Carol breeds French Bulldogs) – has another very good post a couple of very good posts on the importance of not being a complete and utter moron when comes to leaving pets in hot cars. 

Luisa over at Lassie Get Help has a couple of very good posts on the dangers posed by foxtails. 

Pat the Terrierman wrote this little gem on dogs and porcupines. 

This is our post about tornados and thunder storm safety, written back in May.

And last, but not least, this important article from our Dr. Marty Becker at PetConnection on how to recognize an emergency – something EVERY pet owner needs to know.

Have a safe weekend!

July 25, 2008 at 9:08 pm Leave a comment

Why I Hate Flexi-Leads

Thanks to my friend Jill who inspired this.

The flexi-lead or retractable leash, is a tool that is enormously popular with dog owners — and hated by many dog trainers.

When a client shows up at my place with one, I tell them that they’ll have to give it up while they’re working with me.  When they ask why, I give them a few of the top eight reasons why I hate flexi-leads:

ONE:

Because of the dozens of times I’ve been in big box pet stores and seen Fido in aisle two urinating on products, ‘shop-lifting’ treats or snarking at customers and their dogs – while his owner stands utterly clueless in aisle three chatting with a friend. Or the hundreds of times I’ve been accosted in parks and on sidewalks by a lunging beast who’s owner either grins inanely at me (as if I think this is fun) or pointedly avoids eye contact (after all, she can’t interfere with her dog’s fun).

Flexi-leads lend many owners a false sense of security. They assume that simply being attached to their dog is an adequate substitute for paying attention to it. This typically leads to a pattern where the owner (securely attached to his dog) ignores the dog as it repeatedly engages in inappropriate, self-rewarding behavior thereby allowing the dog to train himself to behave badly in nearly every situation when he is out in public.

TWO:

Because the flexi-lead appears to have been specifically – and nearly perfectly – designed to teach dogs to pull. Dog pulls – dog gets REWARDED with more space and freedom. Dog stops pulling and dog gets PUNISHED by leash and collar pulling back on him.

This represents the most nearly flawless schedule of reward and punishment seen in the dog training world as the leash is NEVER loose in between the dog pulling on the leash/owner and the leash pulling back on the dog.Unless you are a skilled dog trainer (or [gasp!]) use an electronic training collar), it is impossible to teach a dog to walk politely on a loose leash using a flexi-lead.

THREE:

Because freedom is something that should be earned, not given. Would you give your car keys to a 14-year-old child so he could ‘enjoy his freedom’?  Would you let the same child go “say hi” to the stranger he met on an interweb chat room because the stranger (or the guy with him) assured you that, “It’s OK, I’m friendly”?  Of course not (I hope).

There’s a reason toddlers stay in play pens, young children play outdoors when supervised and preteens get their first tastes of freedom only when their parents have a very good idea of where they’ll be, who they’ll be with and what they’ll be doing. — It gives them a chance to learn rules and boundaries while they mature so that they can make good decisions on their own when the proper time comes.

Letting a dog that hasn’t yet been given proper guidance and training on the rules and boundaries for the society it lives in doesn’t make sense either – and it’s confusing for the dog.

FOUR:

Because it puts the handler in a position of constantly being reactive instead of proactive on the walk. The dog is given nearly unlimited freedom – until he annoys or worries the owner – then the owner reacts to the dog by taking space back from him (or trying to).  If the dog is regularly allowed to take all the initiative on the walk and never has to earn the freedom of space to explore, he’ll never appreciate it.  He’ll see it as his God-given right.

A dog that thinks that he makes decisions AND that he is entitled to unlimited space and freedom is a dog that will never recognize his owner as a leader. He is therefore much more likely to challenge the owner for freedom (and other resources) and to resent the owner when he doesn’t get it.

FIVE:

And we haven’t even gotten to the safety issues yet.  Dog owners don’t seem to be aware that there is danger associated with the use of this tool — even though the manufacturer makes a point of informing uses of this in the packaging and on their website.

Dangers include burns on human and canine body parts when the cord or webbing of the lead gets wrapped around body parts.  When this happens (and it happens a lot), at best you have a nasty tangle of line wrapped around an excited dog.  In a less fortunate situation a two- or four-legger will trip and fall or the line or get a rope burn.  The worse case scenario is amputation or strangulation.  Not things any sane person wants to risk.


In Which Zip tries (unsuccessfully) to kill Audie

SIX:

Other dangers include potential hazards to a dog who has moved ten to twenty-five feet beyond an unattentive owner.  Being hit by a car, attacked by another dog, smacked or pepper-sprayed by a person who doesn’t welcome his advances or eating something toxic without his owner realizing it are just a few of the ugly possibilities.

SEVEN:

And then there are those pesky leash laws.  Most of them specify that a dog be on a leash that is six-feet or less in length.  Most flexi-leads, when fully extended (as they usually are) won’t comply. Leash laws also typically require that the dog be “under control” and, all too often, this is not the case when an owner substitutes physical attachment for control (see number 1).

EIGHT:

Then there are those gawd-awful, awkward handles on the dratted things.  Even if you are a conscientious dog owner who pays attention to your dog, it can be darn near impossible to take control of him with a hand brake from 15-feet away.  And – if you drop the handle as your dog bolts away, he may run even faster as he is startled by the sound of the hard plastic handle bouncing along behind him.

For more information on flexi-leads see: Glock or Flexi – Which Would You Rather Carry

July 25, 2008 at 12:32 am 29 comments

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