Archive for September, 2009

Don’t Touch Me There

Young Charlie has a few issues.  He lost or was taken from his mother at the age of about four weeks.  In a perfect world he’d have been put with a no-nonsense adult female dog who’d have whipped his snotty little butt into shape. But Charlie was being held as evidence so he was kept in a box stall with a group of similarly-aged motherless puppies.  The little hooligans were regularly handled by people – but they didn’t have an adult dog around to teach them the rules.

As a result of this less-than-perfect upbringing, Charlie grew up to be a very pushy little dog with a short fuse.  Fortunately for Charlie (and for me) one or more of his ancestors were thoughtful enough to bequeath him an exceptionally bright and resilient nature.  Charlie isn’t just a quick study, he recovers from stress as easily as any dog I’ve known.  Still…. we’ve got these issues to deal with.

One of the most problematic issues has been that when he arrived here Charlie had little or no tolerance to be touched with anything but my hands.  If I tried to touch him with absolutely any object held in my hand he turned into a whirling, snarling bundle of snapping jaws that weren’t going to stop until they made contact with flesh. Preferably mine.

I really hate getting bitten and I refuse to let a dog set the boundaries in our relationship – so I had to change Charlie’s opinion about being touched.  Borrowing from horse trainer Pat Parelli, I’ve used a modified version of  The Friendly Game to teach young Charlie that being handled could be a safe – and even enjoyable – part of his life.

The goal of so-called friendly games are to teach an animal how to stay calm when pushed out of its comfort zone.  Using a combination of approach and retreat we get the animal’s permission to touch every place on his body – without forcing him to accept it.   You will progressively use touch to push the dog  just a bit out of his comfort zone and then reward him with a release of pressure (i.e. stop the touching) after he tolerates it calmly. 

When you do this work with a dog he should be on a slack leash.  He must neither be held or restrained tightly nor be allowed to run away to avoid the game.  I generally prefer to put a six-foot leash on the dog and stand on the midpoint of it.  This keeps the dog close while giving him limited room to move and leaves  my hands free to work on him.

Start a session by touching the dog in ways he’s comfortable with and then gradually move on to the places or situations he’s less sure of.   If the dog tries to evade the touch, stay calm, ignore him and keep your hand (or the object you are touching him with) on the spot you have targeted. 

Initial work should be done in small increments to avoid putting so much pressure on the dog that he is pushed into reacting with an excess of fear, aggression or excitement.  Remember, the goal is to push the dog just slightly out of his comfort zone and then reward him for tolerating that pressure by ending the game.  This teaches the dog that he must allow you to touch him and shows him that it is safe to trust you to do it fairly.

As you work with the dog, pay attention to the areas and situations the dog isn’t comfortable with.  These will help you measure your progress and decide how quickly or slowly to move ahead with each new step in the game.  The game should be played a few times per session.  This helps teach the dog that he doesn’t get to decide when and how the game ends.

I’ve used friendly games to help lots of dogs.  Some of them started out dangerously aggressive when they were touched, and every one of them got over it.  Including Charlie.  This morning I put him up on an elevated stand and calmly, quietly brushed several large tufts of loose hair out of his coat.  Three weeks ago he’d have bitten me in the face.  Today I got some puppy wiggles and a big kiss.

Steps I took in desensitizing Charlie included:

  1. Started each session by touching him with firm, extended pressure with my hands starting at his withers and continuing to his hips.
  2. Moved on to using a very thin, light leash to touch his body.  I let the leash hang down from my hands let the loose end brush against his body.  As he got used to the sensation, I flicked the leash gently back and forth over and across his body.
  3. Used a heavier leash to do the same things.
  4. Looped up a 15-foot long line and did the same exercises with several loops of line.
  5. Tied a rubber udder tug to a leash and repeated the exercises, alternating with the looped line.
  6. Used the leash/udder tug combination, then shortened the amount of leash between my hand and the tug.
  7. Touched him lightly with the tug held in my hand, then with a Zoom Groom.

Once I got to the point where I could touch him with the Zoom Groom (about a week from when we started) we moved ahead more quickly.  I used the Zoom Groom and the back (non-bristle side) of a dog brush to touch him all over.  In every session I started by doing things he was comfortable with and in every session I continued on, calmly, quietly and confidently until I pushed Charlie just a bit out of his comfort zone.  I worked that ‘uncomfortable” area gently but persistently until he accepted what I was doing, then I ended the session.

Now as I progress to doing actual grooming work on him I’ll change the game a bit.  When Charlie decides he’s not comfortable with what I’m doing I’ll pause to acknowledge that I recognize his discomfort.  I’ll give him a second or two to regain his composure, then I’ll continue on.  This will teach him to accept working in longer sessions and further increase his self-control resources.

Allowing your dog to set the boundaries in your relationship, especially when it comes to something as healthy and natural as day-to-day handling, puts that relationship in a very unhealthy place. While on the surface it might feel like the easier, “kinder” way to go – in the long run it teaches your dog to be increasingly intolerant of being pushed out of his comfort zone.  And – it also leads to a dog whose comfort zone gets smaller and smaller over time.  This puts your dog into a very ugly feedback loop where he gets less tolerant of stress and  becomes easier to annoy.  In my experience this leads to a dog being rehomed, euthanized or relegated to a life where he is excessively managed.  And that’s not the way any dog would choose to live his life.

September 28, 2009 at 11:38 pm 6 comments

Stock Dogs Going on the Dole?


Is this the sheep dog of the future?

The Telegraph published a disturbing report today that Tesco, the largest retailer in the United Kingdom (and third largest retailer in the world) “has told New Zealand farmers, who supply the supermarket giant with lamb, to stop using the dogs unless they can be retrained to be “more considerate” towards the flock.”

Tesco’s benchmark standards for lamb production state that the animals must undergo “no abuse or mistreatment.”  I’m all for humane treatment of livestock, but this is completely and utterly ridiculous.  The Telegraph reports that:

Welfare experts expressed bafflement that the centuries-old tradition of moving sheep around with the use of a scurrying, yapping dog could upset the sheep.

However, Tesco was adamant that one of its largest suppliers in New Zealand, Silver Fern Farms in Fairton, should stop using dogs to herd sheep into the abattoir.

Unlike in Britain, most abattoirs are attached to farms in New Zealand, ensuring the farm does not need to truck its flock down the motorway to a slaughterhouse.

The supermarket wants the shepherds to wave their arms, beat sticks or wave flags, to move the sheep into the abattoir.

The surprise order from Tesco, which comes into force next week, came to light thanks to a letter sent to the Daily Telegraph by an upset reader.

Mick Petheram, one of the shepherds, said: “New Zealand sheep are used to dogs, they know dogs. There’s more stress in a human herding and manhandling them, waving their arms and beating sticks. Dogs are part of a sheep’s life. This is absolute baloney.”

Maybe things are different in New Zealand, but the American and British handlers I know tell me that a good dog moves sheep with far less stress than any man can.  The dogs that take the ribbons at stock dog trials are typically those that work the sheep in a calm, quiet way.  Most working shepherds prefer dogs that are kind to their sheep and a shepherd’s desire to have his dog work stock at an unruffled pace is rooted as much in practicality as it is in animal welfare.  Spooked, panicked sheep aren’t just stressed out sheep – they’re going to bolt – and that turns handling them into a time-consuming pain in the ass.  You shouldn’t need a doctorate and a pile of government funding to figure out that this is something experienced stockmen and women would prefer to avoid.

It appears that what we have here is a group of  starry-eyed “livestock experts” whose experience in animal handling lies almost entirely in the laboratory who want to “enlighten” the unwashed real-world masses about the importance of every animal’s right to avoid all fear and stress.

I suspect that this particular piece of insanity was derived from a study published in Applied Animal Behavior Science back in October, 2004 titled “Sheep show more aversion to a dog than to a human in an arena test” where “an arena test was used to assess differences in the aversiveness of a box, goat, human and dog.”  The abstract notes that the order of ‘aversiveness’ observed in the study was dog, human, goat then box.  Given those results I wonder why the ‘experts’ didn’t specify that New Zealand farmers need to use goats – or better yet empty boxes – to herd their sheep?

I didn’t read the entire study because I refuse to pay a fee to access what I strongly suspect is a complete and utter piece of sheep shit.  Paint me as a dyed in the wood cynic, but I seriously doubt that experienced shepherds or sheep dogs were used to conduct the ‘arena test’ – or even consulted on its design.  I also believe that unless an ‘arena’ of at least twenty acres in size was used (actually, I’ll lay odds that the typical kiwi pasture is ten to a hundred times that size) the sheep were crowded much too near the test stimuli to simulate anything even remotely approaching real world conditions.

Shame on the folks at Tesco for accepting this group’s recommendations.  Bad science dictating poor animal welfare standards is not a step in the right direction.  Worse yet, junk science like this just make it more difficult to promote truly meaningful animal welfare standards.

September 24, 2009 at 5:39 am 5 comments

Loose-Leash Walking FAIL


…maybe she needs a prong collar?


September 23, 2009 at 7:00 pm Leave a comment

When in Doubt, Best Stay Out

It’s  that time of year again.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has issued a news release yesterday warning pet owners of toxic blue-green algae blooms in lakes and ponds.

A dog died during the weekend after swimming in Fox Lake in Martin County, apparently as a result of exposure to toxic blue-green algae. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the dog’s owner said the dog swam in the lake on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 13, and was dead within hours.

Blue-green algae “blooms,” like those on Fox Lake and some other lakes around the state, can produce toxins. These toxins can be deadly to dogs or other animals if ingested, particularly when they clean themselves after contact with the water.

Blue-green blooms can occur throughout the summer, but the recent warm weather and lack of rain create ideal conditions for them. The MPCA has confirmed other blue-green blooms this summer but this was the season’s first apparent animal death attributed to them.

Algae are a vital natural part of the aquatic environment and most of them are harmless; but sometimes water conditions (typically in mid- to late-summer when warm, still, nutrient-rich water is common)  favor blooms of algae species that can be harmful to mammals.  Some (not all) blue-green algae produce toxins. 

Because toxic conditions can arise quickly in algal blooms and because laboratory analysis is the only way to determine when a bloom is harmful – all blue-green algae blooms should be considered potentially dangerous.

Blooms are less toxic to people, who typically just develop skin irritation or upper respiratory problems when they’ve been exposed to harmful algal blooms.  But dogs and other animals can die very quickly after ingesting water containing the toxins.  If you suspect your pet has ingested water containing blue-green algae you must get him to a vet immediately.

MPCA offers this advice on identifying blue-green algae blooms:

Research has identified the conditions listed below that tend to occur along with a harmful algal bloom. If you observe these conditions on your lake or pond, it is best to avoid contact with the water and keep pets and children out of the water until the bloom dissipates. 

  • Very low transparency, Secchi often 1.5 foot or less;
  • Very high chlorophyll-a concentrations, generally greater than 30-50 ppb; and
  • Very high pH, generally 9.0 or greater.

For those of you who don’t have a background in hydrology or geochemistry, the page includes several helpful photographs of blue-green algae blooms as well as photographs of harmless species that are often confused with them.  Click photo for link:


Have a pet-related business?  MPCA also offers this free pdf format poster on the dangers of blue-green algae.  I’m getting one printed up in large format for the training room.

September 19, 2009 at 3:26 pm 1 comment

One Time Rabies Vaccine Coming?

Rabies is a terrible disease.  It doesn’t just affect wildlife and unvaccinated pets – rabies kills people too.  Worldwide the disease kills more than 55,000 people a year and half of these children.  Most of these victims live in third world countries where vaccination and treatment are often unavailable – or unaffordable.

But those deplorable statistics may soon be a thing of the past.  ScienceDaily Reports:

A person, usually a child, dies of rabies every 20 minutes. However, only one inoculation may be all it takes for rabies vaccination, according to new research published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases by researchers at the Jefferson Vaccine Center.


The immune response induced with this process is so substantial that only one inoculation may be sufficient enough, according to Dr. McGettigan. In addition, the vaccine appears to be efficient in both pre-exposure and post-exposure settings.

Currently, the World Health Organization standard for rabies infection is post-exposure prophylaxis. The complex regimen in the United States requires six different shots over 28 days: five of the rabies vaccine and one of rabies immunoglobulin.

The current standard vaccine is made from inactivated rabies virus, whereas the experimental vaccine is made from a live rabies virus. The virus is modified by removing the M gene, thus inhibiting its spread within the vaccine recipient.

An inactivated vaccine contains whole virus particles that have been treated so that they can’t infect host cells but are still recognized by the antibodies, B cells and T cells of the immune system.  Inactivation is typically accomplished with solvents, detergents, pasteurization, ultraviolet light or acids.  The new vaccine has been inactivated by genetically modifying the m gene, which is vital in building and budding off progeny viruses.

Developing countries do not have the resources to vaccinate people six times after exposure, so many of these 10 million do not receive the full regimen,” Dr. McGettigan said. “Therefore, simpler and less expensive vaccine regimens are needed. The alternative may also be to treat people pre-exposure, as they are with many of the current vaccines used. Although our vaccine was tested primarily to be a post-exposure vaccine, the data we collected show it would be effective as a pre-exposure vaccine as well.”

If it proves to be effective, this new vaccine could save human and animal lives and lead to more effective, less-expensive and less invasive vaccine regimens for pets.  And it might lead to developing one shot vaccines for many more of the diseases affecting pets and people.  This would be a very very good thing.

September 19, 2009 at 3:05 am 3 comments

Kern County – NO Exceptions in Dog Licensing

KGET News reports a story of dog spies animal control officers run amok.

A Bakersfield woman says she has been hounded by county animal control officers to license her dog. Funny thing is, the pooch officials were so concerned about is a stuffed animal.

Dottie Elkin lives by herself in a quaint home in south Bakersfield. For the past few months the 83-year old says she’s hated getting the mail, due to letters she’s receiving from the Kern County Animal Control Department.

“I told them I do not have a dog, it’s a stuffed dog,” Elkin said.

That’s right, Elkin has a stuff [sic] “guard dog” named Wolf, keeping watch at her front door. For the last six months she’s been getting letters from animal control asking her to license the dog or face a $200 fine.

Apparently animal control officers were cruising local neighborhoods trolling for revenue searching for unlicensed dogs when they spied Wolf sitting in Elkin’s doorway.  In classic bureaucratic style, they immediately started sending letters threatening to fine her if she didn’t license the dog immediately.  And they continued to send these letter for six months – even after she informed them that they had made what they now refer to as a “legitimate mistake”.

Video of the story is posted on MSNBCHow in doG’s name did these morons get close enough to the “dog” to see that it wasn’t wearing tags without noticing it was a freaking stuffed dog!!!   Apparently Kern County officials have a very different understanding of the word “legitimate” than I do…

September 17, 2009 at 5:46 pm 3 comments

Heavy Metals Detected in Dog Toys

Several news sources today reported on recent testing conducted by Washington Toxics Coalition that found elevated concentrations of potentially toxic metals like lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury in a quarter of the pet products they tested.

The government has not set any standards for hazardous chemicals in pet products.  Some researchers use recommended levels for children as a substitute because pets and small children crawl around on the floor and put products into their mouth potentially exposing them to higher levels of surface contaminants.  Standards for these metals set by ASTM F963-07: Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety are 90 ppm for lead, 75 ppm for cadmium and 60 ppm for mercury in children’s products.   

The Washington Toxics Coalition’s press release states:

  • 25% of the 400 pet products tested had detectable levels of lead.
  • 7% of all pet products tested had lead levels greater than 300 ppm – the current Consumer Product Safety Commission standard for lead in children’s products.
  • Nearly half of pet collars had detectable levels of lead; with more than one quarter exceeding 300 ppm.
  • Nearly half of tennis balls tested had detectable levels of lead. Tennis balls intended for pets were more likely to contain lead, while the sports tennis balls tested did not contain lead.

The results can be found on the user-friendly website: You can look up products by manufacturer, brand, or product type.

September 17, 2009 at 4:15 pm 2 comments

Exercising Self Control

Exercising self control – it’s more than a metaphor.

An article published in 2007 in Current Directions in Psychological Science by Roy F. Baumeister, Kathleen D. Vohs, and Dianne M. Tice titled The Strength Model of Self Control  illustrates some fascinating and important parallels between self control and muscle strength. 

Self control is the measure of an animal’s ability to control its emotions and desires.  The ability to override impulse to obtain a delayed reward.  Self control is important in social interaction because it allows animals to alter their behavior to follow to rules and plans and to maintain social bonds and cooperate with others.

The strength model of self control postulates that:

  •  Self control is a limited resource.  When you use some of it you temporarily deplete your stockpile.
  • When your stockpile of self control is depleted, your ability to exercise it effectively decreases.
  • Your stockpile of self control can be restored by rest, nutrition and positive emotions.
  • If you use it regularly and well, your self control gets stronger over time.
  • Other executive functions appear to draw on the same set of resources that self control relies on.

So what does this have to do with dog training?  Everything!  Exercising self control is the basis of good social behavior, and most problem dog behavior is rooted in a lack of it.

How do you help your dog learn to exercise his self control?  First remember that it’s a limited resource.  If it’s late in the day and your dog is tired,  stressed out and / or has already worked hard to exercise his self control, give him a break.  He’s operating on a short fuse.  Don’t tempt fate by lighting it.

Second, make sure he gets regular mental exercise.  Letting your dog do whatever he wants whenever he wants allows his self control to atrophy.  To keep his self control strong, you need to do some training work with him every day.  It’s also important to maintain a consistent set of rules and boundaries because once these become habits,  they draw far less on his reserves.

Third, give your dog plenty of rest and good nutrition.  A weak, tired, thirsty or hungry dog is a stressed dog and stress depletes those vital self control resources.  If your home is loud and chaotic, give the dog a quiet place to rest and recuperate.  Feed him good quality food.  If he’s working hard or under a lot of stress, feed him twice a day.  Make sure he has plenty of clean, fresh water.

How do other executive functions factor into the equation?  The authors make an important observation about how executive function cross-training can increase our powers of self control:

Targeted efforts to control behavior in one area, such as spending money or exercise, lead to improvements in unrelated areas, such as studying or household chores. And daily exercises in self-control, such as improving posture, altering verbal behavior, and using one’s nondominant hand for simple tasks, gradually produce improvements in self-control as measured by laboratory tasks.

A lot of my clients tell me that they don’t want to bother teaching their dog those silly, time-consuming rules and formal obedience exercises.  They just want Cujo to stop attacking the mailman.  Now I have research that will help me explain exactly why they need to suck it up and do this work.  Training your dog to sit and heel accurately, refrain from jumping up on people, wait to be released at the door, navigate obstacles and other seemingly unrelated tasks can help him build up the self control resources he needs to resist the temptation of the mailman’s oh-so-tempting ankles.

Vohs et al. also point out that:

Not only self-regulation, but also acts of effortful choice and volition use the same resource.

This points to one of the great, and I think previously unrecognized, strengths of the Nothing in Life is Free or NILIF  program –  because when we implement it properly, we take away many of the dog’s opportunities to make choices, leaving more resources available for executing self control.  Think of NILIF as a self control savings account.

A 2007 article in the New York Times points out the importance of another kind of exercise:

One form of training, however, has been shown to maintain and improve brain health — physical exercise. In humans, exercise improves what scientists call “executive function,” the set of abilities that allows you to select behavior that’s appropriate to the situation, inhibit inappropriate behavior and focus on the job at hand in spite of distractions.


How might exercise help the brain? In people, fitness training slows the age-related shrinkage of the frontal cortex, which is important for executive function. In rodents, exercise increases the number of capillaries in the brain, which should improve blood flow, and therefore the availability of energy, to neurons. Exercise may also help the brain by improving cardiovascular health, preventing heart attacks and strokes that can cause brain damage. Finally, exercise causes the release of growth factors, proteins that increase the number of connections between neurons, and the birth of neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory. Any of these effects might improve cognitive performance, though it’s not known which ones are most important.

Based on these articles we find that a combination of regular physical and mental exercise and self-discipline combined with rest and good nutrition can help make you – and your dog – more cooperative, less reactive and better able to resist temptation.  Based on my experience – it works.

About two and a half weeks ago ONB foster dog, Charlie arrived at our place.  The first time I met him, he shrank back and gave me the evil eye.  The first time he met my husband, he threw a tantrum.  The first time I tried to leash him up and take him out of his kennel he tried to bite me.  He snarked and snarled at any dog that came near him. I put Charlie on a strict NILIF program.  The boy works to earn every crumb of food he eats, every toss of a frisbee, every iota of attention he gets.  He has to navigate obstacles – both mental and physical – in structured exercises every day.  He eats high quality dog food and there’s always clean water in his kennel.  He gets plenty of rest and exercise and I try to make sure I don’t to overtax his resources.

Today Charlie played off leash in a fenced yard with two calm, mannerly dogs.  He watched quietly and politely while strangers operated loud power tools (a chain saw, hydraulic splitter and large diesel truck)  just outside the fence.  And today, for the first time, Charlie decided he didn’t need a formal introduction to meet a stranger.  Without a formal greeting and without encouragement, Charlie crawled into our friend Dave’s lap, kissed his face then rolled over onto his back in blissful contentment.

Charlie’s issues aren’t fixed.  He needs to live in a highly structured environment to maintain this good behavior.  I still need to regulate the amount of stress he’s exposed to to prevent melt-downs.  He’s becoming obedient but he hasn’t had time to develop a set of good manners.  But he’ll get there.  Today we saw the real dog that had been lurking under Charlie’s suspicious, snarky exterior – and he is A Very Good Dog indeed.

“Throw, please?”

September 15, 2009 at 5:46 am 4 comments

The Origin of BSL

Hat tip to our friend Caveat for this link to the incredible, unbelievable video that finally reveals the origin of breed specific legislation.  K9 Magazine has the scoop! 


September 15, 2009 at 1:59 am Leave a comment

Disaster Averted

OK it was more  potentially time-consuming and annoying nuisance than true disaster but still, I’m glad we averted it.

This afternoon husband fired up the Big Green Egg to smoke up a little football night chicken.  Cooking meat at a low temperature on The Egg requires frequent baby-sitting trips to adjust dampers and vents, so he was spending a lot of time on the deck which overlooks Fort Peepage.

I had just returned from doing some work with Zip and Charlie when Mark came in with a concerned look on his face.  “We’ve got a chicken in the woods,” he said.  “Whose chicken?” I asked.  “Ours,” he replied.  Of course I should have known that it was our chicken but we had just clipped everybody’s wings a few days ago and I thought it would be enough to keep them in.  Apparently I was mistaken, so I told husband to take Audie and head down to the yard while I went to go get some grain.

I met husband and dog in the backyard where we hatched our plan.  I spread some grain by the back gate so the rest of the flock would gather there. Then I took the bucket and headed out toward the woods where Pansy* was running along the outside of the fence. 

Complicating matters, the area outside our fence is not only steeper than a horse’s face, it’s also covered in a thick mass of brush, bramble and poison ivy.  As I was wondering how I’d lure the batty pullet out of the brush Audie took the initiative and ran over to the fence. With minimal direction from Mark, Audie used gaze pressure to drive Pansy along the fence toward me.  Once she got close I showed her the bucket of grain – but, of course this had to be Pansy – the wildest, flightiest bird in the flock – and grain be damned, this girl had no intention to approach me whatsoever.  Fortunately Audie saw her balk and he put the pressure back on.  I backed away so she’d move past me, then moved in to drive her toward the gate – which my vigilant husband opened just as she approached.  Audie backed up, I moved in and Pansy darted through the gate, keening in excitement as she re-joined the flock.

Total time elapsed – approximately ten minutes.  A quick, and relatively painless job.  But… if we had had to do this without Audie I might have given up and just let Pansy find her own damn way back.

I *heart* my dog.  And my husband.
* Pansy – Named not for the flower but for her fearful, flighty, sissy ways.  She’s not my favorite chicken.  Neither is Serena, who in an amusing twist of fate, has turned out to be the mean one.

September 14, 2009 at 2:27 am 1 comment

Older Posts

Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste


Copyright notice

All original content on this Web site is copyright © on the date of publication by this author. All rights reserved except, of course, that others may quote from original content under the 'Fair Use' provisions of US copyright law.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 284 other subscribers

RSS New Stuff in our Library

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

Top Clicks

  • None
Top Dog Blog
Featured in Alltop


Add to Technorati Favorites
Dog Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
blogarama - the blog directory
Blog Directory
Blog Directory & Search engine
September 2009