Monday, November 30, 2009

More Canine Police Work

I continue to be fascinated with this topic. I mean, who could be a better partner than a dog? Not only are they loyal and steadfast, they bring skills that the human partner just can't match to the equation.
I just found out via a brief article in our local paper that there was another round of accreditation testing in our area - seven teams, from Clallam, Grayes Harbor, and Kitsap counties, participated in state Police Canine Association testing on November 18. All seven teams passed.
Now, this may not sound too impressive until I add that November 18 was the day we were on the coast watching one of the wildes storms to hit Washington in years. So the police/dog teams were doing obedience, off-leash control wor, tracking, evidence recovery, area searches, and building searches in high winds and lashing rains. It must have been a pretty miserable day for all involved. But not one team washed out (pun intended).
This makes me more excited than ever to attend the K9 Nosework to take place in Seattle in January. I have asked if I can bring my dog who can't be crated, and hope that the answer is yes. (It's a long story - I did teach him to crate after we finally formed a bond, but something happened at a camp while I was away from the crate and he was a total wreck, and would not get back into a crate after that. I didn't have the heart to go through it all again.)
Do you let your dog exercise his wonderful scenting abilities? We were tracking, but as the tracks got longer it became a bit much for this cancer patient who was doing it on her own. We still have fun dabbling with it from time to time. We play three-cup monte (with a ball under one cup). And I follow along on our walks as Nestle noses around, and sometimes am rewarded with surprises -- yesterday, it was a set of bear tracks.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Holidays

Yes, I know I'm a day late. I was busy doing many things yesterday . . . one of them making my first-ever roast in lieu of a turkey. I think the dogs enjoyed the change!
So I hope you had a happy holiday. And of course Christmas (or Hannukah) is just around the corner.
One of the things about which I'm always curious is "are your dogs included in your holiday celebrations"? If you traveled to friends or family, did your dog go with you? Is he or she welcome in the homes of others? If people traveled to your home, did you extend the invitation to include their dog?
When my mom and dad were still alive, and we got together at my brother's house along with my niece and her husband, the gathering included my brother's Aussie, my niece's Rottie, and our two dogs. Their presence meant that we spent some time outside, letting the dogs play, while we chatted about anything and everything, rather than plopped down inside in front of a television. Because we live in the country, that also meant wildlife observation of one kind or another, often including feeding my brother's pond trout. By the time everyone went inside, we were all relaxed (including the dogs) and ready to eat.
My brother's dog begs at the table (he sanctions such behavior), but all the other dogs laid down somewhere and ignored the festivities until the leftovers made their way into the kitchen. Then they were on red alert! (The kitchen is where dogs get handouts in both my house and my niece's.)
So it can certainly work. It does pay to have some training under your collar, of course. And to know not to hand out much in the way of turkey and fixings. Or any grapes or raisins or macadamia nuts or chocolate or raw onions. (Gee, that seems like a long list!) If your dog is a chocoholic (as mine is), then carob dog treats are a must-have. I'm definitely not against giving my dogs table scraps, but turkey is rather hard on their systems (I can't tolerate too much myself!), and too much can lead to pancreatitits, a life-threatening condition.
So again, I hope your holiday was happy, that you're surviving the madness of post-Thanksgiving shopping, and looking forward to Christmas. We are busy wrapping the presents that have to be shipped all across the country.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is the Law Out to Get Dog Owners?

There was a post on a list recently about a woman allegedly stopped while driving. The state patrol officer stopped her because he saw the dogs in her (capped) truck, and proceeded to say that they were being mistreated because they didn't have water, didn't have ventilation, etc., etc. The way the report was given, the cop was allegedly acting like an agent of the Gestapo and the lady was innocently on her way to a dog show and taking fine care of her dogs.
There is no documentation given to support this allegation. And in one paragraph it says that the cop asked for her entry forms if she was going to a show and she said that she didn't have any because she was going to enter at the show. Well, I don't know what sort of dog show she was attending, because any one I've ever been involved in has a closing date for entries well ahead of the show date. So that was one red flag.
But whether or not the incident itself actually happened, the website where the account is posted goes on to shrilly advise readers to carry their rabies certificates at all times lest their dogs be yanked away from them while traveling, and generally fomenting agitation.
At this point, I am tired of both sides of the animal rights debate. I'm sick of celebrities throwing their support to PETA without really knowing what they stand for, and I'm tired of the other side overreacting and making mountains out of molehills (or even nonexistent hills).
Can we all please try to agree that what we are actually after is animal welfare? We want our ainmals, be they pets or livestock, to be treated well, and we want the right to keep a reasonable number of them in a kind and beneficial manner. It doesn't seem that hard.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fascinated by Police K9 Work?

If you are (and I certainly am), then you may be interested in a new up and coming sport, K9 Nosework. Like tracking, this allows dogs to use their phenomenal scenting ability. But unlike tracking, it doesn't involve tramping around fields laying tracks and then running them. Instead, K9 Nosework is a lot more like "junior police" training.
By the way, did you know that there are several kinds of "police" dogs? I don't mean German Shepherds versus Belgian Malinois. I mean that there are sniffer specialists and there are patrol generalists. The sniffer dogs find drugs and/or explosives and possibly evidence, but they don't track suspects and they don't go into buildings ahead of officers. We have had both kinds in our local departments, but now they have all adopted the generalists.
Anyway, K9 Nosework has various levels of scentwork. In the first level, the dog has to find a scent amid a line or two of cardboard boxes. So that would be the sniffer dog police dog sort of work. In higher levels the dog has to perform a car search for a scent, then a room search for a scent. And there are different scents that are used.
You can google K9 Nosework to read more about it. Scentwork has been rising in popularity, and this avoids a lot of the walking that seems to keep some people from taking part in tracking (well, and some people just don't have an appropriate place available to them). You can do this sort of scentwork in any decent-sized room or outdoors.
You really should take the opportunity to let your dog use his or her nose. Dogs seem to delight in the activity, and it can be quite eye opening for the human part of the team.
K9 Nosework is having a seminar in Seattle in January, and that's near enough for me to make the trip!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Sad News from Housing Authorities

The anti-dog discrimination continues, and this time it isn't the military, but New York City public housing. Those in charge have declared a new policy prohibiting ownership of any dog exceeding 25 pounds. Officials say the policy is designed to remove dangerous dogs from the city's 178,000 public housing units, and that they are specifically targeting Pit Bulls, Doberman Pinschers, and Rottweilers. Service dogs are excluded (wasn't that thoughtful of them).
The mayor's own Alliance for NYC's Animals expressed outrage at the ban, but it took effect nonetheless. New York City Housing Authority spokesperson Howard Marder said "our responsibility is the safety of our residents." He went on to say that so far no one has been required to leave an apartment because of an oversized dog. He didn't say that somewhere between 1500 and 3000 dogs have likely been surrendered to avoid that eviction.
So here we are again, blaming all dogs -- this time of a size rather than a breed -- for what a few have done. Perhaps some residents only felt safe because they had a large, imposing dog living with them.
It is truly sad that a society supposedly based on "innocent until proven guilty" continues to promulgate such unjust legislation.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dog and God

No, this isn't the little song on YouTube. I've already posted about that previously. This is about an Associated Press short bit that was in my paper not too long ago. Accompanied by a photo of a woman carrying a long-haired Dachshund into a church hall, the text read as follows:
"Donna Merz with her dog, Gracie, attend services at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. The 30-minute worship service, complete with individual doggie beds, canine prayers and a tray of dog treats for the offering, is intended to reinvigorate the church's community outreach while attracting new members who are as crazy about God as they are about their four-legged friends."
I will admit I am not a religious person, so I don't understand exactly how this will reinvigorate the church's community outreach. But I can see some people more willing to spend time sitting in church if they could have their dogs sitting (or lying) with them. I mean, when we know we are going to the theater at night, we make an extra-special effort to give the dogs a great outing during the day, so they will be tired and not miss us for the four hours or so we are gone. I know most church services aren't that long (though some I have attended felt like they were), but still some people feel guilty about leaving their dogs, and some may be facing separation anxiety problems.
I don't know if this is a trend or not. But anything that helps to accept dogs more fully into society stands to be a good thing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Science and Dog Training

Here is quite a long article posted at, on the fact that sicence is on the side of positive training and not the "dog whisperer." That's not news to those of us who have been preaching positive training, though the number of scientific studies cited in the article is impressive.
But the article also raises a point I have been trying to address for some time: positive does not mean permissive. I think those who have declared themselves "purely positive" have done a great disservice to the effort to move dog training in a positive direciton. It has simply added fuel to those who criticize positive training as being "permissive" and "without boundaries." One person commented on a dog-oriented list that she no longer attends a specific positive dog training event because the many dogs there (presumably positively trained) are not under control. And that is a truly terrible thing.
I have never claimed to believe in purely positive. I have always said that I use clicker training and lure and reward training and, when necessary, negatives or, if you prefer, punishment. I have pointed out that because my training is based in positive methods, my negatives are very mild compared to what is commonly thought of as "force training." My dog reacts to a simple "att" as if he were being beaten. . . and that's not because I have repeatedly flicked him in the neck, a la Cesar Millan, before uttering the "att." It seems to be a cross-species inherently negative sound, and it has the desired effect. No need for choke chains or tossing the dog on his back or any of the other less-than-wonderful variations of punishment.
By using a small measure of punishment, my dogs understand that there are consequences for not following the rules. The rules exist mainly for the safety and well-being of the dogs, and occasionally for my sanity. (For example, I work at home, and I simply would not tolerate a dog who barks whenever I pick up the phone.) They are mostly benign (you may not jump out of the car until released to do so) and easily complied with.
My dogs behave so well in public that I have been told (by people who should know better) that I am an over-anxious owner and there's nothing wrong with my dog's confidence (he and I both know a lot better than that). I don't put him in circumstances he can't handle, and he trusts me to provide that measure of safety for him.
So if anyone reading this is a trainer or speaks to dog owners about training, please consider the point -- purely positive is not the name of the game. Teach first so the dog understands, then add consequences for misbehavior. That is the path to a happy, well-behaved dog and a tight and pleasant human-canine bond.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Microchips Aren't Magic

For years now, most of us dog writers have been recommending that people have their dogs microchipped for the most secure identification. So it is extremely disheartening to read a report in the November 1 edition of JAVMA (the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assocation) stating that many pet owners have their animals microchipped but then never register the microchips with a registry. Maybe some people have the mistaken impression that a microchip is some sort of homing device, like a GPS constantly tuned to their home address?
The report stated that a survey of shelters turned up 1,943 animals that were microchipped, but only 58.1% of those animals were registered so that the owners could be located and contacted. For 9.8% even the veterinarian who had implanted the chip had not reported to the registry.
So obviously veterinarians need to do a better job on two fronts: First, they need to register the microchip when they implant it, and second, they need to impress upon the animals' owners the importance of registering their own information. Without the appropriate information given to the registry, the microchip is useless.
And not only does the contact information have to be given to the registry, it has to be given afresh any time it changes. So if owners move, they have to contact the registry and update their information. That seems like an easier one to forget. Is all your contact information current for your microchipped pets?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Vacation Snapshots

As promised, here are some snapshots from our trip to the coast.
The first is Nestle enjoying some off-leash freedom at one of the big cedar trees. (Yes, I know he doesn't look like he's enjoying himself -- he doesn't like having his picture taken.)
The second is some of the sea stacks at fabulous Ruby Beach. This was the day we actually made it onto the beach. The next day the sea was running way too high.
And finally, those are some of the cabins at Kalaloch Lodge.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

Well, we are back from our vacation, all to a greater or lesser extent happy, drowned rats. If we wanted storm watching, we got all we bargained for and then some.
Wednesday was sunny and we toured the forests and some of the beaches, took our time on back roads, and checked in to our cabin in mid-afternoon. They presented us with two ceramic dog bowls to keep (part of their Four-Footed Friends package). The dogs approved of the cabin -- the floor was tile, but not the slippery kind, and the couch was a favorite of Nestle's. We had brought a chicken dinner with us, so that was met with great favor.
Nestle didn't like the fire in the woodstove too much, as the door on the wood box had to be left slightly ajar for the fire to draw enough oxygen, so he heard the occasional pop. But he was dealing with it. It wasn't until we decided to make chestnuts that things went south. Making chestnuts, at least the way I was taught to do it, can get a little smoky, and we set off a smoke alarm we didn't even know we had. Well, Nestle lives in fear of our smoke alarm at home, and this one was no different. It took hours for him to settle back down. Sigh.
That night the storm arrived, and it felt and sounded like the weather was trying to get into the cabin with us. If the door hadn't had a deadbolt, it would surely have blown open. There were sporadic ice storms, high winds, torrential rain. I half expected my car to be perched on the cabin roof in the morning.
The waves the next day were running very high, so we were cautious about the beaches. We did get onto Ruby Beach, one of the most scenic in the park, but couldn't stay too long, as the tide was coming in. We used viewpoints only for the other beaches. But we visited big cedar tress in the forest outside the national park, and the dogs adored being off leash in the forest in the wind and rain. Diamond, the 16-year-old, went running off on her own adventures several times, sending us running after her. But she was so invigorate and puppy-like, that we just kept running to keep her with us rather than putting her back on leash. Nestle was sniffing all there was to sniff and exploring the huge cavity inside the massive cedar. We were taking pictures.
That night we couldn't keep a fire going because the wind was down drafting in the chimney so much. Score one for Nestle. But later that night we had thunder, another one of his non-favorites. The wind had died down a bit, but the rain still came in sheets. The restaurant packed up our dinners so we could eat in the cabin -- very obliging. We both bought lovely lined rain jackets after being soaked to the skin in an ice shower.
We all slept a lot last night. But as soon as we picked up car keys, the dogs were still right there, ready to go. They are really great travel or home companions.
I haven't downloaded my pictures yet, but I'll try and post a couple next time I blog.If you ever travel to Washington with your dog(s), I can recommend the Aramark string of hotels at Kalaloch, Lake Quinault, and Sol Duc.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Life Returns to (sort of ) Normal

It's now almost a year ago that my second cancer diagnosis landed me in the hospital. . . and out of the hospital and back in the hospital. . . for what seemed like years. It actually was the better part of two months. The collateral damage from that was my mentally fragile dog, Nestle, had what seemed to be a sort of doggie nervous breakdown. He had always been the perfect gentleman in the car. Now, after I repeatedly disappeared into emergency rooms and didn't return home for a week at a time, he couldn't stand being left. He ate Christmas presents, he repeatedly chewed the rubber covers off the brake and gas pedals, he chewed the knobs off the radio, he removed the plastic doo-hickeys that hold the floor mats in place. He chewed the cover off the 12-volt plug-in.
He couldn't help himself. And I understood. But as things started to normalize. . . or at least not require hospitalization. . . it got hard to deal with not being able to leave a dog in the car. I mean, I take the dogs practically everywhere, and this was seriously crimping our style.
We worked on it as if it were separation anxiety (which it was, only centered on the car). We gave him a new verbal cue. We gave him a Greenie as a visible indicator. I consulted my vet, who runs a mixed practice, and he started Nestle on two Chinese herbal formulations that are supposed to help calm.
For months and months, nothing really worked. We got to where we could leave the car for a few minutes and Nestle would stay in the back, but his whole front would be covered with drool when we returned, and he looked like a crazed meth addict.
But time rally does seem to heal most wounds, though in this case quite a lot of time. Last month a change finally started. If we left for a few minutes, he wasn't in such a terrible state. He still wouldn't eat the Greenie while we were gone, but he would snatch it up the second we returned. He seemed more settled. So I have gently increased leaving him, and occasionally increased the time, and he is doing well, I'm very happy to report. I may soon have my old trustworthy dog back.
And I have to wonder, how would this have ended for the run-of-the-mill dog and dog owner? I mean, I'm a trainer and a dog writer, and I'm pretty invested in what happens with my dogs. I know a lot of other people are, but I know a lot aren't. I wonder how far thigns could have gone before the dog ended up never being taken for a ride again, or even surrendered. Ah well. If that were the case, Nestle would have been surrendered long ago, as he was a total basket case when I adopted him.
Anyway, we are about to enjoy several days of long car rides and visits to national park beaches.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Even the Germ-phobic Like Dogs

I got a surprise when I tuned in to the latest episode of "Monk" on Friday. The show featured a dog, and not just as a walk-on, but as the essential piece of evidence in solving the case.
For those of you who may not know, the lead character, Adrian Monk, is a bundle of neuroses, and he's afraid of elevators, milk, a zillion other things, and germs. So when a murder leaves a dog without a home, he isn't a likely candidate for taking the animal in, but they set it up nicely so the animal control person essentially signs a death sentence for the dog (I think her name was Shelby), and Monk ends up with her.
He leads her around his apartment on leash, telling her the kitchen is off limits, the couch is off limits, the bedroom is off limits, and opens an umbrella upside down on the floor in the entryway and tells her that's her corner. Of course as things progress, Shelby is welcome in more and more of the apartment. Mr. Monk wears heavy gloves that almost look like falconer's gloves to touch her, but touch her he does. He calls a vet emergency line when she goes off her foot and is panting a lot and is told it sounds like she is delivering puppies. And sure enough, she does, with pretty much the whole cast present. The puppies, being tailless, are supposedly evidence that Shelby mated with the chief suspect's Australian Shepherd, and I won't go into the whole issue of THAT actually working as a plot point.
I was thinking, as this is the final season for Monk, that perhaps they were going to provide him with a dog for companionship. That would have been nice. But no, Shelby and her puppies go off with some lady and her daughter, conveniently introduced in this episode, who have 3 acres and can take them all and keep the family together. Mr. Monk has visiting rights, and says 2 pm every day.
I'm sure they will now completely forget about Shelby and we will never see her again, but it was nice to add a bit of humanity to Mr. Monk and make him a little happier for a time. At the end of the show, he even took off his glove and petted Shelby bare-handed.