Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Human Familiarization and Training Program

I have only been able to access the abstract of this article so far (darned paying work gets in the way of tracking down and reading interesting stuff sometimes), but it sounds quite interesting, though not surprising.
A study in Belgium investigated the performance of military working dogs. The dogs were divided into two groups, one trained in the traditional manner used by Belgian Defense and the experimental group also receiving a new "human familiarization and training program." The abstract does not go into any detail about what this program entailed, but the abstract intro notes that dogs can use a number of human social cues to successfully accomplish tasks.
The results state that the experimental group performed better, with better overall results and a "higher body posture" (I would guess demonstrating more self-assurance), than the traditionally trained dogs. The final sentence notes "Regular training combined with positive dog-handler interaaction is also required to increase the dog-handler team's performance."
This sounds promising, and I hope to have the time to track down the full study soon. Getting the military and police to move away from force-based training has been a tough nut to crack (despite Steve White's continued efforts), so studies like this can certainly help the cause.

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Dogs Make New Work

We have worked hard over the past week to install fencing around the portion of the larger yard that either didn't have it or had it in bad condition. Teddy had already gotten out twice, and we couldn't have that keep happening. He's a good guy, but he doesn't know his boundaries yet, and he's very quick on his feet and hard to catch. Training has started, but we're nowhere near a reliable "come" cue yet.
This got me to thinking about things we put up with related to our dogs. I have tons of desk work. I am, in fact, running far behind today because of time spent on fencing. I can't make it up tomorrow because I have to travel back to Edmonds to do a big group book signing. So I am stuck here until I do what has to be done. All because I had to drop the desk work while my brother was available to help, and go out and work on fencing.
Then of course the dogs need their exercise, so yesterday afternoon time was taken off to let Teddy have his first go and staying in the yard off-leash. That meant we had to be out there with him, trying to keep him within visual range. We have a couple of small sections of woods, and some buildings behind which he can disappear, and we weren't sure yet that we had fixed all the weak points in our containment. So we traipsed merrily from one end of the (4 acres) yard to the other, over and over, following Teddy's eager explorations. This despite the fact that the weather had turned typically northwestern and saw spitting rain.
Teddy had a grand time. He and Nestle almost initiated play. (I expect that will come when the exploration isn't so very enticing to Teddy.) And about the umpteenth time we maneuvered around near the front door, I opened it, called Nestle in, and Teddy came with him. . . for which he got rewarded with whipped cream.
We will have a few more supervised outings, then will hope that there are no as-yet-unfound weak points, and just go about our business as usual with us and the dogs out in the yard, without having to chase the little white streak hither and yon.
Do I resent spending the time to make the yard safe for Teddy? No. I regret the confluence of events that mean I can't make up the time tomorrow, but those are the breaks. It's worth it to see the little guy running around in utter joy at being free. He's very funny to watch run, with his little stumpy legs, but boy, he can cover ground!
I find dogs so enticing, beautiful, funny in so many ways, the payback is always more than the effort.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Animal Abuse Leads to Additional Cruelties

Okay, this really shouldn't be news, because I've been aware of Frank Ascione's work for over a decade. A professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work, Dr. Ascione has studied the topic of animal abuse and its relation to child abuse, spousal abuse, and even serial killing for many years. Yet this article appeared in the New York Times only last week, reporting that "animal abuse is a clue to additional cruelties."
I don't know where the disconnect has been, but I'm glad that finally states are paying some attention. The article reports that counties and states are increasing the penalties for animal cruelty and trying to develop better methods for tracking convicted animal abusers. They are including animal hoarders in the animal abuse designation.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is quoted as saying that animal abuse is not more prevalent, but "what has changed . . . is the recognition that animal abuse is often a warning sign for other types of violence and neglect." They also note that in these times of economic crunch, states also have less money to handle the costs associated with caring for animals of busted hoarders. Franklin County, Ohio, reported that caring for more than 170 dogs from a hoarder cost over $1 million.
The majority of states now have legislation that shifts the payment of care for abused or neglected animals to convicted defendants. Most states now also authoritze vaterinarians to report suspected animal abuse (something I'm sure vets are still not eager to do).
Tennesse and California are considering bills to create online registries of animal abusers, similar to what is done with sex offenders. It would cover adults convicted of felony-level animal abuse. Arkansas, Illinois, and Oregon have recently enacted laws requiring investigators of human abuse and animal control officers to inform one another when they find instances of abuse in a home. One of the sponsors of a similar bill in Connecticut noted that animal abuse is one of the four indicators used by FBI profilers to assess risk of future violent behavior.
Professor Ascione noted that "Often children are not willing to talk about what is happening to them, but they will talk about their concerns about what they are seeing done to their pets." Recent case have demonstrated that when children hinted at animal abuse to their teachers and the teachers alerted animal protection workers, the workers found warning signs of other types of abuse and social workers went in and found that the children were being abused.
All but foud states now have felony-level animal cruelty laws. May they use them well.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spot On Flea Products

Full disclosure: I have never liked the idea of the spot-on products. It always seemed to me that they could rub off.

Now reports from the Environmental Protection Agency seem to confirm my feelings.

It's certainly no surprise that dog products used on cats, or large dog products used on small dogs, would cause problems. These products are poisons, after all, or they wouldn't work on the fleas. The alarming part of the message, to me, is the new advice to keep dogs and cats separated after using the products. There would be no reason to do this except that the dog product could transfer to the cat, either by contact or by licking.

If this transfer can be made, then it is also conceivable that products could transfer to bed linens, clothing, or hands petting the dog. So are you now not supposed to touch your dog after treating them with a spot-on product? For how long? And if the product is meant to flow over the dog's entire body after being applied to only one or two spots (another fine point that has bothered me about these products), then does it also flow over human skin once it comes in contact?

I have written endlessly about flea control, and have always had a hard time recommending these products to anyone but a person with a dog with flea allergies. I had one of those myself, and it was hard to get satisfactory control (and I lived in California at the time, where the flea infestations are much worse than in the Pacific Northwest), and still I didn't use the spot-on products on my own dog.

I use Program, which is not insecticide, but a sort of birth control for fleas. Its ingredient has no effect on mammals. True, it doesn't kill the fleas, and yes, we do have a few bites from time to time, but it is effective in not letting an infestation take hold. I am happy with its results, and very happy not to be putting a poison on my dog every month.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New Dog. . . from Taiwan

First, people have asked to see Teddy, so I will post a picture of him here. We don't have any great pictures yet, but this will give you an idea.

You can't really tell how short his little legs are here (very). He is a compact 17 pounds.

The strange thing about Teddy is he is from Taiwan. I still feel a little strange about this. A rescue group in Edmonds imports dogs into rescue. . . small dogs, of course, because they are in demand. To save myself the heartbreak of visiting multiple shelters (there aren't a lot of small dogs in shelters around here), I went to Petfinder to look, and there I found Teddy (then known as Duke). The only other small dogs were a couple of Maltese (deemed too small by Judy - yay! - I would have constantly worried about stepping on them), a whole bunch of Chihuahuas (not a candidate for either of us), and an older Shih Tzu. The only local dog was the Poodle/Bichon mix who took a chunk of hair out of my dog Nestle when they met. So that left Duke/Teddy, and the way things fell into place (the phone call inviting us to meet him came during the only 5 minutes we were home and indoors that day, we had just seen and rejected the local dog) made it seem fated.

But it still feels strange to have a dog from Taiwan. His Chinese exportation papers are fascinating. A veterinarian asked about the possibility of importing disease (as the post-Katrina dogs helped spread heartworm around the country). But the papers list a variety of diseases/parasites not seen in Taiwan, plus other diseases/parasites for which Teddy tested clear. So it doesn't seem like a problem.

I spoke the few phrases of Chinese I know to him, and he did seem to perk up. But he is fitting in well, and appears to be quite happy with his new digs. Yesterday, when he came home (Judy is still in class, so is taking him with her, leaving him crated in the car, and taking frequent breaks to walk him) Nestle and he greeted each other with nose licks (Teddy has to stand on his rear legs to reach Nestle's nose), and then they had their first indoor play session, and Teddy grabbed a fuzzy squeaky toy for the first time. So it seems like a good fit all around. I regret not helping a local dog out of rescue, but there just isn't much choice. In fact, I took a look at ALL the local dogs on Petfinder and only found one that would suit my own less-stringent requirements as far as size and type. Rescue seems to be inhabited by Chihuahuas, Pit mixes, Lab crosses, German Shepherd crosses, and perhaps hounds right now.

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Dog Reminders

It has been nearly 12 years since we brought in a new dog, so though I know all the things we need to pay attention to, it still comes as quite a shock to have to do the work. New dog Teddy has already (1) gotten out of the car when a front door was opened (teaching "wait" rose to the top of the training program) (2) gotten through the fencing around the yard (admittedly not totally secure, but unchallenged by previous dogs -- it became the work goal of the weekend) (3) done a little digging in the yard (time to rebuild the digging pit, but that got delayed by the fencing issues).
Teddy is already signed up for the next available Pet Dog Manners class, starting at the end of the month. But we are working on "wait" and a recall in the meantime. I also have to dig out my nylon tracking line to have on Teddy whenever he is outside the secure dog yard, because he is far too fast and nifty for us to be able to catch him without a drag line. Fortunately, running away from him back into our yard worked, and he followed like a shot. . . after investigating much of the neighbor's acreage.
But he has had no problems with housetraining (he's two years old, and though he was in a shelter in Taiwan and then in rescue here, he has experience with living in a home), he rides well in the car (aside from zipping out any open door), he learned at some point that sitting up will get him a treat (not with us, but he's still trying), he and Nestle played for the first time this weekend (before Teddy left the yard), and he's generally settling in well. He did not object to being brushed, and we will try teeth brushing and nail clipping soon. He will see our veterinarian on Thursday, so we'll get an idea of how he responds to that.
We are all tired from keeping up with this youngster! Once we were settled for the evening yesterday, Nestle disappeared into my office and slept in his bed away from all of us. I think he wanted to be sure he wasn't interrupted!
My roommate hasn't decided yet if she wants to do pet therapy with Teddy. He seems like a fine candidate, so there shouldn't be any problems if she does.
On a side note, the AKC is offering a discount on signing up for its mixed breed program right now, so even though I don't plan to compete (well, maybe in Rally if the opportunity presents itself) I think I will sign up Nestle and Teddy just to support the program.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Author Signing

Just in case anyone reading this is local to my area, I will be doing an author signing on March 27 at Edmonds Bookshop (in Edmonds, WA) along with about a dozen other local authors. My latest book, The Trick Is in the Training second edition, will be there with others.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dog Camps

I saw a posting today about Canine Club Getaway at Roaring Brook Ranch in Lake George, New York. I don't know the ranch itself, but Lake George is a popular New York getaway. This camp says it offers agility, swimming, lure coursing, hiking, frisbee, flyball, tricks classes, barks and crafts, plus seminars by trainers, behavior experts, veterinarians, and canine nutrition professionals. For the owners, there's horseback riding, country line dancing, gourmet dining, and a spa.
There are plenty of other canine-centered gatherings every year, including Dog Scouts and Camp Gone to the Dogs. They seem to be increasingly popular, although our attempt to have one here on the Olympic Peninsula was a total failure. At the Dog Scouts camp I attended (sans dog), the attendees seemed to be evenly divided between returnees and new campers.
So I have to ask, what's the deal? Who actually attends these camps? Somehow I don't think it's the average dog owner (or there would be WAY more of them). Some are for specific sports, so those are easy to figure out. But the general camps, who do they attract? We tried to penetrate the Seattle market to draw from the nearest population center, but apparently failed, or maybe Seattle-ites just aren't interested.
I haven't got a handle on this, and I find it perplexing. Would you attend a camp for dogs? Would anyone you know? Just who do they attract? They were popular before stay-cations, so that isn't it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Positive versus Negative Training

The dog lists are all abuzz with debate over the wisdom of Premier Products (purveyors of the Gentle Leader, Manners Minder, click sticks, and other dog-related products considered acceptable or admirable by most positive trainers) selling themselves to Radio Systems (purveyors of electronic fences and shock collars).
Some well-respected names in the dog training and dog biz are involved in this acquisition, and say that the merger will encourage Radio Systems to develop electronic devices for positive trainers, and thus push the agenda of positive training. I wish them luck, and I wish it were so, but the Manners Minder itself is the most applicable case in point.
Originally marketed as the Treat n Train through the Sharper Image catalog, it is a remote rewards device that was sold along with a DVD of how to use it to teach a dog to "go place" (i.e., lie down and stay in a specific location). It did not sell well. It went through a slightly modified version and still didn't sell well, and then went to Premier as the Manners Minder. Quite a few trainers have one of the old or new version -- I have one myself. But it never made anything like a wave as far as selling to the general public.
On the other hand, electronic fences and shock collars are wildly popular. I cringe at ads by a local radio host I thought knew better, enthusiastically promoting an electronic fence. I try to ignore the lovely display of shock collars when I visit the local Petco. Most of the pet supply catalogs I receive have a whole section of electronic devices such as shock collars, Scat Mats, electronic fences, bark breakers, all based in punishment. I'm sure they sell or they wouldn't continue to be carried by the catalogs.
I'm a realist. I understand that some people may have covenants that prohibit them from building actual solid fences, but still need some way to contain their dog. But I also know that as a species, humans tend to find punishment rewarding. Sound contradictory? It isn't. There have been a fair number of studies demonstrating that humans are quite willing to punish other beings, sometimes to a rather horrifying extent.
Don't people find rewarding other beings rewarding themselves? That seems to be a less common characteristic of our species. Add that to the often-expressed sentiment that the dog is "doing it for spite," and you've got a real tendency toward using and accepting punishment.
So do I think that Premier will change Radio Systems for the better? No. Do I wish them all the luck in the world with their efforts? Yes.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Indians and Dogs and Horses

Just a quick post today, as it's once again sunny and while I have a break in desk work, I need to go out and tackle some of the tons of yard work that need doing.
There was a long article about wild horses in the March issue of Smithsonian. That in itself was interesting, but one line really caught my eye: "By the mid-1600s, Plains Indians were capturing and taming horses--which the Lakota called sunka wakan, or sacred dog. . ."
It's pretty obvious what the sudden availability of horses meant to Native Americans, but calling them "sacred dog" certainly brings up the thought, just what did DOGS mean to them? Dogs were used for many things, from pulling travois from camp to camp, to helping keep predators out of camp, as a food source, as a clothing source (wool dogs were specifically bred, separate from camp dogs, for their coats, which were shorn like sheep). Truly fearless braves were called dog warriors. So it appears that dogs were held in high esteem (despite their ending up in the stewpot at times), and invoking their name to give to the horse just makes that even more evident.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pet Adoption Weekend

March 20 and 21 are National Pet Adoption Weekend. Oddly enough, our little household will probably be out looking for a new dog that weekend. My roommate graduates from her retraining course the Friday before that, so she will have some time at home while seeking work. And this past weekend, we had to have her dog put to sleep. So the household is down to one dog, and rather quiet and empty. Nestle was along with us to witness the euthanasia, so he is aware that his life-long companion is gone, and he is a bit more clingy and wanting to offer up more kisses, but seems to be coping reasonably well.
It's always a heart-rending event, but Diamond was very nearly 17 years old, and had lived a full life, with nearly 10 years devoted to pet therapy. She will be hard to replace, but we know there will be some soul out there who needs a home and fits with our family. I will have to gird myself for the trips into shelters -- I make the initial foray and only bring Judy in if there is a doggie candidate. Starting with our own local shelter makes it especially hard, as this is an old shelter with not much good going on. They just lost their second good and effective director because of the shelter board. Now the board is in charge again, and the hopes for a new building are again pushed aside. But I have to look, as adopting a dog from them would indeed be an act of rescue.
We will probably not find anything here or in Jefferson County, as both are small shelters mostly occupied by pit, Lab, hound, and shepherd crosses, and Judy requires a small dog. So it will probably be on to Kitsap, a much larger (and better run) facility where years ago I found Nestle. There is also our local rescue guild, but I haven't heard back from them yet about anything small and fuzzy they may have in foster care.
In any event, we will be an active part of National Pet Adoption Weekend this year.