Monday, June 26, 2006

Art Takes Many Forms -- Here's one

I went to a lovely dinner party the other night and, as is often the case, the hosts were former clients of mine. Their two dogs, a most serene yellow lab named Boomer and an irrepressible bichon bolognese named Gracie, were delighted that in lieu of wine or salad I brought dog chews.

Gracie had settled in after arriving into their lives several months earlier and was fulfilling their desire to be a soft lap dog with the panache to work the dog door, eliminate in the right place, and help entertain Boomer.

She also had developed alter egos in the form of a paper mache creation and a soft purse that if you weren't looking carefully could be thought of as a real dog! But the real pleasure other than great food and company is seeing how an awkward unmannered dog can integrate into a home and not only be a delightful companion for her people, but to be a charming hostess as well for company coming into the home.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Take Your Dog To Work Day coming tomorrow

A recent survey indicates that the majority of dog owners would put in longer hours if their pet could accompany them to work, and one out of three said they'd take a pay cut for the perk. While most pooch acceptance is found in small businesses, a few large companies welcome employee dogs.

June 23 is Take Your Dog to Work Day. Check with your employer to see if your company is willing to participate.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Weather Anxiety

Weather figures in life because if you're out and about it affects decisions. Summer roared into town this morning in the shape of thunderstorms, sheets of heavy rain, cool temperatures and a kibosh on summer activities like outdoor swimming and picnicking. I like a good thunderstorm and my dogs enjoy it too. They don't go splashing about in puddles, although my brother's dog Ender would find one in a desert.

But some dogs develop storm anxieties -- sometimes from early puppyhood, in others it could develop later in life. Manifestations of anxiety can be as minor as a bit of panting and neediness to downright hysteria that can be debilitating.

Knowing the source of the anxiety is helpful -- is it sound based? Is it the change in barometric pressure? Is the dog conducting electricity in the air and getting zapped. Does your dog seek out porcelain surfaces (bathtubs or sinks) to quell stress? Or does the dog hide in the closet and resurface only after the storm passes?

If your dog's issues are severe, there are some remedies that can help. Training, management and the use of tools. One such tool that has proved successful is an anxiety wrap Flower essences can help too. There's a lot of info available online. Here's one link to get you started.

Have a safe and happy summer season. Wherever you live and whatever the weather.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Travel Talk

Driving the westward horizontal stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Philadelphia back to Cleveland much of today involved the need for frequent stops to both intake and outflow caffeine. Although it's officially 3 days away the day was a preview of summer. The sort of day where heat waves radiate up from the acres of cement at those turnpike rest stops. You know, the waves that generate color if oil slicks are nearby.

I didn't have my dogs on this trip. But there were others sharing a similar journey in their cars and trucks and vans and many did have canine companions. I was pleased to note, when I paid attention while carefully juggling my iced lattes, that the dogs I saw were kept shaded and offered water.

It's important to know a few things. The interior of a car heats up fast and furious, even with windows cracked open, so it's NEVER safe to leave dogs in a car even for a few minutes when it's hot out. Remember, a hot car is like an oven, with temperatures that can rise an astounding 34°F per minute! Hot asphalt can burn tender paw pads. And last but not least, know the signs of heat stroke and dehydration. Some symptoms include: excessive panting, glassy stare, dizziness, vomiting or collapse. If your pet shows ANY of these symptoms of heatstroke, move it in to a shady area and reduce its temperature by soaking it with cool water and go immediately to seek medical attention.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Possible careers for Frisky Dogs

If you think your dog is too energetic and destructive, you might want to think about giving it a job. Who knows, it might earn you a second income. Check this out

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Touch as Recall

We all want a dog who can reliably come when called. Calling "come here, come here, $*&#$ come here" is one way people try. It's not very reliable. It's hard for people to realize that dogs might think sniffing another dog's butt is more desirable than coming to a screaming panicky owner.

I teach a cue called "touch" (see June 7, 2007 entry). Train your dog to touch your hand -- palm, finger, fist or all three -- and make it a very fun game. Once your dog understands that amazingly wonderful things happen when a cool nose is pressed to a human hand, then start making it more challenging. Layer in distance and distractions AT THE RATE YOUR DOG CAN HANDLE IT and always humble yourself because it's a hard cue to RELIABLY train and should take months of regular practice. As the distance increases and your dog responds to the "touch" cue by COMING WHEN CALLED, you now have a recall.

Friday, June 09, 2006

"Go to Your Bed"

Last night I bought myself new summer sheets. 500 thread count cotton ones. Now the sheets are washed and placed on my bed and I can hardly wait until bedtime when I can crawl between them and see if my dreams improve.

Long before I dared splurge (I did have a discount coupon on top of a sale price so the price was very reasonable) on my own bedding, I confess I have often indulged my own dogs. I have bought round beds, square beds, corner beds. Big puffy beds, beds with bolsters, beds with attached pillows. Solid colors and patterns. Beds covered in polartec fleece, cotton, faux sheepskin, corduroy. Mostly I try to find beds with removable washable covers. I always find big beds so they can be shared. Sometimes it's nice even to sleep near the bed.

Training a dog to "go to bed" or some variation can be very handy. I think it helps if the bed is cozy, comfy, and desired as a place of goodness by the dog. You don't have to break the piggy bank to afford one either. If you look around, and you don't have to look all that hard, dog beds are easy to find and can be very affordable.

Help encourage your dog to go to his bed and have all manner of goodness happen there. Treats, chewies, belly scritches, massages, "good pup" comments happen on these soft cozy places and before long, your dog will go there regularly. Get your dog to think, "when in doubt, I go to my soft cozy place". That way when you have company, or you're busy, your beloved dog has a reliable and happy place to go.

And now to bed. Happy dreaming.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Applying Training to Real Life

Skills drills in dog training is practicing basic obedience with various levels of distractions and incorporating distance and duration. For example, training a dog to sit, down and stay while walking away a certain distance and then calling the dog to come and sit and down again. Perhaps the dog can do it from a distance of 3 feet while staying for a few seconds with all the other dogs out of sight and after time and practice, work towards the goal of coming straight to the handler through a gauntlet of dogs from 40 feet away after being asked to stay for two minutes. Arguably much harder.

So tonight it's the 4th group class (out of 6) and the dogs are all developing sounder foundation skills within class. Most of the dogs are coming, sitting, lying down, ignoring their doggy friends during work time. Handlers are pleased with results and clearly aware measurable improvement is occuring.

But then there's this problem and I can't figure out how to fix it. It happens in group and private training sessions. During the drills, when being given a set of directions to follow, the handlers do pretty well. But then when real life rears its ugly head they completely forget what they've been working on and revert to their instinct which is usually counter productive to training the dog.

Example 1:
Adolescent chocolate lab who has typical lab enthusiasm but when able to focus does a very amazing job at all the skills -- he'll sit, down, stay, and when asked to "touch" will come flying over to his handler, touch her palm gently with his wet nose and grin. Handler practices several times, always the dog does well.

Handler comes to class tonight and dog gets loose in parking lot before she comes into the training class. I watch her from a different part of the parking lot. She says nothing and immediately starts chasing the dog, finally catching up and grabbing his leash. He gets away again and starts running about again. She says nothing, chases after him and grabs his leash.

I asked her, "why didn't you ask him to 'come' or 'touch'?" She looks at me with a look that says, "oh, why didn't I think of that?"

Example 2:
Single woman in large studio apartment with a small toy dog. She complains that the dog plays keep away games when it's time for her to leave to go to work and she chases the dog for a long time. I learn that the dog understands come and sit and down and short short stays. I'm pretty impressed. I ask the owner, "when do you practice or use these skills?" "When my friends are over or I'm at my friends' houses with the dog."

I ask, "why don't you practice these things when you're alone with the dog so she'll listen to you?". "Oh, why didn't I think of that?"

So feel free to comment and share your thoughts on how to help me understand how to get people to understand that the reason you teach or train your dog for certain skills is so that in real life the dog can be safe to others, itself and be a pleasure to have around. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, but if it is, do.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Beyond Dogs

This has some cool videos of a trained cat. I think anything with a brain stem can be motivated (usually with food ) to learn new behaviors. Our companion animals are often better at training us than we are at training them. The video cat, Annie, is actually quite sophisticated. BTW, this cat is NOT Annie. Just an all knowing cat I knew.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Structure - Garden Style

Structure can be literal and metaphorical. Something made out of parts -- like a crate or a teepee.

Structure can refer to the day to day routine.

If I build my teepee well enough and take proper care of the structure, within a few weeks it should start becoming something more substantial.

If I am clear to my dogs on what the routine is and make what they want (as The Keeper of Good Things That They Want) dependent on what I want, we all get along just fine.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Training - Garden Style

Training is teaching the dogs what you want them to do. I want Lily and Bean to be the Garden Guardians and keep the bunnies away. Here they are at Day 1 of their training: Staying at the Corner, and Keeping Watch.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Management • Garden Style

There are several key elements that help people communicate with dogs. Structure, training and management.

Management includes the use of tools like leashes, gates, doors, collars, harnesses and in tonight's episode, the use of a fence to protect this year's crop.

In my own gardening universe, I prefer the use of landscape fabric and good ol' weeding. For those who prefer mulch, be warned that cocoa mulch, sold in many gardening centers and home improvement stores, can be unsafe and downright lethal to your dogs.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Weather Yin Yang

The yin yang of unseasonably hot and sunny with bouts of cool and rain are confusing the dogs. Just as our mood and energy levels can be affected by weather, so too do the changing of the seasons affect our canine friends. If in your neck of the woods the seasons are in transition from one to the next, try to be aware of that change's impact on your dogs. Your dog's yawning may not be tiredness or boredom. It could be a sign of stress. Indoor,mind-challenging games can be a big boredom buster. Turid Rugaas has some great insight into the calming signals of dogs. Check 'em out.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Welcome to A Better Blog Dog. A way to explore from my corner of the world to the outer reaches of the world the ways and means to help you help your dog be a better dog -- whether your canine is your friend, accomplice, co-worker, guide, source of joy, source of angst -- it is a journey nonetheless.

Advice, resources, products, inventions, humor, pathos, and who knows what more in store.