Monday, December 26, 2011

Ranger Recommends: Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home

Ranger is always glad when I find another resource that makes me a more effective trainer for him and the rest of the menagerie. Our blog is going to be doing a series of these reviews as I look at resources that can help with Ranger's little sister and her issues. Today I finished reading "Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home" by Patricia B. McConnell and Karen B. London. Puppies are all potential and clean slate but what happens if you're adopting an older dog one that has some history and maybe some baggage? There are lots of resources for how to raise your puppy but so far as I know "Love Has No Age Limit" is the only book devoted to what to do with your newly adopted dog who's beyond the puppy stage.

Finna, our 15 month old half German Shepherd half Corgi mix has been with us a not quite eight weeks now so she definitely fits the intent of this book. I love the fact that McConnell and London start at the very beginning with bringing the dog home and then go step by step through the process of integrating your new best friend into your household. Preaching a continuous mantra of patience, patience, patience, this short, easily read booklet covers the basics of house training or retraining, where the dog should sleep, what to feed the dog, training, equipment, etc. Basically, they've done a great job of putting together a easily absorbed how-to manual. It was nice to see that we'd done most things right as far as getting off on the right foot. However, much as I would recommend the initial section to anyone adopting a dog rather than a puppy, I wasn't reading the book for the how-to adjust to your new dog section I was more interested in the second section of the book: Behavior Problems 101.

It was reassuring to read that it can be three days, three weeks or three months before your dog's true colors may emerge. I'd been wondering what we'd done to turn Finna into a resource guarder and why she's started to be even more explosively reactive to other dogs on leash. We knew about the separation anxiety problem and that she was leash reactive to other dogs but the resource guarding was new. McConnell and London explain how a dog adjusts to a new family and why some dogs take longer to settle in and why a new dog might not initially show you who they really are until they are comfortable and feel safe. It's nice to  know that she feels comfortable and safe enough with us now to start showing us who she really is but some of who she really is isn't very nice.

In Behavior Problems 101 McConnell and London provide excellent overviews of the the most common behavior problems. They address everything from separation anxiety, to chewing, to resource guarding to fear of strangers and a host of other problem behaviors. Each one of these problem behaviors needs a book of its own to adequately address but this booklet doesn't aim to cover the problems in detail it aims to provide a clear explanation of the nature of the problem and to provide an easily understood description  of the basics of treatment. The  information is enough to help me get started figuring out what we should be doing to help Finna overcome her issues and to help me decide if the issue is mild enough that I can design my own treatment program or sufficiently severe that I need to seek professional help. In Finna's case we will be seeking professional assistance. Her resource guarding is limited to my husband, Ranger and occasionally at the cat, The Great Catsby. but it is sufficiently intent that I'm worried what may happen if we don't get it under control.

The final section in "Love Has No Age Limit" is devoted to resources. This section is, in my opinion, worth the cost of the book all on its own. These two highly regarded professionals with a wealth of knowledge and experience have assembled a list of resources to get you started in training your dog, learning about positive reinforcement, understanding dog psychology, and dealing with all the problem behaviors they discuss in section two.

If you are adopting a dog, have adopted a dog, or are thinking about adopting a dog Ranger and I highly recommend "Love Has No Age Limit." It's an excellent resource that is well-written and readable.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Finna After One Month

Finna has lived with us for a month now and I'm seeing such huge improvement. I remarked to my family the other day that I think she's actually to a point where we can start training her. They looked at my blankly and asked "what have we been doing so far?" It's a good point, we have been teaching her all along. What I meant by being at a point where we can start training her is that she's starting to realize that here it's possible to figure out the system and that she can do things that increase her rewards. For example, if she jumps on me I turn my back and ignore her but if she sits quietly she gets praise and petting. If she wants to increase the praise and petting she needs to sit; if she wants to see my back and be ignored she should jump on me. She's learning that it is possible to work the system to get what she wants.

I don't know what her previous life was like but I suspect that it was pretty inconsistent and that sometimes she'd get attention for a behavior and other times she'd be punished for that same behavior. I've seen dogs that never know what to expect and Finna acted a lot like that, stressed, anxious and neurotic. Knowing that she can affect the outcome by her own behavior is making a tremendous difference in her. I think it also helps knowing that she can mess up without severe consequences. At our house if she makes a mistake no one slams her to the ground on her back and yells in her face. The worst thing that happens to her for peeing on the floor is some grumbling in her direction. The worst that happens if she breaks a stay is a negative reward marker, we make a sound like a wrong answer buzzer on a game show, and she's asked to sit again. The worst that happens if she jumps on me and really hurts me is a scream of pain and the worst that happens for a typical jump is seeing a back and being ignored. The worst that happens for barking at people on a walk is being turned and marched away from the person. And when she doesn't bark she gets loads of praise and a chance to keep walking. When she doesn't jump she gets petting. When she holds her stay she gets treats and lavish praise. When she goes outside to potty she gets praise. Finna is discovering that it is possible for her to take actions that result in getting things she likes. Since she's not experiencing random reinforcement and punishment cycles she's been empowered. It has made a world of difference.

Finna hasn't pottied in the house in a couple of weeks and that includes days when she was kept in much longer than the every four hour potty breaks she's been getting. And it includes times when she's been subjected to Ranger's discipline for rude behavior and moments of family conflict. These are things that almost always resulted in submissive peeing when she first came to live with us. She's more relaxed and has stopped her hyper-vigilance on walks. She's actually sniffing things and tracking interesting smells. About a week ago  she put her nose down and sniffed along the ground and I almost cried. There's a real dog in there after all. That she's pulling and dragging on the leash to get to an interesting smell or to follow a track rather than trying to get to something that frightens her so she can deal with it or trying to rush home where it is safe is wonderful. And a new thing as of yesterday, she went to sleep in a part of the house away from her boy and me. The separation anxiety is apparently diminishing. Prior to yesterday she'd been sleeping on someone's feet so this was a huge improvement.

Not that it's all champagne and flowers living with Finna now but she's come a long long way. She still wants to bark and growl when she unexpectedly sees people getting into and out of their cars and she barks and growls at anyone walking on the street. I notice though that if we can warn her that it's coming the barking is much less so we're extra aware of people out and about. I'm hoping that doing this is going to help her understand that she can trust us to keep her safe and early indications, less barking and growling if we warn her, are that it does.

She still tends to bark and growl at my husband and she won't let him touch her. I've had to laugh at her though as some of her behavior is so contradictory as it relates to him. He'll come home from work and she'll bark and bark at him then sit politely and wait for him to give her treats. And when he's petting Ranger she'll go over and intently watch what is happening and run her nose up and down his arms. Ranger adores my husband and considers him the easiest family member to train so he's always pleased and delighted to have Dad come home. Dad will give Ranger lots and lots of loving and attention. Watching Finna I think she'd like to get in on that loving and attention but that in her previous life the man was the unpredictable disciplinarian and she can't quite bring herself to believe that this new man isn't going to be like that. It's funny watching how intently she studies Ranger getting pets from Dad it's like she's waiting to see my husband go crazy and start screaming or something. Interestingly, when we're out for walks and Ranger solicits petting from men Finna will hesitate then push her way in to get her fair share. It's the man in her house that she's reluctant to trust.

I love my husband. I know it can't be easy being greeted by barking and carrying on and that it is frustrating to have an animal living with us that he can't touch but he's been wonderful. He responds to Finna's barking with a mild "And Hello to you too, Finna" and treats her don't touch me attitude calmly  asking her when she's watching Ranger getting love if she wants some too and reaching slowly toward her so that she has plenty of time to shy away. When she does he simply returns his attention to loving on Ranger. One of these days she's going to take a chance and let him touch her and after that there'll be no looking back.

Finna still doesn't have much in the way of manners and her out of control greetings when we get back are not any fun. She's started a new thing that we are working hard to put a stop to; when I come down in the morning to take her for her morning walk and potty break she's started nipping at my clothes. I think in part it is related to the play behavior she engages in with Ranger--grabbing at his fur--and in part herding instincts trying to drive me out the door faster. The only time she's come even close to getting me was the morning I was settling my arm into my coat sleeve just as she grabbed it and I ended up elbowing her in the mouth. Clothes nipping isn't appropriate though and we're working on eliminating it so now my clothes have feelings and if she nips them I cry out with high pitched yelps. She's getting it. And her desire/need to have my hand in her mouth is steadily decreasing.

Ranger is putting up with a lot still as Finna continues to be quite rude and pushy with him. She resource guards chews and desirable spaces when he's around. And she shoves him out of the way to get out the door first. Ranger is amazingly tolerant with her. I do notice that he's begun enforcing expectations of polite behavior more and more and that her resource guarding is diminishing. I've been entertained by Ranger's reactions to her resource guarding behavior. He rolls his eyes and walks away with a look of disbelief; if he was human  I imagine he'd be shaking his head and muttering about how he doesn't want her stupid treats he just wants to go to his comfy place. Ranger does, however, take chews that she is not guarding outside and bury them. I wonder if he's stashing them for his own later use or just removing things that inspire her to behave badly. Or maybe it's both.

Finna is surprisingly good with the cats. The Great Catsby regards her as his personal plaything and Meowzart, the older cat that does NOT do dogs, is actually being seen in the main part of the house again. It took almost six months before he was willing to be in the main part of the house if Ranger was inside when Ranger came to live with us. Finna and Catsby get a bit rough with each other sometimes so I like to supervise their play and make sure it stays play. Still it can be quite entertaining watching Catsby rolling on his back as Finna stands above him trying to poke her nose into his belly before he can slap her head away with his paws. Or their newest game that I'm less happy about where Catsby tries to claw Finna's tongue before she can nip his paws. They're both very relaxed about it but it still looks like tempting fate to me so I usually try to redirect that one.

Finna loves to chew but she confines her chewing to legal chews. In the first few months after we adopted him Ranger ate the only decent piece of furniture we owned. So far Finna has not been very destructive, a new leash, the shoulder strap to my laptop case and the cord to my son's netbook are the only casualties of her teeth. I'm hoping that remains the case. She's death on soft toys but despite the fact that the dog toys are all in an old canning kettle readily available the only ones she's destroyed were the ones she was given to play with.

Having a consistent set of parameters within which to act has made a big difference for Finna. And, all credit to my son, he's done a fabulous job of setting specific goals for her and working toward them. His first month's goals were 1) a reduction in barking and growling on walks (reduced but not eliminated), 2) elimination of barking and growling in the house (again, reduced but not eliminated), 3) teaching her to sit (accomplished), 4) teaching her to come when called (accomplished), and 5) teaching her to fetch (accomplished indoors needs work outdoors). His December goals for his dog 1) Continue to reduce/eliminate barking and growling indoors and out, 2) continue to practice and perfect sit, come and fetch, 3) teach walking on a loose leash, 4) teach stay and 5) teach wait at door. I love the fact that he is setting clear goals and that at the end of the month he's able to look back and evaluate how successfully he's achieved them.

I'll end with one of my favorite Finna photos.

I love the way her black lips look almost like a painted clown smile. I keep referring to her black lipstick. I'm also amused by her heavy hand with the black eyeliner. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Random Musings on Dog Training

These thoughts don't reach the status of rules but they are ideas I have that influence how I train. I'm sharing them in no particular order.

If you wouldn't treat your best human friend that way why are your treating your dog like that? I always wonder this when I see people out walking their dog wearing their headphones or earbuds. I can't imagine going for a walk with a human friend and not paying attention to them so I don't walk the dogs without paying attention to them. I'm always interested to see what new things Ranger and to a lesser extent Finna have to show me. Dogs are expert observers. Humans tend to ignore a lot of things in their environment. Dogs don't ignore anything. Ranger shows me where another dog has scuffed up the ground, which neighbors have interesting recycling and/or garbage, who planted a new plant, who is remodeling their house, etc., etc., etc. I used to walk with my next door neighbor regularly before Ranger came to live with us. Despite the fact that we walked the same routes I walk with Ranger and Finna I learned a lot less about my neighborhood. One aspect of our walks is for them to show me my world as they see it. I'd miss out on that if I was tuned into my audiobook or my podcast or my music instead of being tuned into my dogs.

Things are more valuable when you work for them. Maybe the dog is only paying for his/her treats with a sit or a watch but when a dog has to earn the treats they value them more. And I think for the difficult to motivate dogs, like Ranger, making the connection that they need to work for what they get helps to motivate them. Some people call this "TANSTAAFL" There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch and others describe it as "NILIF" Nothing In Life Is Free" but however you describe it it's a useful concept. How would you feel if everything you ever wanted was just given to you? Would you value it as much as when you know that you earned it by dint of your own hard work?

We underestimate our dogs. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I began trying to teach Ranger K-9 Sign more to have a training goal than because I thought he could ever develop language that resembles mine. Since I can't read his mind I don't know for sure that he has but the behaviors I've observed certainly look like language use. He has identified his treat dispensing puzzles as food/toy and identified Catsby as toy. Not only has he used toy as a noun when referring to Catsby he has used the toy sign to Catsby as an invitation to play. In other words, he's taken the small number of signs he has learned to form and used them in other ways.

Privileges are earned. This is one of those ideas that I've adopted from parenting. Ranger can approach any person her wants or any dog he chooses because he has proven time and time again that he is trustworthy and well mannered. Finna doesn't get those same privileges. Ranger can be unleashed outside the fence, Finna can't. As Finna becomes more reliable she'll get more privileges.

Anthropomorphizing isn't always bad. You do need to keep in mind that dogs and humans process information differently and that there are different social and cultural referents but I often find it helpful to try to put myself in the dog's mind and try to figure out where Ranger or Finna is coming from. When Ranger smacks Finna down for shoving herself into his petting session I don't correct Ranger, I support him after all, what he's saying is that rudeness should not be rewarded and that she was just very rude. Of course if Ranger was not controlled in his efforts to discipline his sister he wouldn't be supported but since he is very much in control I support him. With Finna I don't interrupt her games of fetch to give her a bunch of petting after all what she's doing right then is playing her sport, it isn't appropriate to interrupt the game for something else.

Raising a dog and raising a child have a lot in common. In both cases you're putting the needs of another creature above your own. It has been interesting to note how much differently my son views me now that he has Finna to raise. He has a lot more sympathy and patience for his mother than he used to because suddenly he's begun to realize just what it takes. It's a bit strange to talk parenting strategy with my 12 year old but by the same token it's kind of nice.

You dog is dependent on you for everything. We've evolved into a culture where dogs seldom have the freedom to roam or the freedom to choose. We decide when they get exercise; we decide when they eat and what they eat; we decide where they can be; we decide whether or not they can come with us. The more I thought about this the more I started trying to give Ranger opportunities to make choices. We used to play ball for a few minutes every morning before his walk and after a few minutes I'd offer him the ball in one hand and the leash in the other and the one he touched is what we'd do. If he touched the leash we'd go for our walk, if he touched the ball we'd play ball for a little longer. Anymore when I take him to the dog park I let him choose when we leave (unless I have other pressing obligations); I'll ask him if he's ready to go and if he heads toward the gate we'll leave, if he heads further into the park we stay longer. Finna doesn't get much chance to make choices yet because I consider choice a privilege not a right.

Just as with parenting there are a lot of different routes to the goal of raising a well-adjusted individual. And just like kids dogs are individuals. Things that worked with my daughter are useless with my son and things that worked with Ranger are not helpful with Finna. You need to know the individual you're raising and deal with them accordingly. One size doesn't fit all although it's often true that one size will fit most. I often see people who are looking for the quick fix. Two popular quick fixes I see and hear recommended often are the no-pull head halters and no pull harnesses and the e-collar or to be blunt the shock collar. If these are used as an adjunct to training they can be useful but I see a lot of people who are using them instead of training. That makes me sad.

And finally, the most useful thing I've ever learned about how to raise a good dog; find someone whose dog(s) you really like and watch what they do with their dogs. Steal everything that you think would work with your dog(s). I've been blessed to meet a lot of dogs I really like and I've never hesitated to copy what their humans do. When Ranger likes a dog I'm almost certain to like that dog's person/people. This is something I found true with my children as well. When I like the kid I'll like the parents and my children were mostly pretty good at selecting playmates and friends that I would like.

There are no hard and fast rules in raising a dog or raising a kid except to love them with all your heart and to do your very best to do right by them. I kind of figure if you're doing that the rest will fall into place.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Ten Rules When Training a Dog

My own challenges with Finna and a friend's problems with her dog have had me thinking about my rules for  training a dog. These are rules that I've collected from all over the place and made my own. They didn't come as a packaged set, they are rules that capture what I think is important.

Rule ONE. If your dog does something naughty it's your fault. I learned this one from the wonderful trainer we worked with when we first adopted Ranger. Dianne Canafax is a gifted trainer who taught me a lot. She was using a foster dog from her pack as a demo dog and after repeated efforts by the dog to say she needed to go out that Dianne failed to correctly interpret the dog peed on the floor. Dianne used the opportunity this presented to illustrate rule one. She explained that it was her fault for not listening to the dog and cleaned up the mess calmly and without fuss. She also pointed out the cues that she'd misinterpreted and how now she would be able to do better by this foster next time. So I try to remember that if Finna gets into the cat food, if she pees on the carpet, if she jerks my arm half out it's socket it's not her fault it's mine for not paying better attention.

Rule TWO. A tired dog is a good dog. This is one thing that Ceasar Milan gets exactly right; most dogs don't get the exercise they need. And when a dog does get the exercise he need he is a better behaved dog. After all how would you feel if you were a marathon runner confined to a twenty foot square room 23 hours a day--you'd be bouncing off the walls. Wolves travel large distances as a matter of course. Dogs are a domesticated version of wolves but the physiology that allows wolves to maintain that tireless travelling trot for hours at a time is still present. Different breeds of dogs have different exercise needs and in my insanity both of the dogs I've adopted are herders--breeds that are bred to work all day and to be able to run large distances flat out multiple times a day. When we first adopted Ranger we were walking him 5-7 miles a day and giving him 60-90 minutes a day at the dog park. With Finna's fear issues we can't walk her as much and dog parks are right out but we're still managing 2-3 miles a day, a couple 30 minute sessions of race and wrestle with Ranger in the yard, and multiple sessions of indoor fetch of five minutes or so. A restless bored dog getting into mischief is a dog that needs a walk. That's how I view it.

Rule THREE. All walks are training walks. It isn't enough to tire a dog out physically. Their active little minds need to be tired out too. I recently ran across this blog http://dogblog.dogster.com/2011/11/15/the-three-stages-of-healthy-dog-walking/  that does a great job of summarizing what a good walk should look like. With Ranger any time we were doing a short walk we were doing extra training. Because Finna is still learning leash manners and how not to bark and growl at everyone she sees a lot of her walks are taken up with training. Any slack in the leash is praised, any check in is praised, any walking at heel is praised to the skies. Any straining at the leash results in a full stop and no advancing, a taut leash receives a long drawn out whoa. With Ranger I remember two weeks of hell teaching him to walk nicely on a leash; every time he pulled we stopped. Both of us hated walks like that. Now he's a dream on leash and he knows exactly how fast and for how long I can jog. Walking Ranger and Finna together I often find myself looking around to make sure Ranger is still with us because he doesn't pull.

Rule FOUR. Every dog needs a job. This is especially true of breeds that are not very far removed from their working roots. I remember reading somewhere that a working Border Collie can do the work of nine men and that a bored and unemployed Border Collie can do enough mischief to keep nine men busy. Living with Ranger and Finna I can well believe it. Ranger's job is meeting people and making them feel good. His second job is learning things. In an earlier blog I wrote about why I decided to teach Ranger K-9 sign. He needed something to learn and I'm a more effective trainer when I have a goal. Finna had never been given a job before she came here. She'd decided that her job was to be ultra vigilant and protective. I have no interest in living with a dog that wants to protect me from the other creatures in the house and from my husband and children. Finna is learning that her new job is to learn patience and manners. Now that she's mastered sit I often ask her to sit and wait for her treat. Every time she is asked to wait she is learning self-control and she is learning polite behavior. In time we'll figure out what her great love in life is and we'll find a job that fits with that love. For now learning is a good job for her. And since she does have a real job now her protectiveness is diminishing.

Rule FIVE. Not every dog wants to please. Finna does want to please her people and she'll work for praise alone. Ranger has never been interested in pleasing his people and for him praise is just a marker that a tangible reward is to come. Ranger wants to know what's in it for him. He has no interest in giving up that book he's decided to chew on just because I want the book however he is willing to trade for it. Ranger is my dog. We are partners with mutual respect and affection and I understand that Ranger works for reward not just because it makes me happy. Training a dog like Ranger is harder because he has his own agenda and it requires putting yourself in his mind and figuring out what his motivations are but training a dog like him is also incredibly rewarding because you are successfully teaching a member of another species how to navigate your world. Finna will always look to her people for clues on how to behave and she will always want to do what makes her handler happy. Ranger is confident of his own ability to navigate human society and to make everyone he meets understand what he wants and needs.

Rule SIX. You have to be smarter than your dog. I never cease to be amazed at how difficult this is for some people. I have watched so many people fruitlessly chasing their dog around the park trying to capture her to take her home. I figured out very early in my relationship with Ranger that he is scary smart and that if I wanted any sort of control I would have to be smarter. Rather than hang his leash on the fence so that he'd have an obvious clue that I was planning to take him home I decided to wear his leash like a sash from shoulder to hip. Rather than teaching Ranger that if I called him in the park it meant we were going home I practiced calling him over, fastening his leash giving him a treat and releasing him. Ranger never knew when we were going home and after the first few weeks I never had to have someone else capture him for me. Any more it's second nature to me to look for things that could cause problems and figure out ways to avoid them. At the moment while we are gone Finna and Ranger are confined to the enclosure with its six foot high fences. I've notice though that the gate to the driveway can be warped out at the bottom by a determined dog. I also know that Finna has separation anxiety issues and might be tempted to try to escape while we are gone. The gate swings both ways so I've piled the old tires I use for my potato plants against the outside edge of the gate. The tires weigh a lot more than Finna does so even if she tries to push the gate out it won't work, yet I can still open the gate and walk through.

Rule SEVEN. You use the rewards available. Ranger is not crazy about being brushed. I generally trade him high value treats for cooperation but when I don't have treats available I'll brush him for a bit and then throw the brush for him to chase and worry. It means the handle of the brush is less comfortable in my hand but he'll cooperate just as well for the thrown brush. I sometimes reward Finna by letting her lick my hands. If the dog likes it it can be used as a reward.

Rule EIGHT. You need to know what you want from your dog. The dogs I really like and respect are attached to people who know what they want from their dog. The dogs I don't like are attached to people who have no idea what they want. Figure out what you want from your dog and work toward that. Since I realized early on that Ranger was destined to be a Therapy Dog I knew what I wanted was for him to have impeccable manners. Since I believe that Therapy Dogs are often the best judge of what the person needs I didn't want him to be constantly looking to me for direction but I also wanted to be able to trust that he'd behave appropriately. Ranger is pretty lousy at obedience but his manners are beautiful. With her fear issues and lack of early socialization Finna is a different kettle of fish. She needs to learn to look to her people for direction and for safety.

Rule NINE. You are the human and your dog is the dog. There are a whole lot of people that don't seem to understand that humans and dogs are different species. Canine social rituals are not the same as human social rituals and it's OK to expect your dog to follow human social rituals with humans (no crotch sniffing) but it is not OK to forbid your dog from following canine social rituals with other dogs. How would you feel if you were expected to meet new people blindfolded and gagged? When you don't let your dog act like a dog and sniff other dogs in areas you personally find offensive that's what you're expecting of your dog.

Rule TEN. Every day you do the best you can but some days the dragon wins. This one is actually my parenting mantra but it applies just as well to dog training. Some days nothing you try is going to work. Some days despite all your best efforts you'll be a horrible trainer. Some days the dragon is going to win. Don't dwell on it. Some days are like that and tomorrow will be better.

Others will have different rules but these are the ones that work for me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Most Useful Things I Taught My Dog

Now that Finna has come to live with us and we're back to square one with an untrained dog I've been thinking a lot about the things I've taught Ranger that make him easy to live with. Sure the basics, sit, stay, come, etc., have been very important don't get me wrong. Every dog needs to learn the basics. They are the foundation of good manners and a canine citizen of whom you can be proud. But the basics are just the starting point. As you develop your relationship with your dog you encourage him to learn the things that are useful to you. These won't necessarily be the same for every dog. What works for me and mine won't always be the most useful for you and yours.

In thinking about it there are Four things that I'm very glad I have taught Ranger. I've taught him "Wait," "Finished," "Beep," and "Stop." I use three of these directives all the time. "Stop" is in a category all it's own. I don't use it all the time but I constantly train it. "Stop" is the command that can save a dog's life. "Stop" is the command that shows your dog is under your voice control. "Stop" is the command that seldom gets used but always gets practiced. "Stop" means cease all motion and freeze in place. I almost never use "Stop" but we work on it several times a week. As a result when Ranger was off leash playing with pals and abandoned his play to run toward a family with young children (Ranger adores children) I could yell "Stop" from halfway across the park and have him freeze until I could get to him and reattach his leash. The family who would have been justifiably concerned to see 90 lbs of unleashed canine heading toward them at full speed was reassured by seeing him stop on command and wait for me. Everyone had a great time together. I haven't had to use "Stop" to save him from injury or death but if the circumstances every arise the behavior is there.

"Wait" means exactly that, wait. It means don't get out of the back of the car until I have your leash on. It means don't go out the door until we're both ready. It means be patient for a minute and then we can go. Behaviorally it means stay in this place until released. In practice it means I can open the back of the car, realize it is cold enough that I want my coat zipped, zip my coat, then leash Ranger and release him to come with me wherever we're going. I use wait all the time.

"Finished" is another one I use a lot. The idea of having a directive for we're done now, that's enough, stop being a pest came from Patricia McConnell's book The Other End of the Leash. She describes teaching her dogs that being patted on the head twice and told "enough" meant they should stop soliciting petting and retire quietly. I started out using "enough" but when I started reading Sean  Senechal's book on teaching K-9 sign I found her sign for "Finished." This is formed by raising both hands together from waist to shoulder as if you are putting up your hands in a hold up. It's a great sign and easily recognized. My father, who spoils Ranger outrageously, had been feeding Ranger graham crackers. When he finished giving Ranger the last one in the package he tried to tell Ranger there were no more but Ranger continued to sit politely looking soulfully at my dad waiting for more good things. I explained to Dad how to sign "Finished." Dad looked at me like I was nuts but tried it. He was surprised and impressed when Ranger got up and walked away to settle on the floor elsewhere. "Finished" is I'm done handing out treats, no more petting, this training exercise is over and I'm done brushing you for now.

And finally, "Beep." This is not something I decided to teach it's the directive that just arose from living together. "Beep" means move out of my way. Ranger is a big guy and if he's laying in the middle of the hall he's blocking the way. Often I'll just step over him but if I've got my hands full of something it's easier if he moves. "Beep" just evolved. I don't know why I say "Beep" to tell him to move but I know in the beginning I'd nudge him with a knee or toe and say "Beep." Now I can have him move aside with just the word "Beep."  It's so helpful to have this directive and it's nice because it lets him choose how to move out of the way. I just ask and he moves.

We're already exposing Finna to these concepts. At the gate before a walk I hold her collar as I open the gate and say "Wait" when she stops straining at the collar I release my hold and she darts out (and yes, I also have hold of the leash). when we get home and she charges into the yard I say "Stop" and use the leash to prevent forward motion. If she's in the way she's told "Beep" and nudged gently aside. When we're done with something we sign "Finished" and don't do anymore. These are the most useful things I've taught Ranger and I expect they'll be equally useful with Finna.

What useful things have you taught your dog?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fun with Finna

Finna has lived with us for 10 days now and I'm beginning to know some things about her. She's very bright and eager to learn. She's already grasped the concept of sit and will sit on command except when the distractions are very high. She suffers from separation anxiety which was a very useful thing this evening when she slipped her leash and ran; as soon as she realized she was getting further and further away from her people she turned and ran back. It also makes teaching come a breeze since there is nothing she wants more than to be with us. Her cries when we leave her are heart breaking. Fortunately, at the moment she's alone (well except for Ranger) for maybe six hours a week. And, thankfully, the family is all very matter of fact about departures and returns. I expect she'll get used to how it works fairly soon.

Finna's surrender paperwork said she was crate trained and that she slept in a crate in the house every night. If her behavior here is any indication she was never crate trained instead she was forced into a crate and abandoned at night. We're trying to retrain her to a crate by making it a happy place. At the moment it's where she gets fed with the door always open. She's reluctant to go in when people are nearby. As she gets used to the idea that she won't be locked up and abandoned if she sets foot in the crate we'll gradually teach her that this is a safe, happy place.

Her paperwork described her energy level as hyperactive. I only observe hyperactive behavior when she's over excited or very stressed. During a typical day she spends much of her time sleeping at someone's feet. She doesn't require attention just nearness. As I write she's sleeping between my feet.

My observations lead me to conclude that her previous environment was inconsistent and lacking in enrichment. I also think that she was frequently punished for being a dog and was subjected to dominance based interaction. Living where positive reinforcement happens for desired behavior and undesired behavior is redirected or ignored has been a revelation to her. Here no one alpha rolls her if she does something undesired. She tired to pull the blanket off my son's bed today. He told her to leave it and tucked the blanket out of her reach. He praised her when she didn't continue to try to get the blanket. That's the norm.

Finna is very protective. Of course what do you expect if you cross a GSD and Corgi and don't give the result a job. She's decided her job is to be hyper-vigilant and protect her people from everything. We're working on finding her a different job. She's learning to fetch, something that she's grasping fairly quickly. Apparently no one ever played with her before. Initially, she was happy to chase after the ball but was afraid to pick it up. Now she picks it up and usually brings it back at least to the vicinity of her playmate.

She's willing to let her people take anything but is very possessive of things if she think Ranger might get them. He is getting heartily sick of her growling and barking at him just because she has a chew and he wants to walk past. Actually, we're all getting heartily sick of that. We're also getting very tired of her being startled and frightened every time my husband comes into the room. Tomorrow he and my daughter will be alone with her and he'll be shoveling treats and leaving and returning steadily.

Despite what it said on her paperwork about her liking soft squeaky toys Finna is actually a killer of soft toys. She will happily spend hours removing every bit of stuffing. Thankfully, she's not interested in eating the stuffing just in removing it. She plays nicely with hard rubber squeaky toys. Interestingly, Ranger prefers the soft squeaky toys and doesn't much care for the rubber ones.

Assorted other observations. Her long back makes her much taller on her back legs than you expect and she can easily get her front paws onto the kitchen counter. She likes cats. The Great Catsby considers her his personal plaything. Her short little stub of a tail is very expressive. She's learning that there are interesting smells to smell on walks. She was mesmerized by the deer we saw on our walk tonight. She hates crows. New things terrify her. She's very muscular and much stronger than you'd expect. She knows where home is now and can't wait to get back when she's been on a walk. She's seldom been in a car before and is very stressed out. She wants to please. She loves music and was fascinated when she heard her boy practicing his guitar.

Finna, you've got a long long way to go but we'll get there. Everyday I see you learning and growing and gaining confidence. I'm so glad you have my son. He has clear goals for you. This month you'll be perfecting your sit, come and fetch. You'll also be learning that it is not desirable to bark and growl at anyone in the house and that outside a soft bark indicating something or someone is all that's necessary. I promise the more you learn the better things will be.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oh How I Wish I Could Read Ranger's Mind--two interesting stories

Ranger's new little sister, Finna, is largely untrained. We've started working on some basic politeness such as sitting. Ranger has been a big help in showing Finna what is  wanted. We ask Ranger for a sit and reward him for sitting. We ask Finna for a sit and reward her for sitting and reward Ranger for remaining in a sit. We'd been working this behavior throughout the walk and she was definitely grasping the idea. We stopped to visit two of Ranger's favorite people and while we visited continued to work the behavior. Finna was less willing to sit with people she doesn't live with watching. At one point she hesitated for a long time and Ranger who was continuing to sit politely lifted his paw and brought it down on her rear end. She sat and they both got their treats. That's what I observed but I don't know if this was Ranger intentionally making Finna sit in order to get his treat or Ranger signing Cheese (string cheese being a high motivator for Finna) and accidentally smacking her. Oh how I wish I could read his mind.

Here they are out for a walk together.

The second time I wished I could read Ranger's mind was last night at bedtime. I took his food out to his enclosure (he sleeps outside by his choice) and noticed that his water bowl was fairly empty. Being rather sleep deprived since the arrival of our new addition I wasn't thinking and set Ranger's dinner down on the big deck storage box rather than on the ground for him. I mumbled something about "in a minute" and proceeded to fill the water bowl. Ranger, as I turned away to fill the water bowl, was sitting looking at the bowl of dinner. As I was filling the water bowl I heard him jump on the storage box and thought, oops, I should have put that down for him. When I turned back from filling the water bowl Ranger was back sitting and looking at the dinner bowl which was now empty except for a little bit of juices. I set the bowl on the ground so Ranger could lick the last juices out (one comprehensive lick would have done it) and Ranger licked and licked at the bowl as if he was eating dinner. Did he think I didn't notice he'd already eaten it? Is he so accustomed to licking the bowl as I leave his enclosure that he just engaged in habitual behavior? I really wish I could read his mind. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

In Which Ranger Gets a Little Sister

We've added a new dog to our family. She's a German Shepherd/Corgi or as one of my friends put it a "Gorgiherd." For sometime my 12 year old son has wanted a dog of his own and we've been visiting the Kitsap Humane Society on Thursdays and looking at their available dogs for just the right one. On November 3 my son found her. He fell in love with a shy year old female who had been surrendered by her previous family. We couldn't take her home immediately as it was near the end of the day and there wasn't time for vet services to sign off on her. We returned the next day and after a ridiculous series of absurdities we finally manged to bring home our new addition.

When we got to KHS to pick her up the front desk couldn't find any of the paperwork so asked us to go snag her kennel card; that's when we discovered that she was at an adoption outreach event looking for a new home. It seems that someone dropped the ball and while all the adoption approvals were in the computer no one had put a note on her kennel that she was adopted. Frantic phone calls from KHS onsite staff to the adoption outreach staff, fortunately no one else had decided to adopt her. They were ready to pack up anyway so packed up and hurried back but as the event was at a fair distance and they would need to pack up all the animals could we come back in an hour. We killed time for an hour and went back. Finna (as she's now known) was back and we could have her just as soon as we finished all the paperwork. That's when we hit the next snag. Our adoption application that had been sitting in the middle of the desk when we left was no where to be found. Then another staff member asked what was missing, "Oh, is that the one I put in the recycling bin?" A search of the recycling bin ultimately yielded our application. Signing all the papers, reviewing the vet staff report (healthy in all regards) and then waiting and waiting and waiting for staff to be available to bring her to us. The 12 year old was getting mighty impatient to finally have his dog--small staff and lots to do doesn't mean much when you're 12 and want your dog. Finally, they brought her out and we replaced their slip lead with her new collar and leash and headed home.

We'd planned to transport her in the back of the Rav4 and had reinstalled the dog barrier that we used to use with Ranger. Finna had other plans. It didn't take her long to figure out how to wiggle the expanders smaller and crawl through. She spent most of the trip riding my my son's shoulders. She did finally relax enough to ride on the seat next to him.

At home Ranger was very surprised to see us with a dog in the car. He was rather excited about it. Finna seemed to recognize him as the dog she'd met the night before. We leashed Ranger and went for a walk. Finna was a bit overwhelmed with her adventures of the day and stayed pretty close to Ranger. It went pretty well. Ranger was tolerant of her and she seemed to take her cues from him.

Later Finna's stressful day paid off for us since my son had a Boy Scout Merit Badge clinic that evening. Finna was reluctant to go into her crate but once inside she settled quickly and the time we were at the Merit Badge Clinic (he's learning Archery) was a great chance for her to decompress. My daughter (18) was home with her and kept an eye on her.

The first night was difficult. We took two more walks, one immediately upon arrival at home and one before bedtime. Ranger accompanied her on both walks. She was put to bed in her crate with a marrow bone. My son elected to sleep on the floor in front of her crate so as to be close. He reports that she startled and whined every time he moved. I don't think either of them got much sleep.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Canine Social Skills

We spent time Thursday and Friday evaluating a nine month old American Pit Bull Terrier puppy http://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/21028762 for possible addition to our household. Sadly he had zero canine social skills; he didn't even understand that he could learn from another dog although he desperately wanted to be with Ranger. Ranger explained very clearly and patiently that lunging and dragging the person on the other end of the leash were not acceptable preludes to social interaction and Woodward just didn't get it. 

I first met Woodward a month ago when we visited the Kitsap Humane Society to pick out a new cat. My 12 year old, now in his third year of dog 4-H, has been hoping for a dog of his own to train, work with and love so every visit involves a quick tour through the dog kennels. My son wants a Golden Retriever but not a lot of Golden's end up at the shelter so he's prepared to consider all other breeds as long as it is the right dog. The right dog is young which I define as under 18 months, bright, eager to learn, plays well with others and is approved by Ranger. But back to meeting Woodward. His kennel is directly across from the door into the main kennel area so he is the first dog you see. As I walked through the door he scurried to the front of his kennel, grinning from ear to ear, wagging his whole body and barking for attention. I don't like being barked at and I've discovered I'm constitutionally unable to prevent myself from training any dog that interacts with me. I began making shushing sounds and rewarding any quiet with a scratch through the chain link gate. In less than 30 seconds Woodward understood that he'd only get attention if he didn't bark. I was impressed by how quickly he learned and by how much he wanted to please. Ranger has never been eager to please; Ranger learned good behavior because that got him what he wanted not because what he wanted was to make me happy. I've always understood that with Ranger making me happy was a means to an end not an end to itself; we have a deep and close bond but it is as partners not as dog and master. I rather enjoyed the attitude that making me happy made Woodward happy, it's a breed trait that Pit Bulls are highly predisposed to want to please their humans; I remember reading somewhere that as young as two months a Pit Bull puppy will prefer the company of humans to that of other dogs. It occurred to me that such a desire to please would be a very good trait in a 4-H project dog. But we were still looking for that elusive Golden Retriever and besides I'm not really that eager to add to the ongoing chaos that defines my household but getting another dog. 

Unfortunately, I couldn't get Woodward out of my head. Even just interacting through the gate I saw a lot I really liked. Lots of thought, discussions and consideration took place and lots of hoping that a knowledgeable person would see what I did and take Woodward home but he continued to languish at the shelter. Fortunately for Woodward the Kitsap Humane Society takes very good care of its animals and understands how stressful the shelter environment is for the animals in it's care http://myemail.constantcontact.com/What-if-the-tables-were-turned-.html?soid=1105542306278&aid=BEBQpbU94Bc but even the best care in the world isn't a substitute for a home. I talked it over with my son and he was willing to consider a Pit Bull. So we loaded up Ranger and went to meet Woodward. 

When we arrived shortly before closing time Woodward was curled up on his bed in the back of his Kennel and merely opened one sad eye; kennel stress in action. We snagged his paperwork and went to arrange the meet and greet. You could see him trying so hard to remember the manners he's been learning as part of his enrichment program but you could also see the excitement and pent up energy completely at war with those efforts. As Woodward jumped and licked, several times I found my hand in his mouth, mouthiness is fairly common in a dog his age, but never once did I feel any of his teeth. I was impressed. When we'd played with Woodward for awhile my son wanted to try taking him for a walk. I took one look at the flat nylon, six foot leash and sent my son to borrow Ranger's leash from the car. Ranger's leash is also six feet of flat nylon but it is designed with an extra loop near the collar, called a traffic grip, which is invaluable in controlling a dog that is lacking in leash manners. Here again it was clear Woodward was trying hard to remember the manners he's learning but that the pent up energy and excitement of a change in his routine was making it very difficult. Still, it was very clear that he wanted to please so every indication was that in a household with a consistent routine and sufficient exercise he'd learn quickly. So far it all looked good. It was time for Woodward to meet Ranger. 

For safety reasons the dogs are required to meet on leash so that they can be controlled although that has the potential to raise leash reactivity issues; in some ways it's a no win situation you can't risk the potential of a fight between unfamiliar dogs but you force them to interact within the length of their leashes which isn't really natural. Ranger was his usual calm and confident self but Woodward revealed a total absence of any canine social skills. He charged toward Ranger with all his pent up energy and enthusiasm and Ranger moved away. Woodward pulled so hard to get to Ranger that he was actually cutting off his own air supply (he was wearing a flat nylon martingale collar). We tried walking the dogs up and down the parking lot. I asked Ranger to pee on something so Woodward could smell it but rather than spending time learning about Ranger by sniffing his mark Woodward gave it a casual sniff and adjacent marked with his leg held practically vertical and Woodward continued his powerful pull to be with Ranger. Once when Ranger was very stressed (if you're curious about the circumstances you can read about it here http://www.dogster.com/dogs/658330/diary/Wag_more_bark_less/563629) and was asked to meet a calm, neutral dog he reacted in a similar fashion dragging me toward the other dog as if all his instincts were  to get to this member of his own species who might know what was going on. When the leash greeting wasn't working we tried allowing Woodward to be loose behind the fence so that Ranger could know he was safe from the impetuosity of this wild puppy and that did help but every time Woodward would paws up on the fence Ranger would withdraw. It was clear Ranger was saying that Woodward was being an exceptionally rude teenager and that he did not choose to tolerate that. 

It was not a successful meet and greet but something my son saw as our adoption counselor was collecting our paperwork offered me a bit of hope. Woodward was back in his familiar exercise yard and a bit more relaxed, so much so that Ranger did approach the fence and do a nose sniff with Woodward. Unfortunately, that was so exciting for Woodward that he leaped on the fence and Ranger again withdrew. Still it was a sign that Ranger was prepared to interact when Woodward demonstrated an effort at canine manners. Our counselor agreed to make sure Woodward got extra exercise the next morning so that perhaps he'd be a little calmer when we came back. During the night thinking about the visit between Woodward and Ranger I realized that we'd done Woodward no favors. When he jumped on us we immediately corrected him with a sharp "off" and rewarded him for all four paws returning to the ground. When he lunged and pulled to get to Ranger we merely managed the behavior and had made no effort to teach him how he should react; for some silly reason we were relying entirely on Ranger to show Woodward how to behave. This struck me as utterly ridiculous and very unfair. I live with Ranger who has exceptional social skills; I know what good manners look like and I know how to tell a dog what behavior I want and yet I'd done nothing to encourage good behavior from Woodward. 

We went back the next day hoping for a different outcome. Armed with two leashes with traffic grips (I donated the second one since it was clear that it could be of great use) and a bag of training treats we arranged another meet and greet for Ranger and Woodward. Again Woodward lunged and dragged and choked himself trying to get to Ranger and again Ranger withdrew. But this time when Woodward  tried to get to Ranger I pushed my knee past his face and when he was distracted told him he was good. We put Woodward in a sit and rewarded him with treats for looking at us and not at Ranger and Ranger rewarded him by coming closer but the excitement of another dog that close was too much. It was clear that Woodward just wanted to be with Ranger, I didn't see any signs of aggressive intent just a complete and utter lack of canine social skills, and no idea how to behave appropriately. He didn't even seem to understand what Ranger was trying to tell him. It was as if he had never ever learned to speak canine. In the end, much as I liked Woodward and much as I'd have liked to add him to our home I like Ranger better and it already is his home; a home to which I refuse to add a socially tone deaf dog who didn't demonstrate an ability to learn from the resident dog. In the end I was forced to acknowledge that Woodward has the potential to become an exceptional dog but that he needs to begin his new life as an only dog in the hands of someone who understand the importance of canine social skills and will be able to help him learn to behave appropriately when meeting another dog. Still, I was sufficiently impressed and attached to Woodward that I donated his adoption fee. Perhaps that will help him find the home that is right for him. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ranger Defines the New Kitten

I was highly entertained today when Ranger defined The Great Catsby, our new kitten, as Toy. I know he's been fascinated with this fearless new creature that grabs his face and chews on his ears or tries to swing from his tail but we hadn't tried to identify the kitten by a sign only by his verbal name "Catsby" which Ranger quickly learned to recognize.

Today Catsby was sitting on my lap. Ranger came up, sat politely, and signed Toy, when I asked what Toy he poked Catsby with his nose. I sat Catsby on the floor and they had a rousing game of tag.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

An Expert Observer

Sometimes I forget what an expert observer Ranger really is. This morning he reminded me. We were scheduled to visit a local nursing home called Mary and Martha's this morning. I went out to collect Ranger and take him for a walk before loading him in the car. As we were walking up the driveway from his enclosure I was telling him what the day had in store. "We'll have a quick walkies and then get in the car so we can get to Mary and Martha's on time." As soon as I said "Mary and Martha's" Ranger's ears went up and he picked up his pace heading directly to the car where he waited for me to open the back and load him in. He wasn't interested in having a walk at all.

It's habit for me by now to pick cues that tell Ranger what we'll be doing. Wearing his bandannas (With his coat I've sewn two bandannas together so that there's enough length to tie around his neck and still be seen--his "uniform" is composed of a Therapy Dog International bandanna and a PAWS Buddy Brigade bandanna; the red and blue look pretty snazzy together) means he'll be meeting and interacting with people wearing his tags means we'll be going somewhere ( dangling tags and his coat aren't the best combination as they tend to get caught in his fur.); longline is a hike in the woods and a leash is a walk. I forget that he also picks his own cues to look for and that sometimes those are words. I know that "go" is his favorite word; "would you like  to go for a walk?" "Shall we go to (fill in the blank)" "wanna go" any time he hears "go" he knows something good will happen for him. Since I know how much he listens for this word I try to be careful about using it. I hadn't realized that "Mary and Martha's" are words he's chosen to listen for.

When we visit at Mary and Martha's we are escorted around by one of the activities staff. Ranger has figured out that this person is his key to getting to visit residents. Today if she walked away he was determined to follow her. He didn't like her being out of his sight.

I love observing Ranger as he works and figuring out what he's chosen as his cues. He's really an expert observer.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

It sure looks like language use to me

Today we needed to drop of some Mountaineer Magazines at Wholesale Sports. Since Wholesale Sports is a dog friendly store and they're all fans of Ranger of course we took him with us. As soon as we got to the desk where we drop the magazines off he was eagerly looking for his favorite clerk, the one who always gives him treats. When he didn't see her he called for her and the instant she came out his bottom hit the floor and he began repeatedly signing food. She came over and petted him and made much of him and while he soaked it up he continued signing food. She stopped petting him and told him she'd go get his treat. Ranger sat quietly and stopped signing food. It was clear to me that once he'd made it clear to her that he wanted his treat he was content to wait for her to get it. He didn't continue to superstitiously sign he used his sign to say what he wanted and once it was clear he was going to get it he stopped asking. That sure looks like language use to me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hidden Valley Photo Blog V

[edited 2/22/2013 some photos were removed as an experiment. All photos that were removed were different views of the photos remaining]

I'm combining my regular blogs this week. Ranger and I regularly visit Hidden Valley to take photos and see what the beavers have been up to. He doesn't always go with me but he comes along often enough. And for the record since this is nature preserve land he is always on leash.

Seeds and blooms continue to be a big story in Hidden Valley as does an increase in beaver activity.
Looking across the meadow you see how much of the grass has gone to seed.

Seeds are great at hitching rides in order to propagate their species. Ranger's coat collects an amazing amount of seeds requiring a lot of brushing when we get home.

Close up the seeds are lovely.

Everywhere there are grasses going to seed.

Flowers bloom all around.
Pink roses make a beautiful contrast with the weathered shake siding.

There are lots of blooms to admire in Hidden Valley.

The dam continues to grow.

Everywhere there is more evidence of the beavers at work.

 It’s clear the beaver slide is getting a lot of use.

These branches are about three and an half feet off the ground. These must be good size beavers.

Although beavers are said to prefer Alder to other types of trees these beavers are chewing Rhododendron,


And Alder

Beaver have very hard teeth!

Ranger and I will enjoy our hikes through Hidden Valley and our observations of nature and beaver activity. Until next time.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ranger Recommends Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor

Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Model of Teaching and Training
by Karen Pryor
In Don’t Shoot the Dog, Karen Pryor provides magnificently managed descriptions of positive reinforcement clicker based training. This book is  the most fundamental text on the subject of clicker based training. Pryor’s book gives you a sound understanding of the process of using a clicker as an adjunct to positive reinforcement training. The book is delightfully written and laden with engaging stories. I especially enjoyed her description of teaching a kitten to play the piano—literally to play a simple song. Pryor is a gifted teacher and writer. As well as ways to employ positive reinforcement principles with animals she includes suggestions on how to change negative behavior of human beings into more pleasant interactions.  I finished the book energized and anxious to put the things I had learned to work. It made me a better and more effective trainer for Ranger.  I consider this book to be one of those that are essential reading for everyone who wants to train animals.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Feeding the dog Part II

If you feed your dog a Raw diet he is a health hazard T/F

This really is a serious issue that needs to be given careful consideration if your dog does therapy work. Unfortunately, just as with the question of the health benefits of feeding your dog Raw the scientific evidence is, to say the least, inconclusive. Or to put it bluntly the evidence is all over the map and often contradictory; one study shows a greater degree of e-coli shed in the fur of a Raw fed dog, another that there is less Mersa on a Raw fed dog’s coat. Yet another study indicates more salmonella on the coat of a dog that is fed Raw and still another that there is less salmonella on the coat of a dog that is fed Raw and more on the coat of a Kibble fed dog. There really is no definite information one way or the other. So what do you do? You can do like the Delta Society and prohibit Raw meats in a dog’s diet if they do Therapy work. That’s one solution. Of course this solution forces people to choose between letting the dog do the work he was born to do or feeding them the diet they have determined is optimum for their dog.

Ranger and I are registered with Therapy Dog International. They didn’t take the militaristic approach of banning all Raw fed dogs. Instead it was left to the individual human partner. I much preferred this approach. Don’t get me wrong there is a very real concern about passing pathogens from the therapy dog to the person they are visiting. Human partners of therapy dogs are encouraged to carry hand sanitizer and to offer it to anyone that has been petting their dog. Dogs are expected to have been bathed within 24 hours of a visit. Good hygiene is the rule and not the exception.

When humans interact with other animals there is a risk. The trick is to manage the risk. Since Ranger is a rough coated dog and there is possibly a greater chance that bacteria will get caught in his coat he will not be visiting high risk populations; in other words no visits to the local Chemotherapy ward for him. So what do we do to keep the populations he does visit safe? When we arrive for a nursing home visit I wipe his face, shoulders and all four paws with an antiseptic wipe. He’s already had a bath and been well brushed out so with the addition of the antiseptic wipe down we’ve done our best to minimize any health hazard he might pose. Additionally he is on Sentinel which not only prevents heartworm but also some pathogens that are contagious to humans. We take reasonable precautions and get on with letting him do what he was born to do. 

Something that has been well documented and demonstrated is the health benefits conferred by visits from Therapy animals. The lowered blood pressure, the boosted immune system, the increase in oxytocin all of these benefits have solid scientific proof behind them. Personally, I believe that the well documented benefits outweigh the potential risks.

Until next time. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Feeding the Dog

At our most recent veterinary check up Ranger and I fell afoul of the new veterinarian in the practice. The subject was what Ranger eats. The veterinarian didn't approve. Ranger eats a largely raw diet and I don't plan to change that. Yes, I know there are some concerns about bacteria. Yes, I know there is not solid science demonstrating that Raw is healthy. Yes, I know lots of dogs do well on kibble only. Yes, I know cooked food diets are an alternative to Raw if I want to put in the work. I also know that since we started feeding him raw food Ranger has not had any health issues, his teeth are very white and shiny, he smells less doggy and his coat glows. In addition I know that I did a lot of research before we switched and that I try to keep abreast of what science there is on the subject. This wasn't a lightly made decision following a fad it was researched, reasoned and frankly agonized over.

I do wish that there was solid science available but the fact is there is not. There is a lot of anecdotal data and there are several flawed and/or inconclusive studies. What I know from personal experience is that we adopted Ranger and fed him exclusively on high end kibble (Blue Buffalo). We'd had him just a few months when he had his first bout of gastro-enteritis necessitating a trip to the emergency vet, x-rays, subQ fluids and a lot of terror. He wouldn't eat the Blue Buffalo after that so we switched or Orjens and Acana brands of kibble. Six months later he had another go around with gastro-enteritis necessitating more vet visits, subQ fluids and medication. This happened twice more as he continued to eat Orjens and Acana,  grain-free high end kibbles. At this point we'd had Ranger two years and he'd had four bouts of gastro-enteritis. Several people told me they'd had similar problems but the problems had gone away once they switched to Raw. Anecdotal evidence but from people I knew and whose dogs I knew and something had to be changed; if there was some way to put a stop to these recurrent bouts of illness I owed it to Ranger to find it. I started reading everything I could find on the subject of feeding Raw. I learned that dogs evolved as scavengers and opportunistic eaters. I discovered that a dog's digestive system is much shorter than that of a human and that their stomach acid is comparable to battery acid. I was reminded that it wasn't that long ago that dogs were fed exclusively on table scraps and human leavings. I learned that what most veterinarians are taught about feeding dogs while in veterinary school is sponsored by dog food manufacturers. With some trepidation I determined on a two week experiment. For two weeks I'd feed him a Raw diet and see what happened.

The first thing I discovered is that Ranger will only eat raw meat that is chopped up fine and ground meat is better. The second thing I discovered is that organ meat needs to be chopped and lightly sauteed in olive oil before he'll eat it. Still he was eating raw meat and seemed to like it. At the end of two weeks his coat positively glowed, his poop was smaller and less smelly, he was drinking less water, his teeth that had been getting yellowish were white and he'd lost a bit of weight. He hadn't been overweight before but he had been at the top healthy weight. It seemed logical to me that the smaller poop meant he was making more use of the food he was eating. Drinking less water because he was getting more water from his food seemed a good thing since some studies have shown a correlation between drinking lots of water and likelihood of developing stomach torsion. The weight of the water is thought to stretch the tissue holding the stomach in place making torsion more likely. As a big dog Ranger's risk of stomach torsion is already higher than that of his smaller cousins so doing something that reduced his risk struck me as a good idea. Over all he appeared healthier at the end of two weeks. He also really really wanted his kibble. The books and websites tell you that you shouldn't switch back and forth between kibble and raw, that doing so will make the dog sick because his digestion can't switch easily between the two. The more I thought about it the less sense this made so I gave him his bowl of kibble. In fact I started feeding him more and more variety of foods with Raw being the foundation of his diet. That was over two years ago and since that time he hasn't had any stomach upsets. Maybe it is coincidence, maybe he outgrew the gastro-enteritis, maybe he'd do just as well on a cooked food diet. I don't know but I do know I'm not willing to experiment now that he is healthy.

I'm not a fanatic. I don't think everyone should switch to Raw food but if that's their choice it should be respected. Next time I'll discuss the impact his diet has on his job.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Relearning Toy

Teaching Ranger K-9 sign has a lot in common with teaching my children to speak. Sometimes it takes a parent to see/hear the very subtle differences. We took advantage of the proximity of the point and shoot with video ability to record some video during one of our unscheduled language lessons.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/33350160@N02/5639592562/in/photostream  or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4ZUkk-JAdE As I watched them later I realized that while to me the distinction between how Ranger signs cheese and chicken is fairly clear it might not be to someone else watching the video. Just like a child learning to speak Ranger isn't always very precise about his "diction." When I'm asking him to identify cheese I see a more pronounced bend to his leg and the leg not being lifted as high. Chicken shows a less pronounced bend and his leg is lifted higher. In watching the videos I'm also reminded that I have higher expectations for the form of the sign than my daughter does. I was very pleased in watching the video to see that even though her signed question, "What is that?" was actually signed as "Is what that?" Ranger was still able to understand the question and respond appropriately. http://www.flickr.com/photos/33350160@N02/5639520152/in/photostream/ or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCju8OWOK6Q

When we moved from cheese and chicken to toy it was obvious that we haven't been using the toy sign much lately. I was amused to see him run through all three food signs in an effort to get the toy.  I also wished that I'd had a clicker so that I could have marked his correct use of the toy sign before he switched to the food signs again. In the video I could see a couple of times when he started to lift the right paw but instead signed with the left. My sense is that he does know toy but that lately he's been rewarded so much for food signs that they have become his default choice. Ranger will be getting to play with the bear of squeakiness (yes it is a silly name) and other toys a lot in the days to come with a variety of edible treats mixed in. http://www.flickr.com/photos/33350160@N02/5639552782/in/photostream/ or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X12_tGo_7rM

In the meantime I'll lament the fact that we would be in a position to video on a day when there's laundry everywhere and plenty of other mess. Not that I'm ever a good housekeeper but I don't always have laundry baskets and boxes for outgrown clothes all over my living room.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


For reasons I haven't yet fathomed Ranger greets our Schwan's delivery guy with wild exuberance. He is the only one who receives this kind of greeting from Ranger. He does bring treats which he gives to Ranger but he doesn't give them to him until Ranger is sitting politely. When Ranger jumps on him all he does is step back then when Ranger sits he fishes in his pocket for a treat. I haven't tried to retrain Ranger from this behavior because I think that secretly the Schwans delivery guy enjoys being the only one for whom Ranger goes crazy. And perhaps that's the reason Ranger does it. Even though he doesn't get an overt reinforcement there's a covert one that I'm not recognizing. That's neither here nor there. I wanted to mention what I saw during our last transaction. Ranger greeted the delivery person with his usual exuberance, including jumping on him. Then he immediately sat and started rapidly signing Food over and over until the treat arrived. He's definitely embraced the idea that the lift and set down of the left paw means food.

We've been working with him on the signs for Chicken and Cheese. My goal is to get him to the point where there is a general category of chicken and the same for cheese. I may be making progress. When we were at Naturally 4 Paws I noticed the treat they were about to give him was labeled chicken so I asked Ranger what it was. He signed Food. I asked what kind of food and he signed Chicken. The clerk was so impressed she had the other staff watch while he did it again. Of course later when I asked Ranger to identify a toy he was excited about he immediately signed Chicken. I asked him if he thought it was food and he switched to the Toy sign. We haven't asked him to use the Toy sign a lot lately but we have been working Chicken and Cheese. The stuffed corduroy bear with lots of squeakers was a huge hit with Ranger so I'm sure he'll find ample opportunities to use the Toy sign in future.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tail Waggin' Tutors at the Library Today

Today Ranger and I went to the Poulsbo library so he could listen to children read. I'm really pleased by how well he's learned the routine. Rather than use the main door and possibly run into people with allergies or fear of dogs we've been asked to enter through the French doors that open directly into the children's section. The walkway leads to the main doors and the path to the French doors isn't immediately obvious but as Ranger took a step past the path I reminded him "Our door." And Ranger immediately turned and headed down the path to our door.

When we arrived there were no children waiting so Ranger was visiting with the Children's Librarian. As we were talking and Ranger was getting his tummy rubs twin boys came and were interested in reading to Ranger. I asked Ranger to get up and told him we needed to go to our space. He jumped to his feet and headed for the corner where we set up for reading time. I asked him to wait while I shifted the furniture around to make room for him--he's a big guy. Then I spread his blanket on the floor and told him to get ready for listening. He trotted over to the blanket and lay down. The boys were very impressed that Ranger did everything I told him to. Their Mom wanted to know how long it had taken to train Ranger like that. The answer is that we've had him for three and a half years and have worked on his training nearly every single day. I went on to say that while we do train pretty much every day it isn't all formal training and that for Ranger it's fun time for interacting with his people. After Ranger had listened to a Lego firefighter story the boys began asking me questions about Ranger's gear. He wears a pair of bandannas around his neck when we visit one is his red Therapy Dog International bandanna the other is the blue PAWS Buddy Brigade bandanna--one bandanna isn't quite long enough to go around his neck and still allow me to tie it without getting a lot of his fur caught in the knot. By sewing the two bandannas together it makes it long enough that I have a better chance of not tying him into the knot. We talked about how he knows that if I put his "uniform" on he knows that he's going to work and that he knows if he's not wearing his "uniform" he's off duty. We looked at his ID card which really impressed the boys and talked about how it says he is not a Service or Assistance Dog and what the difference is between a Service Dog and a Therapy Dog.

After they left there wasn't another child waiting to read so Ranger and I hung out in our corner and practiced some of his tricks and then I was just petting him, running my fingers through his fur. About this point a little girl came to show Ranger the pictures in her book. I was still running my fingers through his fur and hit a snag. Apparently I pulled a little hard trying to work it out as Ranger yelped and jumped up. The girl was very startled and kind of afraid but when I asked her if she'd ever yelled ouch when her Mom was combing her hair and explained that what Ranger had just done was to yell ouch she was fascinated. They finished looking at the pictures in her book and she held her hand out to Ranger so he licked it. I'm not sure what she expected when she gave him her hand but Ranger had no doubt what to do. It was pretty cute listening to her giggle because his tongue tickled. Please, note that part of Ranger's equipment is hand sanitizer. However, when I offered it to them her mother said they'd just go wash her hands in the bathroom.

Ranger and I had a long talk with the Children's Librarian as we were getting ready to leave. Some of her colleagues at other branches have been asking about the program and she wanted to know what kind of training the dogs have and how people go about getting their dogs registered. All in all it was a good day of educating.