Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Therapy Dogs during Finals Week

At Luther College, I am the adviser to a student group called Animal Allies. The students in the group worked hard all semester to get the college to allow a stress relief day with dogs during finals week. Their hard work paid off and this past Sunday (Dec. 12) Luther hosted its first stress relief day with dogs. We had four dogs there --three of them were ours--Paloma (Australian Shepherd), China (American Staffordshire Terrier), and Jack (Pug) and then Bugs (Border Collie)who used to be our dog, but now belongs to a student of ours who has her working daily as a therapy dog for special needs children at an elementary school in Iowa. All of the dogs were a big hit, but everybody was especially attracted to Jack--he's pretty damn cute--he's a Pug afterall.

Many more students participated than we had expected. With them coming and going over a period of about 1 1/2 hours, we must have had upwards of a 100 people. We plan on doing this every semester, but we are definitely going to need more dogs. All of them were absolutely spent by the time the session was over--in fact, the last 20 mins. or so they kept coming over to me with a look that said "it's time to get me out of here."

Dogs really are amazing critters. Whether its companionship, stress relief, therapy, or service work, they have a remarkable ability to impact our lives in meaningful ways.


Monday, December 13, 2010

China and the raccoon

About two months ago I was out walking my dogs on the land behind our house. I had Paloma, Maya, China, and Sula with me. I usually have all of them except China run off-leash. This time was no different, although when we were coming up to a stream I decided to let China loose--she loves going in the water, so I thought I would let her play in it a little without a leash restraining her. This was a BIG mistake. As soon as I let her off she dove right into a pile of brush sending two raccoons up a tree and getting in a fight with a third--the biggest damn raccoon I've ever seen. I'm hearing them growling and snarling at each other and then "boom" I know they are fighting. I see the coon run out of the brush pile with China following and eventually latching on to its back. Now there was no way to call her off--she's an Amstaff for crying out loud--a terrier through and through...but I tried. Paloma wanted to join the fray, but I called her off and had Paloma, Maya, and Sula all lay down while I tried to get China's attention. Oh yeah, did I mention I had Eva, our then 10 month old daughter, in a backpack on my back? So at this point I'm freaking out--I can't get close enough to drag China out of the pile because of Eva(it would have been a stupid idea even if I didn't have her) and I'm thinking that the King Kong of raccoons is tearing my 45lb dog apart--I mean I've heard of coons killing coon dogs and they're pretty tough and a lot bigger than China. So I high tail it back home with the other dogs and Eva. I put the dogs away and as I walked in the house, I handed Eva to Carmen and said, "I'm going upstairs to get my gun."--never in my life before moving to Decorah, Iowa did I ever think I would be uttering those words...so Igot my .22 and headed out the door and as I stepped outside, Carmen said--without skipping a beat--"do you have ammo with you?"--I raised my hand in the air with my clip in it and set out back to China.

Now it turns out I never had to use the gun; the fight was over--I couldn't hear anything anymore and I'm thinking "China's dead." But I called her and out she came from behind the brush pile--her face was covered in blood--the coon's and her own. No sign of the coon, but I suspect she ended up back in her den and probably the worse for it all. China appeared to be okay, but she had bite marks and scratches all over her (thank goodness she is up-to-date on her rabies)--a few days of antibiotics and she was in good shape. Like their cousins the pitbull, and other terriers for that matter, Amstaffs can be very aggressive toward animals they perceive as "varmints"--unfortunately, in their minds "varmints" often include cats and small dogs.

Please, please if you have an Amstaff or a Pitbull be very careful about letting it loose around other animals and please don't take these breeds to the dog park....that can be a disaster. The problem is you never know what might flip that switch in their brains. Don't get me wrong, I love these breeds--all bullies, but especially Amstaffs and Pitbulls, occupy a very special place in my heart. They can be the funniest and most affectionate clowns around, but just as with any breed, people need to remember what they were originally bred to do.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

First Obedience Trials

Well, Scott and I took the plunge and entered Sula and Noel in their first obedience trial, the first weekend in December. We only entered one day since we have other commitments that weekend, and also to see how things go with them. While the first trial with a new dog isn't quite as nerve wracking as the very first trial ever (with our first competition dogs), there is the still the stress of the unknown. What will they do at their first trial? Will they get distracted and nervous in the strange environment? Will they freeze and forget everything we've taught them? (this is unlikely but something we still worry ourselves with!) We have worked hard getting them ready for this, practicing in new places and with all types of distractions, but there are still no guarantees. However there are a few things we can do to make sure the day goes as smoothly as planned: First, arrive early at the trial and allow ourselves plenty of time to get crates set up and get checked in; Second, allow the dogs some time to get acquainted with the new setting before being put in their crates; Third, remember that this is just a dog show and in the whole scheme of life is not a big deal; Last but most important, have fun with our dogs - that's why we do this in the first place!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Training clubs

My activities have been limited the last few days due to another bout with pneumonia. Yesterday was the worst and I couldn't walk across our living room without getting winded. I need to recover soon though because November is going to be a busy month. Scott and I are busy volunteering for the Humane Society of NE Iowa (formerly PAW), helping them move forward toward the goal of building a shelter. Then of course is Thanksgiving, as well as our local training club's annual AKC agility trial which we will be working at.

Several years ago our club (the Upper Iowa Training Club) had died down to just a few members. Now our club is thriving with new members joining regularly. In addition to hosting annual AKC obedience, rally and agility competitions, we also are involved in many public events and demonstrations at the Winneshiek County fair, various nursing homes, schools, public library, parades, etc. We also have several potlucks, parties and training practice sessions throughout the year. While many of our members train and show their dogs, it's not a requirement to be in the club. Anyone who enjoys their dog is welcome! The picture is of a few of our members' dogs during a club practice.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween weekend

What a busy weekend! Friday morning started off with an early morning track for Noel, to find a deer that had been shot with a bow the evening before. It was a tough track with very little blood and it took Noel a little while, but she succeeded and found the deer. Unfortunately coyotes had gotten to it first. I was very proud of this find because it was the toughest deer track we've run, and it would have been a really tough find for the hunter without the help of the dog. She never quits working. It's amazing to me how she took to this so easily - we're only able to practice a few times a year during hunting season.
Friday night was our annual kids Halloween party, which consisted of 10 boys staying overnight at our house. First was the tour through the haunted barn, then the night scavenger hunt, topped off with Frankenstein's dungeon (aka our basement). The kids all had a great time, finally fell asleep at 1am and were up at 6 to play football. After the boys were all picked up Sat morning it was clean up time, then nap time for us!

Sunday morning started off with another deer track. This time the track was very fresh with plenty of blood. The scent was so strong for Noel that she was all over the place on the track but easily found the deer within a few minutes. Most of the deer tracks we've run have been between 12-24 hours old, this was only 1-2. I've noticed during our regular tracking training (tracking human scent) that Noel is often less accurate when the scent is really fresh and in ideal tracking conditions (cool, wet, no wind). I think the scent becomes overwhelming to her, although she always finds what we're looking for.

Yesterday afternoon I met a friend at Aase Haugen home to make a dog therapy visit during their trick or treating time. Eva came along in her pumpkin costume. I brought Noah, who was a gentleman as always, and my friend had her two Pomeranians Sable and Gracie, who are both registered therapy dogs. The dogs were a hit with the residents and kids, especially since they were in costume, and brought a lot of smiles. I think Eva got just as many smiles as the dogs though. :-)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


We speak frequently of our bond and loyal friendships with our canine companions, but there is another type of friend that is so important in our lives - that of the human variety. I call them my "dog friends", which basically translates to dog-loving friends. I have formed my deepest and longest lasting friendships with my dog buddies; those that love dogs; those that work with dogs through volunteer work or as part of their job; or those that show and/or train dogs. These friends understand my dedication to this amazing species, because they also have the same respect and love for them. I have so many wonderful memories going back the last fifteen years from spending time with my "dog friends". I was lucky enough to spend the afternoon on Monday with my dear friend Shirley. I practiced my photography skills to get a good shot of her and her canine family. Here is her picture, with Pete, Lucky, Bobbi and Red.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Happy Birthday Noah!

My dear old boy Noah turned 15 today! The most gentlemanly of all dogs, I feel so incredibly blessed to have him in my life for this long. He has been my BFF since I got him as a puppy and has devoted his life to taking care of me. He's beginning to show his age on the outside, although he still gets a bit frisky now and then, but his heart is as big as ever. I love you Noah, you're a good boy!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A free weekend!

No football games, no appointments, no meetings! A weekend at home with "nothing" to do (besides the long list of regular chores of course). I'm looking forward to getting out and tracking, doing some agility training and taking walks with the dogs.

Utility training with Noel has been going well. Scent articles have been great except for one day where she ran out and tried to retrieve every article in the pile. Thankfully that didn't last. We worked this morning on directed jumping. I started moving her more toward center position, as well as me gradually moving more toward center position on the other side. She was 100% this morning but we have a little distance left to go. We've also been working regularly on attention work during signals. This is something that I had worked hard on with Paige several year ago and it paid off in the ring, and it is something that I always tell my students. I reward attention before and in between signals as much or more than I do the signals themselves. I want watching me to be Noel's default behavior when she's nervous or unsure. Attention work is something that we work hard on in all level of our classes, especially reliable off leash. Not so much in the context of formal competition work, but just teaching the dog that looking at mom or dad is always a good thing. So by the time they get to competition level classes their attention on their handler is already distraction proofed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Companionship of Dogs

I drove to LaCrosse, WI today, to meet an old friend for lunch, and along the way realized (again) how much the companionship of dogs means to me. I took Noah, Paige and Noel along for the ride since the temperatures were mild. I never feel alone when I'm traveling with one or more of the dogs. I used to make the hour drive to LaCrosse weekly to teach dog training classes and at least one of the dogs always accompanied me. I recall one week when my minivan (aka dogmobile) was getting repaired and I had to borrow a family member's car, a particular family member that does not allow dogs in her car, so that week I made the trip without one. I remember feeling surprisingly alone on that drive, especially coming home at 10:00 at night. I feel less lonely and much safer having a dog around. I'm sure this is a pretty common phenomenon among dog lovers but sometimes it takes being without to realize how much we appreciate their companionship.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Busy Sundays

I though Sundays were supposed to be for relaxing... That never seems to happen at our house, it's usually catch up day. Noel and I had a busy Sunday together. Yesterday morning I started jogging again (trying to lose baby weight - that what I'm blaming it on anyway), and of course I need a dog to go with me. My other two dogs are 15 and 10 so Noel was the obvious choice for a running partner. I came home exhausted, she wasn't even panting. So much for wearing her out. After our run I took all the dogs for an off leash walk in the field. Was she tired yet? Nope, not really. She's a Rottweiler, a high energy one, but still, a Rottweiler. This may make it easier to understand why someone who buys a Siberian Husky or a field bred Labrador and takes it for a walk around the block every day for exercise, is having a lot of behavior trouble. High energy dogs need regular exercise, or they and their owners will go insane. Noel finished off her day running a track. Now that we're working on TDX training I've been aging her tracks between 4 and 5 hours and she's definitely having to work harder to keep the scent. I think she was actually tired by the time we finished the track. Mission accomplished.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Parade picture

Here is a picture of Jack, Paloma and Paige getting ready to start the Luther Homecoming parade last weekend, with students from the Animal Allies group. Paige was getting a butt rub (her favorite) so couldn't possibly look at the camera...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Foster homes needed

I am helping to establish an expanded foster care program for the Northeast Iowa Humane Society. Currently there are 4 people doing all the foster work, with most of that landing on three people! We desperately need volunteers to foster dogs until they find their forever homes. Please contact me at venturec@rconnect.com if you are able to volunteer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Parade dogs

Saturday was the Luther College homecoming parade and although we missed it, our dogs didn't! The new Animal Allies group at Luther (which Scott is the director for) thought that they might receive more attention during the parade if they had dogs with them. Of course they were right! Paloma, Paige and jack got handed off to Luther students at the start of the parade and we picked them up after. They were all a hit but Jack got the most attention. Not surprising, everyone loves a Pug.

This weekend Scott and I attended our third herding clinic with Kent Herbel of OK, held in Spring Grove. As usual it was an intense learning experience for both the dogs and us. Paloma and Paige attended, since Noel had come in heat two weeks ago. Stock dog work is so difficult (do I sound like a broken record?). Just when I think I have something figured out it all goes to heck. But that's the name of the game and I refuse to quit. What I love about working with Kent is that he teaches the handlers and dogs to do it correctly right from the beginning. I not only learn about handling my dog but I learn about livestock at the same time. And the dogs learn to think and figure things out, rather than become obedient robots. I go home mentally exhausted everytime, but can't wait to get out and practice again!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rottweiler torture

Here is a picture of Noel in her hula costume from last weekend. A few seconds after the picture was taken she stood up, shed the hula skirt, ducked her head and got rid of the flowers and then lied down in relief.

Tracking season

Some of things I love about fall: leaves changing, a hot drink on a cool morning, walks in the woods, Halloween, fresh roasted pumpkin seeds still hot from the oven, cooking , and tracking season. Tracking with dogs is one of my favorite activities. It's absolutely amazing the abilities that dogs have to scent and tracking gives people a way to be a part of that. Yesterday Noel and I tracked for the first time in a year, since Eva was born. Well, actually that's not entirely true - we followed a 12 hour blood trail from a deer a few days before, in training for tracking wounded deer for hunters. But yesterday was our first day back at competition tracking. We are preparing for the Tracking Dog Excellent test, which is a 1/2 mile track with 7-9 turns, 4 articles of clothing to find, and between 3 and 5 hours old. The most difficult part of tracking is finding the time necessary to train for it. I laid a track through some thick rough cover, with 4 turns, 4 articles, and aged a little over an hour. She is trained to lie down when she finds an article and only did that once yesterday, the other articles I had to give her a verbal command - she paused at the articles but then wanted to keep tracking. Something for us to work on. Because of the difficult cover we got tangled up on small trees constantly, but it was good practice b/c this can easily happen during a test. She did great finding the start direction and didn't have any trouble tracking in the thick cover. There was one solid dirt area that she had a little trouble on, so that's another skill that we will need to work harder at. It was also at 5 pm in the afternoon so everything was very dry and more difficult to scent. Overall she ran a nice track and it was a good first practice back. I'm looking forward to our next opportunity to get out again. Note to self: never wear sweaters when tracking through tall thick cover - it's going to take me hours to pick all the stickers off my sweater.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Halloween fun match

Last Saturday was our annual Halloween fun match. The weather was cool but nice and we had a great turnout. For the first time ever our entries were fairly evenly divided between agility, rally and obedience. High in match agility was Beth and her sheltie Chance, high in match rally was Lynn and golden retriever Rummy and high in match obedience was Kristie and sheltie Trace. After the competition we had our annual costume contest which is always hysterical. The winner this year was Wendy and her lab Franken"Thunder". Noel was dressed as a hula girl and Scott had China dressed as a bumblebee and Sula as a bride. You can view pictures of the costume contest on the Good Dog Center website (www.gooddogcenter.com) on the Fun Photos page. I did a rally run through with Paige and a novice run through with Noel. Both did well although Noel was initially distracted by all the new dogs in "her" training building.

Today is Paige's 10th birthday. Happy Birthday Paige! Time goes too fast - it seems like only a year ago that my brother in law picked her up for me in Colorado and delivered her to Decorah when she was 11 weeks old. She marched right into the Good Dog Center building like she owned the place (maybe she knew she partially did). She has had quite a successful competition career that is nearing an end: two National High in Trials, multiple all breed and specialty High in Trials, top obedience Collie in the country for 2003 and topped off her obedience career with an invitation to the AKC National Obedience Championships in 2009. I'm so proud of Paige and everything she has accomplished. She deserves all the ribbons and awards that cover our walls and I'm grateful for everything that she gave to me. Other than a little bit of agility and rally competition, she's taking it easy these days. Just for fun I took her herding last week and she'll attend the herding clinic that we're involved in this weekend. She has earned her fun!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sick Day

I was sick yesterday with a nasty cold but still managed to get the dogs out on a walk and get them all groomed, as well as do some Open training with Noel. It's amazing how I can find the energy for training but not cleaning the house. :-) This weekend is our annual Halloween fun match and I'm starting to get ready for that, in between grooming dogs and taking care of Eva. It's always a fun event that I look forward to every year. We top the match off with a costume parade and pictures of all the dogs in costumes. Yes, they hate it, but I always tell my dogs that it's only once a year and they can suffer a short time for their mom (that's me) who loves them. By the emails I've been getting it sounds like we'll have a good turn out, especially for Rally and Obedience. I'm going to do a Novice run through with Noel. Even though it's in our building it's still much more formal than a regular practice so it will be a good test to see how ready we are. Hopefully the weather will hold and we'll have a beautiful fall sunny day.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Weekend activity

It was a busy weekend! Saturday was the HSNEI (PAW) walk fundraiser event and despite the rain it seemed like a good turn out. Scott did agility demos with Maya and helped people teach their dogs some of the agility equipment. HSNEI is in need of volunteers as usual, but especially foster homes and transporters. Transporters are needed to pick up and deliver dogs out of town to different rescue groups. We're not able to do any fostering right now because of then number of dogs we already have, but I did volunteer to help with transporting.

Sunday was a club practice and potluck in Elkader (postponed from Saturday due to the rain). What a gorgeous day! I've been having Noel practice full Novice run throughs for her breakfast every day, so that's what we did at the club practice. I was very happy with how she did. Still a few minor tweaks to make before we're ready for competition but we're pretty close. Scott and Sula are getting ready for Novice as well and they also had a good run through yesterday.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Herding lesson

Everyone who herds with their dogs always says that it is an activity that will make the relationship you have with your dog evident. Noel and I had another practice today, along with Scott and Paloma. I should have known that after our last lesson was so calm and under control that this one would be a little more active (understatement). Noel was full of it, and being the control freak that I am, I can't seem to stay cool and collected like I need to be. The more she escalates the more I escalate, which causes her to escalate more and then I escalate more. You get the idea. It wasn't pretty. My instructor came out to help and she has everything under control within seconds. My lack of talent as a shepherd is astounding. Scott and Paloma on the other hand, had a very calm practice - they both did great. Scott joked on the way home that maybe it's because Paloma is almost 11. I responded that maybe when Noel is 10 we'll be able to be calm too. Then again, maybe not.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Training a deaf dog for competition

Let me introduce Maya to you: she is an eight-year-old, quite nearly all white, Australian Shepherd mix who is completely deaf. She is a wonderful companion and great working dog. She has earned a couple of agility titles, has her open obedience title (UKC CDX), and a tracking title (TD--from AMBOR). She is also a terrific trick dog, being able to "stand tall," "wave," "bow" (Japanese style--I spent a bit of time in Japan in the past), "speak," "whisper," and "play dead." Currently we are working on her UD . In fact, we are doing much of the same kind of training that Carmen is doing with Noel--Maya is progressing nicely, though we have had plenty of hiccups along the way.

Deaf dogs are becoming more common in competition venues--I've seen them in both agility and obedience. Gone are the days when people believed that such dogs should not compete and can't be trained, though these attitudes still persist among some: when Maya was a young puppy I remember a few people insisting that I have her put down because her deafness would compromise her quality of life; others have wondered whether she really can be successful in performance sports. I can tell you with confidence that Maya's quality of life has not been affected--she doesn't know anything else, but deafness; after all, she was born deaf. Moreover, her scores for her CDX were all over 195, the highest being 197.5--she is definitely a capable competition dog. Most people, however, understand that deafness is not really a handicap, and I can tell you it makes dealing with noisy distractions very, very easy :-).

Maya has taught me a lot--she is a master at reading body language (most dogs are) and because she is so attentive will respond to the slightest twitch I make. She is particularly sensitive, so I have to be very conscience of my body especially when she makes a mistake--she knows immediately if I am disappointed or frustrated (two emotions that always make things worse when it comes to training).

The primary challenge in working with a deaf dog is knowing what hand and body signals to use for various commands. Most people figure something out for basic obedience and as long as they remain consistent, the dog usually learns these signals very quickly. It becomes more of a challenge when you are competing. What do you use, for example, when you do a "go out" for utility? Signaling the dog to go out to the end of the ring seems fairly easy, but then what about the sit at the end of the "go out?"--figure that one out--after all the dog is not facing you when you give the "sit" command--and, as you might have guessed, it helps a great deal if your deaf dog can see your signals....Maya and I are figuring something out...fudging it really...but you can see where a bit of creativity comes in handy.

Anyway, more about Maya and the rest of my crew later.


Scent Article training Part III

I think we've got it! We did three sends today. The first to a scented metal article, in which she scented the pile, found the correct one and brought it back! I stood there with my mouth open, recovered from the shock and we celebrated with a huge reward. Second time sent to a leather scented article. This time she found and indicated the correct article so I went out and rewarded her, and she picked it up and brought it back. Another big reward. Third send was to another scented leather. She went out, searched the pile and brought it back. Jackpot! Tomorrow we'll move it out to the training room and see how it goes in another location.

Rain, rain, go away!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scent Article training part II

Possible break through today? Or maybe luck - we'll find out tomorrow. This morning we did three sends to a scented metal article. The first one she was confused and I had to point to the correct article, then asked for her indication, then rewarded. Second send was better, she continued to "guess" and happened to sniff and indicate the correct article but I'm pretty sure it was by chance. I ran out and rewarded. Third time, although still a little hesitant, she used her nose and indicated the correct article - I ran out and jackpotted, then asked her to pick it up and bring it back to me which she did, and I gave her a big reward again. Woo hoo! Then we quit for the day. I was happy, she was happy with herself too, a much better practice than yesterday. We'll find out tomorrow if it was just a fluke or if she's starting to understand what I am asking of her. Either way, she's trying really hard to figure out what I want so I'm feeling positive that we'll get it soon.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Scent Article training

Noel and I have been working on scent article training, along with Scott and Maya, to prepare our dogs for Utility. For those of you unfamiliar with obedience competition Utility is the third and most difficult level and requires several dicrimination exercises. In the scent article exercise the handler (me) puts their scent on a metal or leather dumbbell and places the scented dumbbell in an area around several unscented articles. The dog is required to search the pile and bring back the one with the handler's scent on it. No matter which method is used to teach this exercise, and there are several, all with their own merits, there will come a point of confusion for the dog as to what they are supposed to do. Noel has been plugging along easily in her training. She has a strong tendency to use her nose and I expect that when the exercise is clear to her that she will have few problems with it. However yesterday we hit that bump in the road where she has absolutely no idea what I'm asking of her and she is guessing and trying her best to figure it out. The method I am using for her involves tying down the unscented articles to pegboard with fishing line. So if she tries to pick up the incorrect one she is met with resistance. Let me tell you something about Rottweilers.... they often like to use their brute strength to get things done, and this was no exception. She tried to carry the entire pegboard back to me by retrieving an incorrect article. We are practicing about three short lessons per day until we can work through the confusion. I'll keep you posted on our progress.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Back to Herding

After taking a year off from herding with Noel, to be a new mom again, we started up again last week. Sheep herding with dogs is extremely hard work. The more I do it the more I realize how little I know. There is so much to teach the handler and the dog, as well as learning about stock in general. We had a wonderful time at our first lesson back. We worked in a trial size arena and both Noel and I seemed pretty comfortable in that space, even after a year off. In fact, I think we came back more calm than when we left (this is a "we" effort!). Our second run we practiced in a pasture area with more sheep. I won't give you all the details but just mention that the sheep ended up down the driveway and we decided neither Noel nor I are ready for that much space to handle. The difference between obedience practice and herding practice is that in obedience we can go out and have a perfect practice - that never happens in herding. This has been a difficult obstacle for me to overcome, because I'm a perfectionist by nature and I'm slowly learning to let things go, accept the good and work harder on the bad. But when things do go well, there's not a better feeling because I know we worked HARD for it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Working for food

There is a top obedience competitor that teaches to use your dog's food for competition training. We always have advocated making your dog work for his food in some way, but I often forget to save it for formal training time. If you have a dog that loves his/her dinner, it's a great way to get more animation and enthusiasm, especially for heeling work. This morning I prepared Noel's food as usual, then took her out to the training room. I set her bowl of food on the table, which she saw, and then did two long heeling patterns, one on lead, one off. Her attitude and precision was wonderful, even better than when I use her favorite tug toy or hotdogs. We've done this in the past many times and always get the same enthusiastic and intense work. I am sold on this and am going to practice this on a more regular basis as we're preparing for the Novice ring.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Skunky Encounters

We've had so many encounters with wildlife this month! Last night on our walk near our own property, we decided to take a newly cut trail. It was mowed about 3 feet wide and ran alongside some field fencing. Noah and Paige were ahead of me on the trail by about 20-30 feet and Noel was a few feet in front of me. Noel suddenly pounced in the long grass along the fence line. I caught up with her to see her face to face (with the fence inbetween) with a skunk. I mention "face to face" because that's an important detail when greeting skunks! Since I was now standing about 3 feet from him I turned and ran in the other direction, yelling Noel Come! over my shoulder. She followed me and we stopped so I could assess the situation (did she get sprayed?) and by some miracle the skunk had chosen not to spray her. She was play bowing to him afterall, maybe he was ready to engage in a game? Unlikely. But now we were presented with a different problem. Noel and I were together on the path the direction we had come from. The skunk was in the weeks about 15 feet away, and Noah and Paige were on the other side of the skunk about 50 feet from me. Paige had stopped to watch what was going on and I had told her to stay where she was. Noah being deaf hadn't heard the commotion and was still sniffing around farther down the trail. I had two choices at this point. Either Noel and I had to walk past the skunk to get to the other dogs, or I had to call them past the skunk to get to me. Hmmm. Well I decided the dogs were going to have to take one for the team this time, I wasn't getting sprayed. period. I called Paige first, using my happiest voice, hoping to get her to sprint past the skunk so fast that she wouldn't get sprayed. However Paige is an expert at reading my moods and she heard the tension in my voice. She trotted slowly toward me with a concerned look on her face. She stopped near where the skunk was hiding to pull out a couple of burrdock from her feathering. The tension in my voice increased. "Paige Come!" I tried to say cheerfully, while turning and running away to get her to come faster. She made it safely and I told Noel and Paige to lie down and stay. By now Noah had noticed that we had turned back. I waited until he looked at me then gave him his hand signal to come. He trotted quickly to us. We all had made it and shockingly everyone returned home smelling the same as when we'd left. Whew!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

PAW walk

The annual PAW walk fundraiser will be Sept. 25, starting at Wayside Park in Decorah, at 10:30am. The Good Dog Center will be doing a demonstration starting at 9:30 and also help people teach their dogs some of the agility obstacles. I'll bring Paige for the demo. She's my most experienced agility dog and she loves any kind of demo where she is surrounded by people. She's a true social butterfly.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Obedience practice

Our club practice was fun last night. A small group but another good opportunity to practice in a different setting. Noel did well on her heeling which was the goal for us. Once again it was a beautiful evening and perfect for working dogs. We did group stays in Beth's garage when it started getting dark out. Scott practiced Utility with Maya and as usual she was eager to work. He also practiced with Sula, both Novice work and a little Utility. All three did well. Then Noah hung out while we held our monthly meeting.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

beautiful days

This is beautiful weather we've been having lately. I like to call it perfect dog weather. Warm enough for me, cool enough for them. We went on a walk this morning out in the fields and flushed out a coyote. It was about 100 yards away, and the dogs never saw it, so we didn't even have to practice our leave it. It ran a bit then turned to watch us, then disappeared behind some round bales. We hear them almost every night around our farm, but this is the first time we've seen one on our walks.

Tonight we have a training club practice at another club member's home, so Noel and I will get in some obedience practice in a new area. If the weather holds it will be a perfect evening. I'll post later about how the practice goes.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Juvenile Onset Shyness

Have any of you had a dog that has begun to exhibit signs of fearfulness or shyness after 6 months? I'm curious about Juvenile Onset Shyness, quite common in many dogs. With the proper socialization and training, many outgrow this. I think Noel has experienced this although at the time I wasn't sure what exactly was going on. She was a very outgoing friendly puppy, extremely well socialized, but around one year started showing signs of mild fearfulness in certain situations and greeting people. She recovered quickly in most situations so she wasn't an extreme case. Now at almost two and a half she seems to be getting back to her old self again, confident and outgoing, which of course I am happy and relieved to see.


just a quick test

Back to Herding

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Great book

I'm reading a new book (new for me anyway) by John Rogerson, called The Dog-Vinci Code. John Rogerson is a trainer/behaviorist from Great Britain. I attended a seminar of his years ago at a national APDT conference in Memphis, but haven't been to anything since. I have to say that this book is excellent, whether you're a trainer or pet owner. It is easy to follow and gives many great examples, but what I love about it is that it is so completely practical. It just makes sense. If you are looking for a fantastic book to help you understand dogs, this is it!


I received an update on Slammer today and he started agility classes already with his new owner! They are having a blast and I am so happy at how fast he's adjusted. He's such a good boy.

Scott and I have taken the summer off from showing and have been working on getting Noel and Sula ready for obedience competition. Both are doing great overall, but both have their own issues that still need some finishing touches. Noel needs to practice in a few more new places which we'll be doing in the next couple of weeks and we're still working on tightening up those crooked sits. Sula needs more proofing with distractions, especially during heeling. We've been practicing throwing toys and dumbbells around and she's getting better. We both miss showing but don't want any "surprises" in the ring. :-)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Placing dogs

I made some difficult decisions in August to place two of my dogs in other homes. My Collie Slammer had gone to live with a friend over a year ago but he and her male dog didn't get along well, so Slammer returned to me early this summer. I toyed with the idea of keeping him but he made it clear after a month or so that he wasn't happy here so I began a search for the perfect home for him again. At the end of August I received a call from a friend in LaCrosse, who happens to be a school principal, and her administrative assistant was interested in meeting Slammer. It has been a match made in heaven. Slammer is now a full time companion to Robin and her husband, their other dog and two cats, whom Slammer gets along with wonderfully. He spent all last week hanging out at the school during registration getting lots of attention from the kids and staff. He will be returning to agility competition with his new owner. The other dog that I said goodbye to is Bugs, my border collie. Bugs is an outstanding therapy dog but because of my crazy schedule she rarely has the opportunity to use this gift. She is now living in Iowa with LeAnn, a kindergarten teacher, her husband and three kids, and two golden retrievers. She attends the Starmont school with LeAnn everyday and is a therapy dog in her classroom. The staff and children love her, as do LeAnn's family, and it is a regular fight as to which of her kids gets to spend the most time with Bugs. She is getting 24 hour a day attention, not something that I could give her.

It's such a difficult decision let a dog go and I can't help but feel responsible for disappointing them in some way. But when I hear about how they're thriving in their new homes I know that I made the right decision.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fair week

We've been busy with the Winneshiek County Fair this week. We have a booth set up for the Good Dog Center and have been enjoying visiting with past customers as well as new ones. Noah and Sula have accompanied us at the booth and have been very well-behaved, enjoying the extra attention from everyone. We also helped with the UITC demonstrations yesterday and spoke to the public about kid/dog safety, puppy training and other common behavioral issues. Noah did an obedience demonstration and even remembered his hand signal training from Utility years ago. I'm looking forward to three more days of the fair and socializing at the booth.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Irresponsible dog owners

While walking our dogs at the community prairie the other day, we ran into a friend and dog training client of ours who said to be on the look out for a large yellow Lab. She had been walking her two dogs, one of whom she recently adopted from rescue and is quite timid, when she was approached (this is a nice way of putting it - the dog was at a dead run) by a Lab running loose, no owner in sight. Eventually she spied the owner who had no verbal control over his dog at all. The dog ended up chasing her new rescue dog half way across the prairie before she was able to get him away. She has been working for months building her dog's confidence and thanks to one very irresponsible owner, all that work may be undone. I also recently had a similar, but not so damaging, experience when we were approached by four loose dogs (a cocker and 3 jack russells). All three terriers charged my dogs, barking and growling. I put my dogs in a down stay (if I didn't have this skill they wouldn't be off leash in a public place) and body blocked the charging dogs repeatedly. When the dogs' owner eventually appeared I was polite but blunt about her having her dogs off leash, for her own dogs' safety. While we can't always control the actions of others, we can be responsible for our own dog's training. Having reliable stays under very distracting circumstances can prevent a dog fight from occuring and is a good preventative measure against irresponsible, or uninformed, dog owners.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Alternative medicine for dogs

I am curious what experience all of you have had with alternative medicine for your dogs. Noah has always suffered with seasonal allergies and we've tried a lot of different possible solutions but very few things make any bit of difference, short of steroids which I won't do. Last year we tried a Chinese herbal blend and saw a remarkable improvement in his symptoms. They weren't completely alleviated but it was enough to take the edge off and keep him from getting a staph infection due to relentless scratching. I wish I'd discovered it years ago. Has anyone tried an alternative flea and tick remedy that actually works? I don't like regularly putting frontline on the dogs but during flea and tick season in the fall and spring we usually treat them. This year we've found several engorged (live) ticks on the dogs within 1-2 weeks after the frontline application and I've heard a few others remarking about the same thing on their own dogs. From what I understand the frontline is supposed to kill the ticks within 24 hours. Any thoughts?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Plateau periods in training

I've run into this often with my own dogs and we see it regularly in classes, and it is something to keep in mind when working with your own dogs. When learning new skills dogs seem to hit a plateau period that often happens around week 5 of training. This is a period where their progress seemingly comes to a dead halt or sometimes even back-slides a bit. This can be a frustrating time for owners that are working hard with their dogs and seeing regular progress. If your dog hits a plateau period, back up in your training for a couple of weeks by going back to easier exercises, or at least not continuing forward with more difficult skills. Within a few weeks your dog will be back to normal and will be able to pick up right where they left off originally. You can expect this to happen whenever you teach several new skills to your dog and the good news is, it's normal! :-)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Back in the swing of things...

I apologize to everyone for our lack of activity this month. We'll be back on schedule now with regular posting. An upcoming event tomorrow to attend is a PAW fundraiser in Decorah to raise money for emergency veterinary costs for rescued animals, including a recent dog that needed major surgery. The craft sale is held at the fairgrounds in Decorah from 9-3.

The Good Dog Center has been busy with spring classes and agility season starting up again. Spring classes are my favorite because the people and dogs are both usually rearing to go, anxious to get out in the nice weather. This mid-60s weather is my favorite, warm enough for short sleeves and not too hot for the dogs. In addition to the increased outdoor regular exercise, spring also means more for dog training like tracking and weight pull practices for our own dogs, two of our favorite dog sports. My birthday present to myself this month was a new weight pull harness for Noel (what makes us dog people happy....). Of course the other part of our business is grooming and this time of year means twice as many calls with everyone wanting to get in yesterday.

I hope everyone has been enjoying the wonderful weather with their dogs!

Monday, April 12, 2010


I realize that trying to prepare for more than one sport can be overwhelming at times--I know that I have been guilty of trying to do too much with my dogs--so much so that it has taken some of the fun out of training and competing (not to mention has made me less patient with my dogs). However, especially for those who compete in obedience, doing some other sport like agility can really help both you and your dog enjoy training. Obedience is difficult and requires a lot of thinking for both dog and handler. It's not inherently enjoyable. I know that I have to consciously work at making obedience training fun so that my dogs will not get overly stressed or bored--I want them to enjoy it. I am struggling now with my Amstaff, China, who has completely shut down in the obedience ring--this has a lot to do with the fact that I put too much pressure on her in our training--a mistake I really don't want to repeat.

On the other hand, agility for many dogs is self-rewarding. The dogs get to run and jump and go through tunnels--I mean running through a tunnel at top speed--come on that even sounds fun to me. Doing something different like this--mixing it up a little bit--will keep training enjoyable and interesting. When you and your dog are having fun training together, your relationship will improve significantly. One last anecdote from my own experience. Paloma, my 10-year-old Aussie, use to completely blow me off in the obedience ring. We barely managed to get our CD after which I vowed I would never do obedience again (that was 6 years ago and I'm still doing it)--so we took a break and did agility which she absolutely loves. About two years later I returned to the obedience ring with her--she finished her CDX with her best score yet--a 195.5--a great accomplishment for us as a team. I'm convinced that our agility training--something we really enjoyed doing together--played a significant role in improving our working relationship.

Just some thoughts.....oh, and sorry we haven't posted for awhile.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Good Reading

One of the things that Carmen and I love to do is read books about dogs--dog behavior, dog memoirs, dog sports, dog breeds, etc. So I thought that I would share a couple of my favorites every now and then and hope that you will do so as well.

To start off I would highly recommend two books about dog training:

1. Patricia McConnell's The Other End of the Leash: Why We do What We Do Around Dogs
This book not only talks about the importance of positive dog training, but also how we as "primates" think differently about, and therefore interact differently with, the world from our canine companions. It really gives some good insight into how dogs think about the world.

2. Suzanne Clothier's If a Dog's Prayer Were Answered...Bones Would Rain from the Sky. This is absolutely my favorite book. Not only does it talk about training, but it suggests that working with our dogs reveals things--the good and the bad--about our character. She espouses a kind of "zen" dog training. This is as much a philosophy of life book as a training manual.

More to come later...Again I would love to hear about some of your favorite dog books.


Monday, March 8, 2010


It has become a well-known concept that early socialization is beneficial for dogs for so many reasons. Puppy socialization classes have sprung up all over the country and are very popular (and very important)! But what about those of us that adopt an older dog and what is the benefit of socializing an older dog that we've had since puppyhood? It is true that there is a window of opportunity in a pup's life from 2-4 months old and this is the best time to expose them to as many safe and positive experiences as possible. Dogs that are kept secluded during this time period frequently have confidence and fear issues later in life that take a great deal of time to overcome. However even if a puppy was socialized early on or if an adult dog was adopted later in life, ongoing socialization is still very important and can greatly improve confidence issues. My youngest dog Noel has become a worrier when exposed to new situations or meeting new people. She was socialized extensively as a puppy but I made the mistake of not continuing this socialization throughout her adolescence. Of course every individual dog is different and there are certainly breed tendencies that are put into play also. Noel, being a Rottweiler, is naturally suspicious of strangers and so socialization will be important throughout her life. Other guarding breeds like shepherds, dobes, schnauzers and some of the herding breeds will also need continued socialization to maintain proper social skills with humans and other animals. It's never to late to start.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dogs and Babies

Well I started back to work this week grooming which has been a challenge with the new baby. Thanks to Grandma for all the babysitting! Everyone always asks me what the dogs think about the new baby in the house, and their reactions vary. Of course we are very careful with any interaction between the two and never without any supervision. Most of the dogs seem to be indifferent (just another kid!), Bugs the border collie absolutely loves her and licks her all over every chance she gets and Noel is a little scared of her - she doesn't know what she is! I'm hoping with time they all grow to be comfortable with her. Kids and dogs can be a wonderful thing if introductions and time spent together is carefully monitored and both have a good experience.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dogs of the past

This is a little bit of a depressing subject but it was on my mind today. I was at my neice's birthday party, who turned one year old last week, and I was watching her drop big chunks of birthday cake onto the floor beneath her high chair. My mind immediately flashed back to my first Rottweiler Dreamer who used to sit next to my son's high chair and clean up everything he chose to share with her. I have pictures of him feeding her this way. I started thinking about the dogs that I've lost, and began missing them terribly, even though it's been several years since I've seen some of them. Dreamer was a laid back kind-hearted soul that touched a lot of lives in the short time she was here. For several years after she died I could easily remember everything about her and now I'm starting to forget, and this bothers me. Some of the memories I have of her seem more distant and I don't want to forget anything about the time I shared with her. I love the dogs I have now, but I would love to be able to see the ones that have left me. I still miss them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dogs teaching dogs

We often get phone calls from people who are thinking of adding a second dog to their family. One of the most frequent questions is whether an older dog can teach the young dog the ropes. The answer: Yes! Definitely. Which is why the best time to add another dog is when the older one has developed a predictable routine which includes appropriate behavior. Older dogs make wonderful teachers, usually better than the humans in the family. However, be aware that they can also teach a young dog bad habits as well. Car chasing, barking, digging, excessive fear or guarding habits are all examples of behavior that a young dog can learn from an older one. We had a dog here for train and board that would chase cars through the fence when we would put him out to potty. During that time we made the mistake of letting him hang out with some of our dogs. We had a fairly new addition to the family at that time, our Pug Jack. Jack learned in a very short time how to do the same thing. It took one for Jack to learn this habit from the other dog and took us a year to fix. Our mistake was putting our new dog, who hadn't yet learned the rules around here, out with an untrained one. A mistake we won't make again. On the other hand we have several dogs that are wonderful teachers and are very helpful with train and board dogs in teaching them calm and appropriate behavior in the house as well as outside with the pack.

Health issues update

Good news on all fronts so far. Noel's biopsy results came back benign, which is a big relief. Robin the diabetic cat is doing pretty well. We've managed to come up with a system to keep him in during the night which allows us to always get in the twice daily insulin shots and started him on Evo cat food. He seems to be feeling better so I hope we're on the right path.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Upcoming Events

We have several upcoming events here at the Good Dog Center, including a fun match, canine massage workshop and competition dog clinic. Check out the details on the Events page of our website: www.gooddogcenter.com

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Meaningful Moments

I'm sure you all have special things that you enjoy doing with your dog, an activity or even certain daily rituals. One of activities that always brings me peace and that I do every winter is to take my dogs for night walks in the snow. Last night I went on one of these walks at the city prairie. The snow is so bright that I never have any problems seeing in the dark and there is something very peaceful about walking the trails and hearing only the sound of the snow crunching as the dogs run ahead of me. I love to walk along the river and the dogs and I watch the silhouettes of the geese on the water. I never run into any other walkers at night so the dogs and I always have the place to ourselves. Doing this every year always brings fond memories to mind and it's something that makes the winter months seem much more bearable. I would love to hear about some of your favorite rituals!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Health issues

When it rains in pours, it seems. In addition to the usual routine exams and shots, we've had a few extra trips to vet lately. In December I noticed that Noah's breath was getting foul but couldn't find anything obvious in his mouth, except that the right side seemed sore. We took him in right away and found he had an abscessed tooth that needed to be pulled, it had broken while chewing on a bone. He's fully recovered now. Last month we discovered a large gash of unknown origin on Paige's side. Her hair covered it quite well and I was horrified when I saw it the first time. 15 staples later... she's healed up and back to normal. A few weeks ago I noticed a what looked like an irritated nipple on Noel's belly. I kept an eye on it and what had originally looked like a nipple turned out to be a growth that continued to grow and break open. It was removed two days ago and sent in to make sure it's not cancerous. Keep your fingers crossed! Off the topic of dogs, but since he counts as one of our "paid" dog trainers, our cat Robin is struggling with his diabetes. If any of have any experience with your dogs or cats and diabetes I would love to hear how you've managed it!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stress in your dog

I'm teaching a "Basic" and a "Competition" class right now and as is often the case one or two of the dogs in each of the classes are exhibiting signs of stress which come in a variety of forms including heavy panting, incessant barking, cowering, inability to take treats, etc. The stress certainly comes from the surroundings especially if the dogs are new to our training facility, but it also comes from the tenseness of the person working with them. For some, the stress goes away immediately, for others it continues for several classes, and still others--those that have the hardest time--suffer the entire 8-weeks.

Understanding the signs of stress and doing things to alleviate the stress when y0ur dog experiences it will go a long way in improving not only your training success, but your overall relationship. The first step is to recognize the signs, the second is to learn some of the calming signals that dogs use with each other. For example, turning your head, blinking your eyes in rapid succession, and yawning (there are many more and we can certainly discuss them on this blog if people are interested) can indicate to your dog that she does not need to be worried or anxious--at the very least it will let her know that you are not angry or frustrated with her.

However, there is an important caveat here--dogs are masters at reading body language--both human and canine-- and thus they will know when you are trying to "pull one over on them"--that is, they will know when you are pretending everything is okay when it is not. If you yawn and blink your eyes, but you really are tense and frustrated because, for example, your dog is not learning a particular skill fast enough, he will know and thus continue to feel anxious. I have increasingly become mindful of my own tenseness when working with my dogs and have regularly pointed it out to students when I see it in them. Be conscious of this when working with your dogs--take deep breaths, relax your shoulders, slow down--you will be a better trainer for it and more importantly your dog will be happier when your training her.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Multiple dog issues

Our multiple dog household always poses some interesting challenges, not to mention constant management. Today was no exception. Two of my own dogs do not get along well, Collie Paige and Rottie Noel. Noel bullies Paige, not aggressively, but she goes out of her way to try and intimidate her. We've managed this by not having them loose together. This afternoon I was upstairs making a foolish attempt at a nap (ha!), and I kept hearing Noel doing her guarding (translation: obnoxious) bark. I stormed downstairs, irritated, only to find that Noel who was baby-gated in the back room was guarding the kitchen from Paige (Paige was the one in the kitchen, not Noel) and poor Paige was in the front entry way afraid to go into the kitchen, even though Noel was on the other side of a gate. Dog behavior and pack dynamics are always an interesting study, there is endless information to be gained just from observing dogs interact with one another. Needless to say, Noel is in time out now.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Winter exercise

Finding ways to exercise the dogs during the winter always poses a challenge. I went to the Decorah city prairie today and took the dogs for a walk in the 6 degree weather. My face was numb after a few minutes but the scenery was beautiful and we had a peaceful and uneventful walk. The only other people we met along the way were other dog walkers, out braving the cold to make sure their dogs were well-exercised. It seems a small sacrifice to make given the all-too-familiar alternative of a bunch of wild dogs in the house--I much prefer them tired. For those not willing to brave the sub-zero temps there is a much easier way to tire your dogs out during the winter months. Stimulate their minds. Spending 30 minutes a day teaching your dog new skills will tire them as much as a 60 minute walk, no kidding! Of course this doesn't permanently replace the benefits of physical exercise but is wonderful for bad weather days. Another tip: if you have a dog that likes to fetch, play in deep snow areas. The dogs use a lot more energy bounding through snow than they do on grass.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Welcome to our blog! Living with the number and variety of dogs that we do, as well as working with other peoples’ dogs for many years, we have a lot of stories to share about our own experiences. We encourage everyone to share their comments and questions and hope this will also be a place for interesting discussions about dog behavior, training and health.