Friday, August 21, 2009

The Taming of the Beast (Part 4)

One of the ways we have chosen to help Brandy learn more self-control is through the use of select distractions placed on both sides of the path she must take in order to complete the recall (come command). Brandy has a history of behaving in a predatory manner toward small dogs. With this in mind we are using Ellie and Rugby as distractions. The goal here is always to make the exercise challenging and yet keep it simple enough so Brandy gets lots of practice making the correct choices.

Ellie the Yorkie and Rugby the Maltese are both very confident little dogs. Their overall behavior is that of dog rather than that of superbrat, pampered clothing accessory. They know they are completely safe while in the crates. When this was first started, Brandy's owner's husband remarked it looked to him like Ellie was actually a diver, diving in shark infested waters while staying within the safety of a shark tank.

At any rate, care is taken to ensure the safety of all the participants. While Sam was warming Brandy up with a short, brisk heeling pattern, the crates were placed six feet apart and a 15 foot longe line laid out on the ground. Sam heels Brandy to the start point, requires a sit and then first attaches the longe line before removing the leash.

What follows is a test of Brandy's self-control. She must hold her sit/stay until called. She must refrain from focusing on either of the distractions and finally, when called she must travel in a straight line at a fast enough pace to ignore the siren call of either toy dog.

Note that when Brandy thought she had a chance she left heel position and tried to sneak up on Rugby. Sam made use of the come command as the "correction". As this sort of sneaking up continues, Brandy will be given lots of practice on turning away from the object (another dog) of her predatory focus. This practice is critical to the success we are training for and without the necessary practice at saying "no I won't" Brandy would never learn to control herself.

We have now changed handlers. Sydney will continue to handle Brandy for the rest of this training session. This frees Sam up to handle additional dogs as we continue to increase the level of difficulty for Brandy. One of the first things to note is that from an unseen location Sam is cuing Rugby to bark. The reason for doing this is because we know that Brandy has been particularly bothered by the barking of toy breed dogs.

One of the more interesting things to note at this point is that the pressure being applied by the two toys is causing Brandy to travel in a much straighter line and she is also moving faster.

We have made several changes as we continue to increase the level of difficulty. Sam has come back as the handler, the two crates are much closer together, and the 15foot longe line has been replaced with a 20 foot longe line.

The added distance plus the closeness of the two crates means Brandy is tempted to simply avoid the entire problem by going around. She does manage to continue to make the correct choices, even when Sam heels her between the crates rather than around.

Sydney is once again working as Brandy's handler, while Sam shows up with a new dog. Pete the Lab is the perfect choice for this level of Brandy's training. He has more training that she does and he has that wonderful solid Lab personality that all too often turns from rock solid to just a rock. At first we continue to work Brandy using the 20' longe line. It doesn't take many repeats of the exercise before the mistake is made. Sure enough, just as she told us she would, she decides to cut around the crate defined runway and in doing so runs smack into and then over poor Pete. Pete breaks his stay, Sam gives his the leash and then uses the come command to bring him back. He is most happy to go along with our program even if it seems to mean Kerry Blue raining from the sky.

With the weak spot in the training finally exposed, we go about correcting it by shortening up the longe line, doing many repetitions while slowly increasing the distance. The two crates with their toy breed occupants remain as constants and Pete is moved from on location to another to give some additional interest to the exercise. In cases like this all four dogs are actually being given a chance to practice correct behavior. This means everyone is a winner.

We continue to increase the level of distraction and now have added a fourth dog. The fourth dog is Sanity, who at this point in her career is an old hand at this sort of training and doesn't require a handler to help her make good decisions.

The way the dogs have been set up is important. Pete, who is handled by Sam is now sitting close to Brandy and the crate with Ellie is actually out of Brandy's sight since Pete is big enough to pretty much block her view. Sanity, acting as her own handler is sitting on the other side of Rugby's crate. This means the crate is something of a buffer between Brandy and Sanity. It isn't much, then again, at this stage there should be no need for much of a buffer.

As we continue to practice the distance traveled is once again increased. It is also interesting to note that even when Brandy chooses to look away from Sydney, she never turns her head toward Sanity. Sanity's presences is strong and very few dogs are willing to offer her anything other than respect.

We now come to the last of this session. Pete has been moved to the other side of Ellie's crate and Sanity is now sitting in the direct line of "fire" so to speak. While Brandy started telling us the pressure is getting to heavy, Sanity began to take the pressure off by ever so slowly shifting around until she was facing the camera and just that little bit further away from Brandy. Brandy was able to successfully complete all the recalls in this set and we called it good and quit for the day.

Lest anyone make the mistake of thinking the dogs don't get enough praise and snuggles. Sydney and Brandy do some after training cool down time. It is good to note that Brandy is completely relaxed and comfortable now. Some of her physical and pretty much all of her mental exercise needs have been met for this day. Even terriers can be relaxed, calm and restful to be around. They just present more of a challenge in the brain stimulation department than many other breeds.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Taming of the Beast (Part 3)

Since Wednesday morning is when all the advanced work is tested, checked and then moved forward, it seemed to be a good time to check Brandy and see just where she is in her training thus far.

With that in mind, Sam acted as her handler and we ran Brandy through a complete Novice run-thru minus the group stays.

Yes, there really are two additional dogs in the ring. Remember, Brandy has had a very poor track record where dogs that are smaller are concerned. So with that problem in mind we never pass up an chance to give Brandy the freedom to practice her "Just say no" skills. This then led to the two small dogs being the figure 8 posts for the figure 8 exercise.

If you watch closely you will note that Brandy is never actually fully off lead. What we are doing is to go to progressively lighter and lighter lines to give the feel of being free while still allowing us to make a correction if she were to be unable to say "no" on her own. Since she did so well with this tomorrow we will be able to increase the level of responsibility even more.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Taming of the Beast (part 2)

In this video Sam is taking Brandy out of her kennel run for the first time. She spends a few minutes in the kennel talking to Brandy, then clips the leash on and they take a couple more minutes to get through the gate in a polite way. Next Sam spends some time getting acquainted with Brandy and giving Brandy a chance to pick up the working rhythm. After that they head into a figure 8 pattern.
The thing that makes this practice session so challenging is that both "posts" are actually tiny crates. In one crate is Ellie, our Yorkie and in the other crate is Rugby, Sam's Maltese.

Brandy came here with a bad reputation where small dogs were concerned. She is being given lots of chances to practice saying, "No, I won't try and kill that sorry excuse for a dog."

During this coming week she will get to practice her self-control over and over and over again. It's truly great for building good character. After Sam worked Brandy for about 15 minutes, we had a change of handler's and Sydney took over.

In this video Sydney is heeling Brandy right up to the individual crates, requiring a sit and then just quietly standing there and giving Brandy many chances to decide to turn her head away from the strong distraction.

When we see Sydney struggling to get Brandy to move close to Ellie's crate it is because Brandy is still a little afraid of losing her self control and so is trying to avoid the distraction all together. This is a sign of real progress. Keep in mind that Brandy is not being bribed or physically forced to turn away. The decision is strictly up to her. Of course, should she make the wrong choice then Sydney would at once run away at a very fast pace, only to return to a normal pace and come right back to the original position.
What I find so fascinating to watch is how she works out the problem of self-control. While she was really not just trembling, but just about vibrating each time one of the "distractions" came within her line of sight as we continued to work she became calmer and clearly more in control of herself. It can be seen by just watching her head placement. By the time we had worked for 30 minutes Brandy was really tired and more than ready to call it a day as far as school work was concerned. She spent pretty much the next 4 hours sleeping.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Taming the beast (part 1)

Saturday morning we held our very first outside Canine Good Citizen(CGC)test. As far as I was concerned the weather was great. Of course, I also realize that my total tree canapoy, which keeps us in the shade all day and the gentle breeze that never stopped blowing had a lot to do with how it felt. I also acknowlege there are lots of people who think I'm crazy, daft, or just plain insane to call mid-August in the land between Washington, D.C. on the south and Baltimore to the north as great. Then again, they are pretty much all people who like cold weather. Personally, I truly HATE cold weather, always have, always will. So there!
This great picture was taken of the small dogs who would be taking the test. Some of them know each other and some don't know anyone. Yet they all managed to remain mannerly all day. Of the four dogs, one was the dog in the crowd, two others earned their CGC and sadly one did not manage to pass.

Yes, the Yorkie in the group is Ellie. Ellie, one of the dogs who arrived here with more negative baggage than good memories. Once again, it can be seen that she manages to get along with other mannerly dogs, in this case, dogs her size.

Here is a picture of Brandy. Brandy didn't manage to get her picture taken while in the CGC ring and I'm truly sorry for that since Brandy, yet another dog labeled potentually dangerous earned her CGC after only 9 lessons and was very willing to mind her own business when faced with a dog in the crowd and the friendly stranger with a dog. This picture shows her making the choice to look away from a distraction that just a few short weeks ago would have sent her in to something of a frenzy.

Here is a picture of Ellie during the disintrested stranger station. She had no problem with remaining beside Sydney and then for the next station sitting quietly while being petted by a stranger.

For my part I am especially sorry this shot was just a still. What was actually going on here looked more like some sort of Chinese Firedrill than a walk through a crowd station. The problem was caused because they were one of the very last teams to take the test and some of the helpers had already left for home. This meant we were actually short ring helpers. So everyone who was left moved to the crowd station and then just about the time Sydney and Ellie reach that point for some reason just about everyone started rushing off to go to the stations coming up.

All in all it was a good day. I was sorry to see a few dogs that were lacking in enough training to receive a passing grade. Hopefully they will be able to find the sort of trainer they like and get the necessary help. As it stands right now I think we are going to put on one more CGC test this year. The tentative plan is to run one the last Saturday in October.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Yard Boss

I've been ask to talk a little bit about the dogs that become "yard boss". They are also sometimes referred to as "Sargent at arms", "pack leader", "pack supervisor" to name a few of the many different titles they are known have.

First, it is important to understand that a "yard boss" can't be made. The dog in question either has what takes or doesn't. Yard boss dogs come in all sizes and a couple of different attitude styles. They must know all the rules of the yard, both the pack rules and the human rules. This is not something that just any dog can do. In fact, most dogs want nothing at all to do with the amount of responsibility that is a major part of the job.

From my own experience there seem to be two different types of boss dogs. There are the boss dogs that use distractions to get the job done and there are boss dogs that make use of body contact to get the job done. The one thing both types have in common is an ability to communicate with every single dog in the yard and then take it to the next level and communicate with the human or humans in charge.

Some of these dogs come into their position at a very young age and others take several years to sort of sneak up on the job. Wrap came into her position as yard boss at a young age. See was about 18 months when she started working as a yard boss. The thing I remember most clearly was how she handled problems that arose between older dogs. She would seemingly bump into one or the other of the angry dogs and then fall over and start wiggling and kicking her legs as if she were still a little puppy. All the adult dogs found that to be so off putting they would move away in disgust. Of course that was exactly what she wanted, the almost fight forgotten in their mutual distaste of a young adult dog acting like a puppy.

One of the things that seems to make it easier for a young dog to grow into the position is the amount of formal training they have and how serious their jobs are to the existing humans. The more formal training and the more real jobs a dog has the higher the status in the yard. This doesn't appear to be something that can be forced or changed by a human. It is just something that happens.

By the time Wrap was 2-1/2 she had managed to tease, laugh, play the fool and handle all the work that called for a dog, right up the top of the pack. And that is pretty much were she stayed until the day she died.

I think the reason why Sanity has taken so long reaching yard boss status and is still struggling with the position is because she really didn't feel she could fully take over as long as Wrap was still on the scene.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Back in March a little pimple of a problem grew to boil size, festered and finally broke open. Sanity forced me to pull her from working in public because I could no longer trust her to behave in an appropriate manner when rude children were around.

Wrap left us in April. At this time Sanity was not a yard boss. She was more a riot inciter and would be more likely to be a reason for a squabble to break out than the reason why it stopped. Anything, everything, nothing would send her off into wild frenzies of barking that nothing could stop other than my enforcing a "give me 20" rule. Having to do 20 dog style push ups did help to take the edge off the frenzy.

Ellie arrived in May. Sanity viewed her a a nuisance and something to be ignored to the point of stepping on her rather than over her. However, by the end of May Sanity and Ellie were starting to develop an interesting relationship. It consisted mostly of Ellie following Sanity around everywhere and doing her level best to copy everything she saw Sanity doing.

In June I switched Sanity over to a raw meat and bones diet that includes green tripe and some cooked veggies or fresh fruit that happens to be hanging around. The first week was almost the last week of this experiment since I pretty much couldn't get her to eat much of anything. She was very happy to lick the bones for a time, but then would look at me and seem to ask, "so when are you going to put the food down?" I just continued to tell her that was the food.

By the beginning of the second week of this new diet something clicked in her brain. She started eating and eating with gusto! Of course, there was no more worry about her inhaling her food. Can't do that when you have to chew and chew and chew, just to get one bite you can swallow.

In July, I thought I was seeing some changes in Sanity's behavior both out in the yard and in the house. For starters, I was rarely having to call for 20 push-ups to help her come back to her senses. Then I thought I was noticing some of the very desirable "yard boss" behavior starting to show up every now and again. The most interesting thing was the change in her behavior after she finishes her dinner. She is calm. She is quiet. She is mellow and relaxed.

I'm finally writing about this because other people have begun to notice the very same things I've been noticing. That means it is really happening and not just wishful thinking on my part. It started with little things like her saving Ellie from the dog killer Golden by running between them and then cutting the Golden off. This gave Ellie time to make it back to the house and for the rest of us to put the yard back to rights with the Golden back in jail. I thought it was just a fluke or maybe I just imagined it.

That was the first time I actually thought I was seeing proper yard boss behavior, but didn't want to trust myself on the subject. Since that first time I have seen the same behavior almost daily. Squabbles are becoming less and less. And while that is true it is also true that Sanity is more and more willing to go retrieve string wearing dogs who are not coming when called.

All this makes me wonder if she was just waiting for Wrap to be gone before she finished her growing. And that leads me back to the kids problem.

Starting in June I finally managed to have a few students here who have either children or grandchildren of exactly the right size and age. It means I have been able to stage training problems and actually work on her attitude towards children of a certain height and behavior. Little by little, even this problem is resolving itself in a way that is going to get her back to working in public again. No rush, best to take things slowly and steadily rather than to rush and end up back sliding.

All in all this summer has been full of some pretty important changes and ones that sure have given me lots to think about.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

SPCA Outrage in Philadelphia

How much longer will this sort of theft uncover of questionable laws be allowed to continue before animal owners all over the country finally wake up and realize HSUS has you and me and all our friends, family, neighbors firmly locked in their gun sights.

Isn't it Philadelphia that is supposed to be the city of brotherly love? Must be too old fashioned an idea.

Read this and begin to wonder just how long it will be before they come for you. How much longer before owning one dog with no reproductive parts will still label you a puppy mill, whatever that is. The term "puppy mill" is so elastic and slippery the animal radicals are able to stretch it and twist it and curl it and fluff it to mean anything they want it to mean.

Please pass on the word about this latest travesty of animal "protection". It is important that everyone know what is happening.