A blog about dog training and dog breeding…and other sundry matters

Archive for the ‘Dog Training’ Category

A Wing and a Prayer and we Fly

Busta, winner of the October 2011 Novice Obedience Class

Busta, winner of the October 2011 Novice Obedience Class. Owned, trained, handled, loved, and ocassionally cussed at by Debbie Davidson

I write this post about a significant accomplishment exactly one week late because I’ve been insanely busy. Yet I’m pleased to announce that my five-year-old Rottweiler, Busta, who has been in retirement and who hasn’t competed in an obedience trial since 2007 won the Novice obedience class on Saturday, October 23.  He won “high in trial” too with a perfect score.

The decision to enter the dog came from a place of desperation.  Earlier I had made the rather sad decision to retire my white German Shepherd bitch who showed a great deal of promise in obedience.  But, I needed a goal, something that would keep me working with my dogs, and I needed a dog that might, just might, progress through the various classes and earn an obedience title.  I hauled Busta out of retirement.

He had learned all the novice exercises when he was a puppy, but it was many years since I worked him.  Despite my best intentions to prepare him for the upcoming show, our work together was sporadic at best.  Three weeks prior to the show I did no work with him.  We were entering on a wing and a prayer.  Yet, we managed to impress the judge.  Busta remained focused in the ring and did everything asked of him quickly and enthusiastically.

Now I scramble to find time to prepare him for the Beginner’s Class on November 20.  It’s tough when there are so many other things clamoring for my time.  A fellow competitor who used to enter multiple dogs in obedience while working full time told me that she’d wake up early and train during the 5:00am hour, working each dog with one exercise for a total of three minutes.  I will have to try that.

We need to work on the one-minute stand-stay, and the high and long jump.  Busta proved many years ago that he is not a jumper.  He is the only one of my dogs who has never shown any inclination to jump on furniture.  With the Jamaica Kennel Club’s recent decision to lower the jump heights for competition obedience, I just might be able to entice Busta to perform the jumps.  We’ll see….

A Sad Decision Made at White Mist Shepherds

Athena is the dog on the right

I worked Athena on the field in obedience along with other German Shepherds.  She didn’t have a good day.  She broke all of her stays, lagged miles behind me in the off-leash heel, and I had to call her about three times in the recall.  As for the retrieve.  I managed to get her to hold the dumbbell for me at the beginning of class; however, she very reluctantly went out for the dumbbell.   On one attempt I had her sit at heel and wait while I tossed the article–a bright orange plastic dumbbell.  I sent her out and she promptly brought me back a discarded styroform cup.

Half way through the class, it was evident that Athena had shut down.  It was not for psychological reasons, however;  she was simply not feeling well.  Three people whose judgement and advice I trust pointed out that Athena has not regained her strength yet, and she needs to rebuild her muscle mass.  I see the dog everyday, I noticed the improvements in her, but I needed an objective set of eyes to see what really is.

Coupled with this, Athena has an arrhythmia.  We made the decision that she would not be competing in the Jamaica Kennel Club’s All-Breed Show and Obedience Trials, and will retire from the obedience ring and will enjoy the rest of her life as a house pet.  We were so close to that CD.

Our First Day Back on the Field

Athena did very well on her first day on the field last Sunday.  I’ve been doing light training in the house, gradually easing her back into training.  She did a fabulous off-leash heel and amazing stays amid the most outrageous distractions.  I was very proud of my baby girl.  I was hoping she would earn her CD by December, but that might not be possible.  We’ve only now formalized the retrieve in the house, but of course the exercise will fall apart once we do it in unfamiliar places, like my backyard, or in the obedience ring!  I need to proof it in unfamiliar places.

We didn’t get around to practicing the retrieve at the field.  She gets tired quickly.  After being out to training then for a bit of a drive to drop something off at a friend’s house, all Athena did that night and much of the next day was sleep.  I’m hoping that her stamina will return by September 18th, the day of the obedience trials.

Training after a major illness

Police dog training from 1915

Image via Wikipedia

As Summer winds down and with it the promise of cooler, more comfortable temperatures in which to train, I must return to work.  My time will be severely curtailed this Fall, as it is every semester.  It is extremely difficult to balance full-time-plus work, graduate school, writing, and dog training.

I eagerly anticipated summer holidays:  it would be a time to focus on getting Athena ready for Intermediate obedience and earning points towards her CD.  It was an opportunity, I anticipated, for me to rehabilitate and train Lily by deaf and partially blind white Catahoula.

There’s a great saying I once heard:  “If you want God to laugh, tell him your plans.”  Nothing went according to plan.  Athena fell seriously ill, then my mother got very ill, and graduate school consumed all of my time.  I did no training.

It’s only within the past two days that I’ve started training Athena once more.  I keep the sessions super short, but she shows her usual enthusiasm.  Today I focused on holding the dumbbell.  She will hold the dumbbell for 5 seconds while in a sit, but I think she will hold it much longer.  She waits for the click before releasing the object, so all I have to do to train for duration is delay the click.  In clicker training the click not only marks the correct behavior, but it marks the end of the behavior; the dog is free to stop the behavior once she hears the click.

So with the remaining days before the show, I will train as much as Athena will tolerate.  I hope to take her out to proof her off-leash heel.  Last dog show she threatened to go AWOL on me during that exercise!  Unless the veterinarian advises me otherwise, we’re definitely entering this show.

Before you call the dog trainer….

A few months ago someone called me frantically for help with her little dog.  Out of the blue, her reliably house-trained dog started peeing in the house.  She was at her wits end because the dog started doing this when she was off the island.  Now the dog peed in the house when left alone and during rain.  This lady was convinced the dog had developed a behavioral issue.

I thought otherwise.  When dogs, and other animals, start acting “weird” suddenly, the first thing to do is to take the dog to the vet and have it checked for medical issues.  Pain and illness in general will turn an otherwise sweet-natured dog into a shrieking banshee that will bare it’s fangs at the least provocation.

According to Dr. Debra Horwitz, a veterinary behavior specialist in St. Louis, MO, illness can cause behavioral changes in pets, particularly older dogs, that include soiling the house, aggression, destructive behaviors (chewing stuff), restlessness and “excessive vocalization.”

Old dogs, Horwitz points out, often suffer from Cognitive Disfunction Syndrome, similar to dementia in humans.  The disease manifests itself as disorientation, changed relationship to the owners, not recognizing familiar people initially.  Apparently the possibility of developing the Syndrome increases as the pet ages.

What are we to do?  Only a vet can best advice you on how to help your dog.  Supplements such as Sam-e and a diet containing medium-chain triglycerides can help.  As in aging humans, keeping the brain active also helps stave the effects of cognitive issues related to age.

In my friend’s case, her dog, a four-year-old small-breed,  had tick fever and a bladder infection.  No amount of training would have helped this dog.  It needed veterinary intervention, fast.

References

Horwitz, D. (2010).  Cognitive function in older dogs.  Clinician’s Brief.  Retrieved from http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/applied-behavior/cognitive-function-older-dogs?pyMBZBP3PA

Training Two Dogs at Once

Lots of exciting things happening at White Mist Kennels for the summer.  As summer fast approaches–it’s hot as Hades at the moment–my goals for these few months’ break from teaching includes doing a lot of training with my dogs.  My work continues with Athena, who must qualify three times in the Intermediate ring to earn her “Companion Dog” title, the first of two obedience titles that she will earn.  We’re almost there.  With consistent, focused work, heaps of patience, and a lot of fun at the same time, I think we’ll get there.

I’m also preparing Tuvok for his first obedience trial in the Fall.  He’ll be doing Novice, but because of my limited time to train, his obedience training has suffered quite a set back.  I’m only now working on stays.  Tonight Tuvok did a 6-second sit/stay with me standing close by, which I was able to put on a variable schedule of reinforcement.  We have a far way to go.  Fortunately, Tuvok, like all the other dogs, adores his obedience lessons.

At the same time, I’m making preparations to rehabilitate and train a deaf catahoula/German Shepherd mix.  I have named her Lily as in Easter Lily, and she is five months old.  I will post more about Lily later.

Intermediate Obedience

After only one month’s preparation, Athena and I will enter the obedience ring once more tomorrow, but this time we’ll be competing in the Intermediate class.   We have not mastered all the exercises perfectly.  For instance, Athena can reliably clear the high jump at 23″:  she must do 36″ tomorrow, and her retrieve is still rough around the edges.  However, her work shows remarkable progress.

Two weeks ago she refused the jumps.  I had to take her back to the beginner’s stage, letting her jump very low heights, rewarding, and raising the heights very gradually.  I also had to change the cue, as I discovered that somehow the old ones got poisoned.   The results:  she offers me jumps now.  Some will say that is not a good thing in a competition dog; however, the fact that she offers the jumps without me cuing her says that she actually likes to jump, and she knows what she’s to do.  And, she’s jumping off leash.  How could I possibly correct that?

We may not be perfect, and I have no idea how we will do in the ring tomorrow.  We may be brilliant, we may stink.  Regardless of the outcome, I remind myself that the process, the journey of getting to where we are, is far more important than the product, the first place, or the trophy.  While those are nice to have, I am more interested in how my dog learned, and that she had fun learning and performing, and that she will look forward to more training and trials.

That said, I sign off for now as handler and dog must be well rested for the task at hand tomorrow.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: