Thursday, March 31, 2011


Elizabeth Taylor died last week. There was an abundance of video celebrations and memorials to her life. No one I know met her. She never sat at my table, or attended a schutzhund trial. Her passing doesn't leave any holes in my heart but I still mourn the fact that an icon is gone. I know that there are people who did know her, and loved her dearly.

Last week a Wisconsin soldier, Spc. Justin Ross, from Green Bay,in addition to others serving in our armed forces, was killed in service. I didn't know him, either. I saw his family on television and cried to hear their tribute of their son. He died doing a job that protects my freedoms and I feel that loss.

A Fond du Lac police officer, Craig Birkholz, was also laid to rest last week, killed by a man who fired his displaced anger from a gun and then shot himself. Another officer and his police K9 were also wounded but are recovering. Fond du Lac is not far from here and although I did not personally know him or the wounded officer, we are all Brothers and Sisters in the badge. The community of fellow officers that I walk in, mourns that loss but are healing by helping Craig's family and reminding us to stay strong and SURVIVE.

Another man, loved by many, joined the list of those taken from us last week: Mike Scheiber. Mike was a long-time member of MVSV, one of the schutzhund clubs in our North Central Region. Mike and his dog, Jett, won the Regional SchH3 Championship last fall and I think everyone recognized and applauded Mike's dedication to the task and that the "little guy" could prevail.  He was not a professional trainer, and worked very hard for his success. He had a wry sense of humor that sometimes left you wondering if he realized he had said something so hilariously funny. Mike was attending a training seminar at his club when he passed away.

Any time you are witness to the death of someone you care about, it is difficult.  It may be somewhat selfish of me to imagine that it would be wonderful to die in pursuit of what you love.  I know it must be difficult for the survivors, but to have lived many years and leave this world, not at work or in a car accident, or even as a result of lingering illness, would be a blessing, in my book.

We all become saints after death, and honoring the memory does not mean we pretend the person we lost is now somehow now more than a human.  It does mean that EVERYONE is loved by SOMEONE.  When death touches our life, think first of the honor and the pleasure it was to know that person.  Consider smiles, laughter and shared experiences without which your life would be a paler shade. If there are lessons to be learned, hold those with gratitude. Perhaps it means seizing the moment more often; telling someone you love them; leaving a legacy for your children.

A common thread that has emerged in conversations about Mike was his generousity of spirit and being a friend to new and old members in the sport. He visited many clubs to attend seminars and was a vocal cheerleader for the success of his friends. If we take that goodness, and apply it in our own lives it will be time better spent than mourning.  In mourning we feel sorry for ourselves, for our loss. True, we not only deserve but need that time to own the emptiness of a friendship that did not live to see our old age but if we must be careful not to take up residency there. There are people who need us.  Who need us to help them in the sport, to welcome them to our fields and be the smile that greets us at seminars.

Every death reminds us that our time here is finite. Don't let the opportunity pass by to learn from loss. Ask yourself "what would Mike do?"  Step up to the grill, and be that person.

Breed Differences- Part I: A little history

This seems like a good day to begin an introduction to you of my introduction to dogs. I had started this as a prelude to the "breed differences" post.
I thought a little background might be helpful. My father was given a Springer Spaniel named Jim, by his father as a wedding gift.  Jim was an excellent hunter and so he was a meaningful gift, and the first dog of my memory.  We had a series of mutt dogs. Since dogs ran loose and were largely unvaccinated the fact that they survived long at all is a wonder.  Still, a lovely little girl named Ginger was the first dog I actually remember interacting with.  She was an unrestrained femme fatale, who had litter of puppies sired by the neighborhood roustabout, Freddie. From that litter we kept Red, Son of Fred.  Red was THE dog of my youth, a companion and partner for exploring the hundreds of acres of timber plantation surrounding our home.  He was, as his name implies, red in color.  He was a short-coated handsome dog, medium sized and he lived outside in a doghouse built under the eaves of the house. He was a clever dog, and never insulted a porcupine or a skunk.  In fact, we would feed him in a large metal dish on the back porch and in winter added meat drippings to hot water and I recall looking out the back door to see Red sharing his meal with a skunk.  To this day, I am amazed that he was not sprayed! Red was the darling of my childhood.

 In my teens, apparently influenced by television, I decided I wanted a German Shepherd Dog. No "Lassie" for me; I wanted Rin Tin Tin!  There must have been a miscommunication, because my father brought home a series of German Shorthairs.  While attending college, I was given a Shepherd-Doberman mix, a very sharply aggressive female. I had no skills in training, and all her responses were natural.  When prepared to moved to Appleton where I would live with another officer until I could find a place of my own, I read the animal ordinances and did not feel I could safely keep "Sable". I left her with another family.  She was a bright dog, saddled with a sub-novice owner. I sometimes wonder what could have been accomplished, or changed, with the dogs I have owned, if only I had known more at the time.
My next un-Shepherd, was a stray bite-case that came into the Department; a scrawny cream and black female with ears the size of satellite dishes.  I named her Radar.  Radar was a sweet dog, but shy dog. She was well behaved on basic obedience commands but did not enjoy the commotion of classes.  Then came my opportunity to add a REAL German Shepherd! Friends I had met through the dog club had a litter of puppies! A pure-bred, AKC registered, black and tan male named Baron von Linden. I called him Bear, because he looked like a fuzzy little bear cub. And yes, I realize the I lacked originality. The breeders were very supportive and helpful and because of them I took Bear to obedience classes.  Granted, training has come a long ways since then, but I found that I enjoyed training. I attended fun matches and conformation shows with the breeder and learned more about the activities available to me.  When Bear was approximately 4 months old, another friend observed him running and pronounced him "dysplastic."  I knew nothing of this, and denied it.  After all, this was a registered dog!  However, when Bear and I traveled to Minnesota to compete for our Novice title, we earned one leg before Bear came up so lame that I left the trial and returned home to take him immediately to my vet.  My friend had been correct.  My dog was so horribly dysplastic that it was amazing he could walk, and he was clearly in pain.  He was euthanized.

You would think that I would be turned off by German Shepherds with that experience. Quite the opposite was true.  Bear's breeders had invited me into a world that I had not known previously, and I liked it.  In fact, it was Dennis who took me (and Donna Matey!!) to our first schutzhund trial, at the Northern Illinois club!

My mission became to start a K9 unit for our Department.  I did some research and found that the prices for police dogs were quite expensive, far beyond what I had as disposable income at the time.  I don't remember how we had even met, but Sandee Filo offered to help me find a dog I could afford.  In fact, that was quite a generous offer since the dogs I couldn't afford were theirs! As it happened, a Milwaukee police officer who bred dogs (Bob Hanus) had some dogs for sale and Sandee took me to evaluate them. One caught my eye.  He was distinctive, to be sure; he had one ear that had been nipped off.  As a puppy, he had apparently misbehaved to the extent that his own mother bit the top of his ear off! He had a perfect half moon scoop from the top of one.  His registered name was Exx vom Heiliger Huegel. 

This dog had been returned to the breeder when he became too much for the owners.  Untrained behaviors that are cute in a puppy are not so in an adult, and relieving boredom by attempting to press past them and out the door, or sneaking along the fence in the yard and suddenly leaping up and barking at the neighbor, lost amusement value.   To me, he had that sparkle in his eyes and joy of life that called to me and I bought him. The breeder had nicknamed him "Eros" and that is what I called him.  Some time later, after his initial police dog training, I contacted the previous owners to tell them what he had accomplished and they said "he never gave us any indication of that." Those words have stuck with me.  They had surrendered him when the axle broke on the trailer he rode in (to visit their cabin "up north") and it was either fix the trailer or get rid of the dog. They got rid of the dog. Yet another thing caught my attention, however; they had called the dog Bear!  It was meant to be!   I do think we receive "signs" when things are meant to be, and this helps you to understand how I felt about Marco.

Eros opened another world to me, one of police dogs and also schutzhund.  We attended our initial police dog training at the Alabama Canine Law Enforcement Officers Training Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Together we traveled to Germany where we spent three months training at the Landes Polizei schule fur Diensthundfuhrers, honing our skills. We competed in the Police Dog Championships several times, and I made life-long friendships through him. Some of the saddest days of came when Eros retired and I had to go to work without him.

I owned a number of German Shepherds after Eros, but never made the same connection with them.  They moved in and out of my life. Nice dogs, but not the right dog.   They were, however, the "right dog" for other people and went on to become the special dog for those families. 

When people come to me, having already made the choice of a less-than-suitable dog, I know how they feel.  I also know that if I turn your back to those people, I may lose a wonderful supporter of the sport or excellent handler or simply made an emotional choice.  It is unlikely that dog will be their last, so my obligation is to prepare them for better choices in the future and help them find fun in training positively.  When people have physical issues, I know the heartbreak of having to make a choice to spare a dog pain but also how a big heart can carry a dog through physical disabilities.  I can try to educate people, but I cannot fault them for learning via mistakes, as I did.  Believe me, not every is so smart or blessed to have that first dog be the perfect specimen for everything you want to do and you may need to adapt to what the dog is capable of.

In another post I will tell you how the striped dogs, Dutch Shepherds, entered my life and became a life-long love!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Making due

I was very optimistic when I entered Pre in the AWDF Championship, being held in Kentucky on April 7-10.  When we had a nice thaw and I was able to be outside for one day, I was ecstatic. I, of course, imagined it would be followed by many more such days and I would be able to practice on a full field and tune up Pre's tracking skills, as well.

Mother Nature had other plans.  18 inches of snow fell and left a layer of doubt.  I attended a seminar with Debbie Zappia and was able to work on some of the finesse of the obedience exercises, but it was held indoors.    What was I to do?  In Wisconsin, we sit on buckets and fish through the ice.  I could certainly adapt, couldn't I?

And adapt I did.  Enter: snow tracking.  The weather has warmed enough that the snow is wet and leaves a clear footprint, where I can place rewards.  The footprints sink into the snow, so the dog cannot see the treats and has to place his nose into the cavity, and the snow is so wet that it does not drift over my track.  These are perfect conditions to lay serpentines, turns and sharp angles and let the dog learn to slow himself down.

Some people think that snow tracks are "easy" and that the dog just has to follow a rut.  Not so.  While it can indeed be helpful for the handler, as you don't need to flag your corners or find landmarks, if a dog does not know how to moderate is own speed and stay on course, he will just run wild across it.  The dog, through self discovery, learns that moving more slowly is what finds reward.

While we still haven't been able to practice on a competition field--- no blinds, no full field obedience-- I am watching the thermometer and crossing my fingers.  If not, we will just do our best and know there are things to improve. 

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Breed Differences

Waylon suggested that I write about the breed differences between the German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd and the Malinois.  I can only tell you what my experience and observations have been. I have handled individuals from each of those breeds to multiple SchH3/IPO3 titles.  I have earned an FH with two Dutch Shepherds.  I handled one GSD police service dog, and a Dutch Shepherd earned DPO titles. Two malinois have titled to Mondioring1. I have trained and handled a Dutch Shepherd and a Malinois as Urban Search and Rescue Dogs.

My breed choices have come via the circumstances of my life. The only one I actively sought out and selected was the German Shepherd.  Still, there are those herding breed similarities that I am drawn to, and the dogs I enjoy working have very similar temperaments, no matter the breed.  Some people love a particular breed and will do what they can with that breed, accepting that it may not be the fastest, most skilled animal or take a place on the podium.  They make the journey together, enjoying that and not expecting more than the animal can give.  These people I respect.  They do not abuse their dogs for the sake of their own ego, demanding accomplishments beyond the capabilities of the dog.  Their dogs may be compared unfavorably to breeds that excel at certain sports or activities, but it's okay.

There are others who select the breed according to the sport they wish to pursue.  In general, you will find more success and happiness with a dog who enjoys the activities you want to engage in with him.  To do this, you must understand the sport and what type of dog does best.  Even within the breeds, certain types of dogs and specific bloodlines perform better or provide differences you may wish to consider such as handler aggression. Your own temperament (and temper!) as well as handling skills also contribute to making a good choice. A reactive dog does not need a reactive handler.

Breed comparisons that I make are between the working varieties, not pet dog/AKC types. Just because a dog is of one of those three breeds does not mean it has the drive and temperament for work.  I prefer the German Shepherd Dog for new K9 handlers, as they tend to be more forgiving of mistakes.  They are also less reactive than the malinois and so make a good partner for an officer who is, himself, learning the program. For an officer who thinks with his muscles and has a need to prove he is the boss to his dog, or who is highly exciteable, a malinois can be a dangerous problem. I love my malinois, but they need to be worked from a calm place.

The sport of schutzhund was developed for the GSD.  The full, calm grip that is a trademark of the sport, is also more naturally occurring in the GSD.  If you choose to compete in schutzhund with another breed, you should recognize the natural qualities of those breeds and understand how they affect your training.  I have spent months and months working grip with dogs of other breeds who prefer to prey-shake and loosen the grip. If you enjoy certain sports you should also check and see which are available in your area, and whether they are open to your particular breed.  The German Shepherd is less body-aware and therefore, does not always jump as dramatically as a malinois and when we work them against obstacles it is less concerning to them to come into contact with the obstacle, whereas the malinois will spring away.  They are somewhat slower to mature as puppies.

If you are interested in ringsport, the Malinois is your first choice to be competitive.  Nerve strength can be an issue in some lines, but I think dogs who trial in Mondioring require more stability and are a good choice.  The French line dogs are smaller and extremely fast, as the decoy steals points from them by evading (esquiving) their moves.  Grip is not so important as getting there and holding on.  The Mondio dogs are larger and the grip more important, as accessories provide pressure, not the movement of the decoy.  So, your choice should be determined by what you want to do.  Choice poorly and you will be penalized for, and struggling with a grip issue forever.  Malinois puppies also need more exposure to the world, in a positive manner, when they are young.

I love my Dutch Shepherds, but they fall a little under the "I love the breed" category, even though they aren't winning championships.  However, when they are cross-bred with malinois then you cannot use them as an example of what a Dutch Shepherd is, to suggest a temperament or drive type.  I find them a very willing, medium sized dog that is not a reactive as a malinois but has a tendency toward defensiveness if this is worked in an immature dog.  They seem to have more ability to "turn off" and not be active all the time.  I have spent more time working grips with them in order to compete in schutzhund, as they prefer to prey-shake and fight. Calm has to be a shaped behavior.  Dutch Shepherd pups are similar to malinois in that they need to have a good foundation and exposure to environmental issues as a youngster.

The breed you choose should ideally be one that shares your enthusiasm for the sport you wish to pursue OR you must be willing to adapt the vision and find something you both can enjoy together.  To pound that square peg in a round hole will be unsatisfying and unfair.  Your own skills and personal attitude also affect which breed would be a good choice.  And sometimes, you make an emotional choice that has nothing to do with what breed would be best... and you love it, anyway. 
Use the following guide:
1) describe yourself as a handler/ dog owner.  are you exciteable? subdued? hate training and just want to hang out? short tempered?
2) describe your preferred method of training:  compulsion or motivational
3) identify the activities you wish to pursue with your dog.
Now match those things with the breed descriptions and within the breed, those individuals or lines that most closely correspond to your answers.  

And, if you answered "compulsion"  as a teaching method for #2............get a fish.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Must have had a bad experience.....

I realize I am far behind in keeping up with this blog, but I heard a conversation yesterday that I felt compelled to expound on.  I was in an *unnamed pet store* and overheard a couple talking to the pet store employee and asking for advice on grooming because their dog doesn't like to be brushed.  The woman said he moves away and tries to avoid it, to which the clerk responded "he must have had a bad experience."

First, let's examine our source of information.  A pet store clerk.  While it is possible this person is an experienced dog trainer, the odds are against it. Particularly in view of the comment, "he must have had a bad experience."
What this couple will take away from the conversation is an excuse for their pet's bad behavior, which they will likely pass along when they relate their brushing woes to friends.  It ranks right up there with the "he must have been abused" suggestion that accompanies any shy dog.

It is certainly possible that they used the wrong brush, or pressed hard or just caught a twisted piece of hair and it caused pain to the dog.  But since they did not admit to being the culprits, they appeared to be blaming whoever had the dog before them-- the breeder, store, rescue organization or shelter.  It is also possible that the dog simply didn't want to be restrained and protested by moving away or trying to nip at them to stop it and they released him.  Behavior that is rewarded is likely to be repeated.  Therefore, if the dog learned misbehaving equals freedom, he will likely do it again.  And a little behavioral phenomena called the "extinction burst" means that his attempts will persist longer and more fiercely the next time, and things will get worse before they get better. Much like an episode of Super Nanny.  And the poor, bewildered "pet parents" fall back on the suggestion that their darling was abused, when what he really is, is simply a dog acting the brat.

Some dogs love to be groomed and some learned to tolerate it.  Either way, they generally do not start out standing like little statues whilst you pull and comb at their hair.  They need to be trained, and hopefully using positive reinforcement.

What I did not hear the clerk asking is "what brush do you use, and how do you use it?"  The clerk did not suggest rewarding the dog for small successes. Or elevating it to a position where it felt less secure and likely to run off.  Why? Because the clerk probably did not know.  That isn't her job. Her job is to sell the products that their company tells them to stock and sell.  She has no choice in the quality of those products. In one case, I advised a store that a food they still had stocked on their shelves had been recalled.  But for some reason,  on many occasions I have heard people in the pet stores asking clerks for training and feeding advice.

In your life with your dog, many people will offer advice. Quite often, the least knowledgeable offer that advice because they are thrilled to finally find someone who knows even less than they do! If you seek out advice, ask the person what their experience and training is in that area because you want to make certain that you are doing the best by your canine partner. We all start out not knowing anything, and there is no shame in that. Whether you remain that way is up to you. Choose your mentors and resources wisely.