Monday, October 31, 2011

Titan learns "touch"

This is a nifty exercise that can be used to send a dog out to a place to "touch" something.  I actually separate this from "place" which, for my dogs, means to go to a location with their feet/body and not 'touch" with the nose.  This relay game can be used for the foundation of the send-away.  It also begins to show the dog how to follow your directions to go to a location, such as the blind search, because you eventually call the dog and then send them on.

Using the "Manners Minder" contact toy is another idea I stole from Debbie Zappia.  I ordered mine through and they have a base and an expandable rod with red bulb tip that is placed in the base.  They wobble when touched, which causes to create more interest by the dog.  Unless the dog happens to be my Marco, who knocked the whole thing over with his tail over and over!  You can expand the rod depending on the size of the dog.

Initially, of course, we need to communicate to the dog that touching this oddity is what we desire. If the dog has experience with clicker training, this will move quickly.  If not, it is still easily taught.  As with any other behavior, we reward AT the source of the behavior.  Feed, feed, feed at the bulb. When the feeding stops, the dog will likely try and figure out what behavior earned the reward.  Don't expect too much-- he is trying to make sense of what happened!  If he so much as glances at the bulb, mark and feed, feed, feed, at the source.  There is no command given until the dog is freely moving to touch the bulb.

When the MM (manners minder) is "out of play", meaning that you are re-loading treats or taking a break, or simply finished, pick it up.  If you want to create curiousity and possessiveness, clasp it to your chest as if it was the most precious thing and what dog wouldn't want it?  You can ask "look what I have?"... "want it?"... and then place it down dramatically.  The dog will likely move to it out of curiousity and when it makes contact, mark and reward at the source of the behavior (the bulb).   For the more reluctant dog, don't be afraid to snatch it up and carry it away again.  If you find it necessary to do that more than a couple times, the dog probably doesn't understand what the whole point of this gadget is and you will need to slow down and help the dog make contact so it can be rewarded.  You can tap the bulb, or even start by rewarding (at the source) if the dog looks that direction.

Now, for the dog who understands clickers, they may think that what you are shaping is the glance or the head turn and stop there.  if this happens, just raise your criteria and wait it out a little for the dog to try to figure out what brings reward.  How we react to the dog's attempts (how much or little we demand) will depend on their level of understanding how to drive our behavior!

Once the dog knows the behavior and we have added the command "touch", we can begin to send the dog to the MM from different distances and directions.  After that, we can stand in between the two and call the dog back and forth with "here".... "touch" as he step in that direction with our arm extended, just as we would do in the blind search.  The dog learns that where the handler directs, he will find reward and he already knows the final respose (touch) that is required there.

At the end of the lesson, you have a dog who, instead of wandering away, looking for treats or attention elsewhere, stays focused on the handler and asks, "Dad/Mom, what are we doing next?"

Titan learns to move off leash pressure

Even a young puppy can learn how to move off the leash pressure, an exercise to teach the dog how to move their rear.  Dogs don't seem to understand that their rear end can be independent of the front, so there are a numer of exercises that can help with the hind-end awareness.  This is one of them.  Once mastered, it makes for a very precise left turn!

Titan works on a flat collar.  The treat is trapped under the thumb and first finger against the palm and the hand is held on the outside of the muzzle.  The handler puts pressure on the leash, drawing it straight across in front of his body, which creates an opposition effect.  The dog moves the opposite direction of the pressure and into the hand, and just as soon as the rear end moves, the pressure is released, the behavior is marked and rewarded.  It is very important that you release the leash pressure immediately as the dog complies when he is learning.

Over-exaggeration is good.  We bring the dog behind our knee once he knows how to move off the pressure.  From here, you can continue and teach the dog to back around you and back to heel position.  But this is what the first steps look like. Titan doesn't even realize he is being taught a new behavior!  He thinks this is simply another opportunity to earn treats!

Giving it another Go-- Cooper and I

I drove to Milwaukee yesterday to train on the rubble pile with Cooper.  I have an incredible supporting team in People and Paws; they scrambled "victims" for me, since I am prepping to test in Tennessee next week. I drove down, did two search exercises, and drove back home.  It was all done for Cooper and I.  I cannot express often enough how grateful I am to this team. 

We failed our Type1/CE test in Milwaukee last spring and we're giving it another try.  I have been practicing wearing all my gear, marking the victims and going through the required information so that it will be second nature in the test.  Cooper seems to be searching well and in fact, is barking strongly instead of his customary squeak.  I can always tell if he has a victim because he does everything he can to penetrate, as well as barking.  It is quite clear, if not an unwelcome surprise to some of the victims to have a brindle face poking into their hidie-hole and demanding reward! Team Cooper is feeling positive.

When we came off the rubble, he greeted the "victims" with big kisses as he ran around.  I love that about him.  He is such a stable dog, who can move between the aggression required in protection work, to being a sociable, friendly dog. And, he is a total rubble monkey! He amazes me at how easily he covers unstable footing!

I didn't take any photos of him on the rubble but here is one I took on Saturday.

Titan practices heeling position, October 30

Here is Titan, the super star puppy of Fox Valley Police & Schutzhund Club.  His legs have grown exponentially and this week he looked more like a coyote and less like the fuzzball he was last month.  Eventually he will become a Noble German Shepherd Dog!  Notice the matching blaze orange of Titan and his handler.

First Titan waits patiently while Rich loads the treats.  I learned this from Debbie Zappia.  Place your treats on a chair or table and only carry a few in your hand. The dog learns not to mug the container by covering/protecting it with your hand and marking/rewarding when he moves off the food and waits.  Now, re-loading becomes an activity the dog and handler do together! You take the dog with you, using a leash at first if you need to, and it not only allows the dog to be active but connects you to the dog.  This is different from what I have seen advocated elsewhere, where you race away from the dog.  Never leave your dog behind!

Next, Rich warms up Titan with some "spins". Particularly with the long-backed dogs, I like to warm them up with some exercises like this before we do alot of demanding physical movements.  This is the warm-up to your fitness class, and it also lets you measure whether the dog is in the right frame of mind and ready to work.  Spin to both directions.  Dogs, like people and horses (and probably other animals, as well) have a side preference, so be sure to work the off-side.  I tell handlers to think of the "wax on, wax off" of the Karate Kid.  If you want to spin to the left, sweep your hand across the front of your body from right to left, and vice versa.  The spins move into a front position and also begin to shape the return to heel.

With the front position, the handler continues to take baby steps backwards so that the position is close to the handler and the dog moves his rear end up to his front, instead of rocking back.

And next, Rich works with Titan to shape the proper head position for heeling, adopting the Knut Fuchs method of working with the dog between his legs.  This allows him to shape the head position without having to nag with a leash or worry that the dog is not in correct physical position.

As they begin to move, you an see the beginning of the drive off the rear that results in the extended, flashy forehand movement.

and when Rich moves him to heel position, it looks something like this... 

Titan's First Tug Session

Titan is the baby puppy of our club, and we are having such fun with him and his owner, Rich Tegge!   This is Titan's first tug session.  He barks for the tug, has nice prey drive and (so nice) a full, calm grip.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

what makes me happy

It makes me happy to make a difference.  I train, breed and compete with my dogs, as well as belonging to a SAR team and participating in different dog clubs and organizations.  It isn't the trophies or awards that I find most fulfilling.  It isn't the personal accolades.  What makes me happiest is to be able to make a difference in the relationship of a dog and owner.

In the private lessons I offer, my clients are generally dogs who have worn out their welcome in obedience class.  They are aggressive toward people or other dogs, or so ill-behaved as to be unable to be worked in a class environment.  Today was a happy day!  In the future, I will discuss further some of the things I do with these dogs, but this morning I had a lesson with a female German Shepherd who has been fearfully aggressive.  It is raining so we moved to my pole building for the lesson.  In addition to being a new location, there are dogs barking, different smells and the rain pounding on the metal roof. Even for a dog without environmental issues this can pose a challenge.   I taught them how to begin the "spin", and sit with attention so that the dog could focus on the handler and be rewarded, to the exclusion of everything else going on.  Rewarding baby steps and effort and throwing a party for success, they were able to work together and the dog was happy and wagging her tail.  Her posture as she exited the building was free and happy, a completely different picture than when she walked inside. 

We had agreed before the lesson began that it would be brief, and that we would end with success, careful not to push the dog to a point where she shut down or stopped working. We repeated the exercise outside (where it had stopped raining)  and I saw that when the dog heard the word "ready?" she was already giving attention to the owner and wagging her tail.  I was able to demonstrate how to hold the food trapped under my thumb so that the dog comes underneath the hand to reach the treat instead of using the fingertips to deliver it and the dog was nudging my hand for more.  This from a dog whose owner was afraid to drop the leash for fear the dog would bite!  That single act made me so happy!  It made me consider how those moments can be so powerful and important.  It is what keeps me doing this.

Monday, October 24, 2011

when experience is not a good thing

I met a gal the other day with a Dutch Shepherd.  I asked her how she made her selection of breeders, since she recognized my kennel name but had not contacted me.  She mentioned a large-scale breeder and said she didn't want to get a dog from a big operation, and also didn't want a serious type protection dog.  Another was ruled out because she found the contract too strict.  Several people she talked to worked with each other, so of course, made positive references to each other. duh.  Apparently we didn't make the cut because we bred more than one type of dog!!  I'm going to assume that she didn't bother to read our website or she would have found that in the past 20 years we have bred 3 Dutch Shepherd litters and 5 Small Munsterlander litters.  Not what you would call high volume, as if we couldn't devote time to each litter. She would have learned that those litters produced multiple SAR/USAR dogs. She mentioned that the breeder she selected uses KNPV lines.  Our Dutch Shepherds are also from KNPV lines and the sire of the "B" and "C" litters was Nico van Neerland, the 2002  KNPV PH1 Champion.  So, without making any other comparisons, we were excluded simply because we train and title more than one breed of dog.  Instead of seeing that experience as positive, that understanding dog behavior and genetics of several breeds would be a good thing, this person felt that made us less knowledgeable than a person who only has one breed.  There was absolutely no mention of health guarantees or genetics in the decision-making. I don't know why I should be surprised, because I often meet people who have purchased dogs with the same type of logic. Part of me is disappointed that I haven't done enough to properly convey the quality product that we have; another part is grateful for protecting our dogs from people who don't deserve them.  Who knew experience was not a good thing!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sherri must be laughing! (ohhhh, Marco!)

Sherri must be laughing!  Up to now, I have had medium sized dogs that I could, if necessary, pick up and carry.  None of them dragged me around.  Then came Marco.  At one year of age, he is over 80 lbs of lean weight.  Just walking him from house to kennel run keeps my chiropractor in business.  Marco is a German Shepherd Dog, so I am also reminded that I have breed, trained and competed with Dutch Shepherds and Malinois for a very long time and there are breed differences.  He lacks the body awareness of the dutchies and mals and throws himself at obstacles in his path.  If the door is closed when he runs to it, he jumps up and crashes his front feet into it because sometimes it opens!  He is an optimistic dog and since I don't always shut the door tightly behind me, he figures the odds are in his favor that he can force entry and make a lap or two before going to his crate.  Just last night, as he was happily leaping around, waiting for me to catch up and go inside to feed him, he ran over my brand new solar light next to the sidewalk... and broke it. There was shattered glass everywhere. 

Last week he chased my chickens.  I forgot that they were loose when I let Marco out,and he found those feathered critters far too tempting to ignore.  I ran after him yelling "no! no! no!"   Marco ran after the chickens, not entirely sure what to do about them.  The chickens ran because a monster was chasing them!  Luckily for them, there really was no malice in his heart, just curiousity, and apart from a nip of feathers, they were none the worse for wear.   Chickens are actually very smart, as they have no fear of Roya, who forages among them, particularly when she thinks what I am tossing to them may be dog-edible.  They also figure that Cooper looks and acts relatively the same, and don't scatter from him, either.  But let Marco appear and they cluck and flee!

For the past 5 weeks I have been teaching a patrol dog course and both Marco and Cooper have gotten to ride along every day.  Some days are too busy for me to fit in training for them, but usually there is something for them to do such as tracking, obedience or protection work.  In the morning when I leave for my work day, Marco has eyes only for the van, and finding his place inside.  Now when he hears the K9 warnings called out, he adds his voice!  "Posting" takes all my strength, but he is coming to understand the "revier" and to move forward, barking, and find a nice rhythm.  And it feels sooo good when he isn't pulling my arms from the socket!

So here I am, a previously self-proclaimed "DS/mali person"... with a gigantic sable German Shepherd at the end of my leash.   It drives me crazy sometimes when he is running in circles around me, spinning me around as a human pivot point, or taking the food in obedience so aggressively that I must wear gloves, but he is so HAPPY it's difficult to be upset with him.  Adapt, adapt.  

 I swear I hear Sherri laughing!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hello, Deer!

Not a typo.  I'm talking about deer today.  Our deer.  Yes, I know technically we don't own them.  We can't even keep them contained on our property in all likelihood, but I feel proprietary about our little deer family.  This past summer we watched a very pregnant doe standing near a patch of willows, just north of our training field, near the pond. The next day, there she was with tiny twins.  Since that day, they seem to have made this area their home base.  We often see them moving between the fields and our driveway, very comfortable with the daily noises of dogs and machines.  In fact, they are apparently amused and will stand and watch the dog training!   Yesterday, as we were doing open field searches, the trio stood on the lane.  Dogs were barking, people yelling and yet there was no panicked flight, no white flags of fear.  Last night when I returned from training off the property, around 9 pm, they were standing in the driveway and moved off to the side so that I could pass.  We don't feed them, so there is no unnatural attraction to the area but I like to think they feel safe. We have a pond, creek, nice cover and alfalfa/clover, and are surrounded by corn fields so I think it is pretty much a deer heaven.  I dislike baiting, whether for entertainment or hunting. It changes the natural patterns and turns the deer into feedlot animals, moving nocturnally from bait pile to bait pile.   Natural selection would indicate that losing fear is not good for survival.  They aren't tame, just habituated.  I support deer hunting; I just don't want MY deer killed!  I heard a shot this morning and my first thought was, I hope that wasn't one of the family. Frankly, they probably are in greater danger of being hit and killed on the highway but I hope they avoid cars and bullets at least until they leave their Momma.  After that, I have the ability to appreciate venison and will give thanks to the land that supported them to provide food for our table.  Just don't kill the babies or leave them without a mother for the winter!

Monday, October 17, 2011

home stretch

We're coming down the home stretch of Police Patrol K9 course.  The handlers are, naturally, worried about their final practical exam. I think they are less concerned about the written exam because we have reviewed the materials throughout and they should feel confident in their ability to problem-solve.  Although they will continue with the weekly maintenance, I try to teach them how to break down exercises and understand what the goals are, when to reward... and sometimes, when to take a step back.  Leaving a patrol class is much like having completed FTO training and being on your own as a newly minted officer. Your training officer made sure you covered all the materials and now you have to experience them.  I feel like a mother bird, pushing the little ones from the nest and it is like this with every class.  Left to me, I would likely have them in training for a year, waiting for perfection!  However, the other part of me is looking forward to having a schedule without all the blocks filled in again.  Barnes and Noble put my picture on a milk carton!

In a few days, this class will be over.  Tracking, area searches, building search, handler protection, patrol route, apprehensions and call offs, directed search, article search, agility and obedience. Tactical obedience, neutrality to gunfire, jump tracking and hard surface work.  Ground disturbance vs pre-scented.  Muzzle, bite suit, concealed sleeve, exposed sleeve. I review the list to make sure we have covered it all. It's amazing to see how far they have come.  The best part of all is watching the handler's expression as all these things come together. Fly little birdies! Fly!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rock'n the Rubble on October 16

Cooper and I have a date in Tennessee in a couple weeks, to make another attempt at his Type 1/CE for disaster work.  We both fell apart at the last test and that really stung, so I've worked at overcoming that experience.  Cooper knows how to search.  He is good at it.  So, my own feeling of unpreparedness must have gone down the leash to affect him.  To combat that,  we have been practicing training like a test.  I report to the evaluator and cover the checklist.  I have my streamers and puff bottle, my white handkerchief or the vet check.  The victims are deeply buried so that Cooper cannot use his eyes to confirm their visual presence.  I considered that, because we had practiced with victims who could toy reward at the source, when he could not penetrate or see them, he was uncertain.  I call out that my dog has "Focused barking, indicating live human scent."  Reminders of the things I need to do (mark the location, call out to the victim, ask for second dog to confirm and tech rescue) are listed on piece of white tape on my vest. Upside down so that I can read it, of course!  

Cooper barks his alert and I move across the rubble to him.  We play.  I mark the site, verbalize the required statements to the evaluators as well as my deployment plans, considering the wind direction, and send Cooper off to continue his search.  Elizabeth Kreitzler's words echo in my ears, to play more at the source. Make sure that the find is truly rewarding to Cooper.  If I can possibly remember all of this, I should be fine.  I have an incredible team in People and Paws.  They come together to supply victims so that I can prepare, when it is a day that calls for being pretty much anywhere other than buried in a hole covered with concrete and debris.  We have skilled trainers and evaluators who can ensure that the practice is set up to challenge us, and that I can complete my tasks smoothly and confidently.  If it becomes second nature, the only thing I need to do is watch my dog and consider a search strategy.

The final exercise for Cooper was an on-lead perimeter search of a full access pile.  For the police dogs, this is a patrol route exercise.  Cooper knows this well.  We move slowly in heel position as he sniffs, and when he has detected scent, he pulls across my body to prevent further movement.  I should be able to rifle-sight between his ears to his nose and know exactly the source of the odor. What is amazing to me is that, despite safety officers on the pile, he can tell the difference between the buried scent and those safeties.  A dog's nose is truly beyond belief.  Cooper hit that one perfectly.

Today I feel pretty darned good about our test.  I haven't seen the pile in Tennessee and no one I know is familiar with it, but I expect Cooper to search no matter how it presents.  He is a monkey on rubble, balancing and crossing the impassable. We can do this! I have a great dog and a great team.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Who is this for? Adding a dog to the family

We met a really lovely couple this weeked.  They brought their adult female Munsterlander to meet a prospective new addition to the family, Excel.  Excel was freshly bathed and beautified to meet the lady friend.  Problem is, he had no interest in her.  Zero.  As "girlfriend" zoomed around the field, exploring, Excel only had eyes for the humans, staying next to us and reveling in the petting.  If they passed one another, there was no acknowledgement, no play bow or happy faces.  It wasn't terribly surprising.  "Girlfriend" is a business-like dog, who actually lifts her leg to pee and throws back the soil to scent mark.  There is clearly a good deal of testosterone there! Excel is much like our other hunting dogs who will search a field together but are not interested in playing.  So, neither dog solicited attention and they went about their respective business.

We all had a nice long walk around the property on a beautiful autumn day, with two handsome brown and white dogs.  It was  not, however, a love fest.  Though they were not meant to be sexual partners, I'm sure there was a hope that having another dog would bring out the playful side of "girlfriend".  I contrast that with what I would have seen from Pre, who immediately would have sniffed, licked and most likely, humped.  Or attempted to.  Different breeds, different individuals; different behaviors. 

In the end, the couple left to ponder the meeting and I haven't heard back from them.  The dogs may warm up to one another, but "girlfriend" showed no interest in having a buddy.  She was somewhat timid to approach me, not a social butterfly to begin with.  It made me wonder who the new addition would be for?  I didn't get a sense that "girlfriend" had a desire to share her family or want a friend.  She wasn't possessive over the humans, and didn't show a concern or interest over their attention to another dog.  I would be interested to see her response to a puppy who insists on fawning over her and licking, to see if she would enjoy that or try to escape?  (naturally, I don't advocate sacrificing a puppy for the sake of my curiousity but generally a bitch will just smack them down without injury if the attention is unwanted) 

If the addition was because the family wanted a dog to cuddle with who would love to be physically touched and petted, in contrast to a more aloof dog, then that would be fine.  If the purpose was as a playmate to their other dog... not so much.  The two may warm up to one another, or they may simply exist in two separate universes under the same roof.  This would be a good match if the family wanted a second dog to spend time with, as opposed to something to occupy their other dog.   They left saying they would ask "girlfriend" her opinion; I think it will be "no, thank you. I'm happy with the way things are."

I am disappointed that Excel may not have found his own home, but the most important point is that it is the right home for HIM.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pre at home

Pre is back in Madison with the Leinweber family and doing just fine.  I know readers are wondering how the transition went.  On Saturday night of the Malinois Championship I shed many tears over saying goodbye, having him injured, not being able to fulfill the dream I had for him.  I wondered how I would be able to drop him off at home.  Maybe I would pull in, hurry him out and leave before I cried again?  As it turned out, there would be no crying.  Pre got out and ran around the yard and into the house where he acted as if he had never left!  His favorite walking buddy, Sam's aunt from next door, stopped over.  Pre reunited with the family dog, Shelby, who wasn't as thrilled to see him!  The family joked that she had hoped he was gone forever and there he was, back again! I left knowing that Pre would be loved and spoiled and he was perfectly happy to lounge without training demands, eating home-made yogurt.  In case you were wondering, there is a happy ending.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Last Hurrah--- farewell Pre

This is much harder than I anticipated.  Pre has not been the easiest dog to keep.  He is destructive and has cost me alot of money in repairs, both to himself and everything around him.  He chewed the dog house and broke teeth.  He tore up the tarp that covered the outdoor kennel. He plays tug with any bucket in his kennel, and chews up the rubber ones  He climbs on top of the dog house and hangs out over the top of an uncovered kennel if he thinks I am leaving him.  I have spent hundreds and hundreds on training seminars, working to hone his skills specifically with the Malinois National Championship as our end goal.  He is a nervous traveler, and I am overly familiar with the trick of actually picking up stool the consistency of butter.  He eats better food than the dogs in my kennel and I buy raw food for him when we travel because of that.

Oh, but when he is performing he is a sight to behold! He prances and flows and exudes joy.  Looking at him makes me smile.  He can be a total goof, and a cuddler.  If I wore lipstick, his face would be a panorama of colors from all the smooches I've given him.  I knew that after this weekend I would be saying goodbye to him and leaving him with Sam's family to retire.  I kept reminding myself of the bad stuff, the unpleasant or costly pieces so that it will make it easier to say goodbye.  And then I look at him, and I smile.

Being able to work with Pre this past year has made a better handler of me, and we have learned so much together.  We have traveled to Kentucky, Iowa, Illinois,New York and Minnesota to train and compete.  As I write this,  the two of us are resting at my hotel room where we attended the Malinois National Schutzhund Championship.  Pre passed tracking yesterday with 86 points, in 50 mph winds. Not all the dogs were successful, and I was very proud of him.  This afternoon, we prepped for obedience and I felt good about it.  We heeled beautifully onto the field, but Pre became distracted by the dog next to him. He sat next to me, but looked at the other reporting team.  The other dog took Pre's look as a challenge and as the handler reached for his collar, the dog attacked Pre. Fortunately, only minor injuries were suffered and we didn't have to make a run to the emergency vet, but that ended our competition.  Afterwards, as is, unfortunately, usual, there was talk and rumor and I heard someone say that Pre is dog aggressive.  He has NEVER been dog aggressive.  His best buddy is my young male German Shepherd, and he is in a sick love relationship with my elderly Dutch Shepherd female. Humping? yes.  Fighting? no.  He is most apt to go into a play bow and act the fool.  He was stupid to be eyeballing another dog who did not have the same intentions, and it was a lack of control and focus for him to do that, it is true.  Ideally, he should have been looking at me, and not the other team.

I am very disappointed.  This is not how I envisioned Pre's last trial to be.  Selfishly, I wanted glory.  I have to be honest and acknowledge that Pre has no such agenda.  He lives only to play and have fun showing off his skills, which earn him the praise, food and tugs he desires.  And so, tomorrow afternoon I will drive north and leave him behind. I'm trying to steel my heart to that moment, but he makes it difficult by flopping over for a belly rub.  I hope that he enjoys his retirement and is a good boy.