Friday, June 15, 2012

First Agility Trial of 2012!

So our first trial of the season has come and gone, and wow, what a weekend! I swear, this is what the last two years of practice has been all about.  This is the first weekend I have ever entered Shimmer into a full weekend of runs (okay, so it was a full weekend minus one run, but still).  I had no idea how it would pan out, but I knew it was time to start applying what we had learned in the various games.

And perform she did!  She ran 7 runs two weekends ago, and she took home 5 Qs to her name.  She got her second Starters Jumpers Q, so she has now moved up to Advanced in that class. She got 2 Standard Qs, so she now needs one more under a different judge to get her first agility title, ADC. She got a Q in both Gamblers (and a nice one at that!) and Snooker runs, so hopefully in the next trial she'll get one more of each and that will be her second titles, SGDC.  Really looking forward to our August trial (Sigh...can't believe we have to wait that long!), and what that will bring!

The weather was very warm, the first warm weather we've seen so far, so there was lots of water, sunscreen, and sweating. But the dogs couldn't have been happier, with so many smells, the beautiful river to run alongside and dip into, and camping. Who doesn't love camping? There's something surreal about camping in a huge 3-bedroom tent with 4 dogs and having everything go right!

I suppose I can mention the two runs that she didn't Q in.  Turns out both of them "could" have been Q's, but I'll tell you why there weren't.

In the first Standard run we ran, Shimmer popped out of the poles at pole 6.  Being new to Standard (and therefore sometimes forgetting the rules!), instead of simply putting her back through all 12 again like I should have to get the Q, I put her back in at pole 6, which cost her that run.  Oh well, just one more "shame about the handler" moment to add to my list!

The second "almost Q" came the next day, in her first Standard run again.  All was going very smoothly until she fell off the teeter. I'm not exactly sure what happened, she approached it from a good angle, I think she was just going faster than she was used to (she was really in the zone this particular weekend!), and lost her footing as she braked at the end.  She tumbled off sideways and landed on to her back. After making sure she was okay, and realizing she really only got a scare more than anything, I put her back over the teeter again to let her know that all was well on course, and we finished cleanly.  The "almost" part comes because if I hadn't have put her back over the teeter, technically she performed the obstacle right as she didn't slip off until after her foot touch the down side of the contact. However, had I not called "training" and worked the teeter with her, knowing her environmentally sensitive personality, I may have risked future teeter performances so it was absolutely, totally worth it and I'd do the same thing again in a heartbeat lest it ever happens again.

After the trial was over we did the touristy thing and travelled around  Fundy National Park.  We visited beautiful Hopewell Rocks, and took on some of the amazingly beautiful trails throughout, including the walk to Dickson Falls.  I recommend anyone who likes to get out with their pets to consider seeing the Rocks and Fundy Park, it was our second time there and you can be sure we'll be going back again. 

I couldn't have asked for a better start to 2012 trialling season, and cannot wait to see what the summer holds in store! We're trial-free for June, but will be taking on the Rally ring in July with Kash!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Whistle Recalls, and Why I Love Them!

I've always worked very hard to have decent recalls on my dogs. Having a reliable recall is the cornerstone to having dogs that are able to enjoy off-leash time safely.  It takes a lot of work to maintain a reliable recall with any dog, and with some of the more independent breeds, like terriers and hounds, it can take even more work.

Contrary to some beliefs, it -is- very possible to teach your dog a very successful,very reliable recall using a reward-based approach. I am happy to be able to run my dogs off-leash regularly in a number areas in which dogs are permitted to be off-leash, as my dogs much prefer running along a beach or a river to a fenced-in dog park. That being said, regardless of training method, it needs to be known that *any* time you take your dog off-leash in an unfenced area, you are taking a risk.  That doesn't apply to just reward-based training, it applies to ALL forms of off-leash training.  There is no 100% when it comes to dogs, as they are living, thinking, feeling beings that have their own desires and motivations. So even the best trained dog can fail at some point - whether that dog has been trained with food rewards, tug toys, or shock, the dog always has the choice once off-leash to pursue its own goals. I have seen recalls fail from all of those training methods (and others), most of the time with no repercussions, as the dog does eventually return (like after chasing the deer), but sometimes it only takes once to result in disaster.  I don't know how many times I've heard "But he's never done that before" - the problem is you only hear that in the bad news cases. The cases where the dog comes back eventually is often brushed off, and not taken seriously as it should be.  So before you decide that off-leash freedom is "the best" option for dogs, think long and hard about how well your dog understands to come when called, how much effort you are willing to put into teaching it, and what types of places you may be able to safely have your dogs off-leash.

So, what does that have to do with whistles?  Well, going from two, to three, and now to four dogs, who all enjoy off-leash time together, you eventually need a way to call all of the dogs to you quickly.  It gets a bit cumbersome to call them one by one: "Zipper, Kash, Gaci, Shimmer...come!".  So to create a nice, crisp, clear recall when I am running several dogs off-leash,  I am teaching the dogs that the sound of a whistle chirping means "Come!".   I was also interested in how a non-verbal acoustic signal to recall would work compared to their verbal recall.  Of all my dogs, Gaci is the one who struggles with recalls the most.  This coincides with the fact that she has the highest prey-drive of my bunch and when she is out and about she very easily gets pulled into her own world of smells and animal dens.

I started out by simply chirping the whistle, and then dropping a handful of their supper on the floor, the same way I would teach a dog that a click means treat. I did that many, many times:  whistle = food.  Once I did that for a few days, then I would blow the whistle, drop some food on the floor, and then take a few steps away from them. When they were done eating they would naturally begin to approach me, so as they were coming I would chirp the whistle again and drop food for them when they got to me.  I did this as a group exercise, although I could have done it one by one as well, but since they already have a decent recall, I decided to start it as a group exercise.  I will be working them individually (or in pairs) when we start taking it to more distracting environments, but for the indoor work I am comfortable working in groups.

Once I was able to take a few steps away from them, and they were eagerly running to me, I started adding some new understanding to it.  When I let them out for a bathroom break, instead of opening the door and calling their names, I am going to use the whistle to get them to come indoors, where they will be met with high-value rewards.  I keep one whistle upstairs and one downstairs so that when I get the urge, I will do a "test" and chirp the whistle when the dogs are on a different level or when they aren't paying attention, and reward them when they arrive. I will also know this way who is really gaining understanding of the whistle as a recall cue, and who is not, so I can work more individually with any dog who is struggling.

Today was the first day I took the whistle out into the woods. I took Gaci and Kash down to the river today to let them run and swim and do what they pleased, while I tested their skills with the whistle and practiced some recalls. The key with making them fun and successful is not to over-do it.  Also, I make it a point to always send them back out to play as a reward, so that coming when called is not a signal for ending all of their fun.  So in the hour that we spent down by the river, I probably only practice five or six recalls, varying the situations from really easy to moderately hard.

Here's the video from their run a couple of days age, with a few of their recalls thrown in.  At the 3-minute mark, I whistle them to return and only Kash does.  Then I call Gaci verbally, before I realize that she cannot come because her long line got stuck on a root and she couldn't return to me.  All in all, I'm very pleased with how quickly they drop what they are doing and come rushing back. 

This video is of Zipper and Shimmer practicing in the same place:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Poor Guy!

Oh no, it happened. I thought it would never happen to me, but it has. Just when you think you're doing great, it rears its ugly head. I suffered a case of.....Greedy Trainer Syndrome.

Greedy Trainer Syndrome happens when training is moving along great. You are progressing, you and the dog are both having fun. You keep pushing forward.....until you get to a point where you realize that you and your dog are on two different pages (and if you are really unlucky, in two different chapters!)

Kash is, by all accounts, an amazing boy. He loves to learn, he's got zest, he spills joie de vivre, and he attacks everything head on. So when I noticed he was getting slower, and sloower, and sloooooooooower in agility, doing what I consider simple stuff, I had to sit back and reassess. And it only took, oh, two minutes to realize that I was slowly but surely pushing him farther than he was ready for, or farther than we had really trained for! And I also realized that I was slowly but surely leaving some very important, but fundamental, things behind that I should be doing each day at this point. As I'm getting my girls ready for their trials for the year, I know that he's nowhere NEAR the level they are at, but yet I had him attempting some of the same things! What gives? Darn old Greedy Trainer Syndrome!

And the poor guy. It's not like he was giving up. He remained engaged the whole time, never got distracted with smells or birds, he followed me around, did what I asked, he was just....slow. It was so clear when I woke up and realized he didn't have any confidence in what he was doing. He didn't have enough understanding, and I wasn't maintaining my criteria (speed and drive while learning accuracy, breaking it down for him to keep it fast and fun). I acknowledge that for some things that speed may take a tiny dip, but not this much. I goofed up.

It's not a big deal, though, really. We're just going back to basics. Like basic basics. I am not doing anything obstacle-focused until we spend some time getting speed back. So we're going to run. Lots. And chase. And target. And tug. The only obstacle-focused activity we will do is doing simple jump grids with a target at the end, or with me racing him to a toy. Other than that, we'll simply be getting the "agile" back into agility! So far in his tunnel training he loves running a straight tunnel, so we'll use that (sparingly) as another racing game.

Today we did a session of just this. I did some one-person restraints where I threw his toy, held him back, and told him to "Get it!!!". I threw some, restrained him, and raced him to the toy. We did circle work. Once in a while a little bit of food would fall (I have a food-dropping problem that I need to be trained better for!), and he would get distracted eating it so I'd just take off running. Until he caught me. It didn't take long for him to overtake me, and I would let him grab his tug - but we kept on running. We started out fun and we ended with fun.
 He did GREAT! It's the boy I used to have, and the one I want back for agility. I know he has it in him, so I'm not going to settle for sloooow performance. I pushed him to that point, so I'll get him back out of it. And really, once I got out of "agility-brain" and into "training-brain", I realized....what's the rush? He's barely over a year old, we have a lifetime ahead of us to get there. And I know we'll get there. When he's ready.

In the meantime, here's babyKash at 4 months old playing around with some things. Even at this age he was speedy, so this is what we're going back to!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Novice Obedience - Part II

Two posts ago, I shared the first half of the Novice-level Obedience skills that Kash needs to know in order to compete in trials.  Here are the remaining three skills that he needs to work on.

Exercise 5:  Recall
In this exercise, your dog starts from a sit in heel position (at your left side).  On the judge's cue, you tell your dog to "Wait" and walk about 40' away and turn and face your dog. When the judge tells you to, you call your dog.  Your dog should come in fast and straight, sitting promptly in front of you, without being cued to do so.  Your dog needs to be close enough so that you can reach your dog without moving forward (bending obviously necessary for the shorties!).  Finally, you ask your dog to "Finish" (return to heel position).  This can be done two ways - from the left or the right, which are two quite different behaviours.

Kash's Progress:  Kash knew a generic "front" from his Rally training, but practicing it in the context of this exercise, I quickly learned that he didn't understand the position quite as well as I thought he did.  He sometimes would come in crooked, or he would self-finish, going back to heel before I cued.  So we've gone back to teaching a game of "find front" in which he has to find the position, be straight, and come in fast, from different angles. It's coming along well.  As a separate exercise, I am also practicing the "formal" version by putting him in a wait, walking away, and calling him to front.  Here is an example of what it looks like (although in this video I asked him to sit from a distance - just happened to be what we were working on at that moment when I recorded it):

We will continue to work this exercise until he is confidently and quickly finding "front" position from many angles.  His finishes are decent - they don't need much tuning up other than continually reinforcing faster and faster reponses.

Exercise 6:  Long Sit
In this exercise, all of the dogs in the Novice class will enter the ring together, and sit next to each other (several feet apart).  On the judge's cue, all of the dogs are asked to "Stay", and I will walk about 40' away to the other side of the ring and stand facing my dog.  The dogs have to hold a sit-stay for 60 seconds, at which point we return to our dogs and wait until the judge declares the exercise complete. 

Kash's Progress:  Kash finds this exercise quite simple in most environments.  Sitting for 60 seconds is not that hard for him. We have "overtrained" the behaviour so that he is actually doing 90-second stays in training. This way, 60 seconds will look easy-peasy in the ring. The only situation I need to get a bit more practice in is in dog-heavy environments.  He has no problems performing at local parks where dogs are moving by on-leash (and occasionally off-leash, despite the leash laws of the city!), in pet stores, and any part of our property, but I haven't actually worked him in a dog-heave "event" simulating a show environment.  I will get the chance to get some good practice in in a few weeks when we attend our first agility trial of the year, I'll make sure to do some stays with him there. 

Exercise 7: Long Down
This exercise is the same as the Long Sit, except that the dogs have to hold a Down position for 3 minutes.

Kash's Progress: We have been slowly working up to three minutes (haven't really worked on it much prior to this point, to be entirely honest!).  All has been going very well, though.  No real issues, we've done a few full 3-minute stays very well, although we still bounce between 2 and 3 minutes to keep it fun for him. Like the Long Sit, I will "overtrain" this up to 4 minutes so that 3 minutes seems really easy for him.  Nothing like making the ring environment seem easier than the training one!

That's the entire sequence of exercises in a nutshell.  In order to achieve this title, he needs to get a qualifying score (which means he needs a total of 170 points, minimum, out of a possible 200) in 3 different trials, under 2 different judges. 

Our goal is to be ready for October, although it's looking like we may make our debut a little bit earlier, and I may consider entering him in his first run in July to see where we are at! There's also the Terrier Specialty in Halifax in August, which I can't really say no to........oh dear. There's just too much to decide!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kash's Training Day

I had an unexpected day off this morning, so since I had some errands to do in town anyhow, I decided to pack up Kash and spend the time I would have spent with a client doing some training.  I took his breakfast with me, and he spent a half-hour working for his meals at PetSmart.

It was his first time going to PetSmart, which isn't a big deal, really, as he's used to going to lots of new places, but it was a great place to really work on some of his skills. We practiced heeling through all of the aisles, past dog food, toys, and people. There were no dogs present during the half-hour we stayed there, which I was hoping there would be, but we still had a great time.  He did really well with his heeling routine, stayed with me, sat promptly, and paid attention to direction changes.  Eye contact (which I am working on increasing when he's in heel position) is coming along nicely!

We practiced two sit- and down-stays each from a distance, which he did really well, he didn't get up at all, even when people walked past next to him or behind him.

I'm convinced it was "Take your child-under-5 to PetSmart" day today,because the store was crawling with young children!  While it made things a little interruptive at times, training-wise, (if the children weren't approaching on their own, their parents were obviously bringing their children over to visit and/or stop and watch) it was a GREAT opportunity to finesse Kash's comfort around children.  He did awesome. Spectacular, in fact.  He didn't show any discomfort with any children, had a great time showing off his tricks, and had an even better time taking treats from the little ones.  He didn't even get upset when an 18-month old boy ate the treat he was supposed to give to Kash!! We all had a great laugh over that!

I sometimes forget that Kash is still very much a teen, as he has so few "that's not MY dog" days, but when I remind myself that he's still socially immature, I remember how proud of him I really am! Today was just an awesome training day all around.  I look forward to our next training session there, I'll be scoping out a time when there are hopefully some dogs present, so we can work around them!

After his long training session we came home and "relaxed" by throwing the ball around.  Can't ya tell he was all tired out?!?!?!

(Yes, that's my boy least 4' off the ground....)

Novice Obedience - What's it all about?

(A little blurry, as it's a phone photo, but a photo of a happy heeler!)

Recently I mentioned that I am going to be making my debut into the Traditional Obedience ring with Kash.  I thought I would take a few moments and share what exactly that means, and what exercises make up the requirements for the first title, called the Companion Dog title.

Exercise 1: Heel on Leash
This exercise is pretty straightforward; it is a heeling pattern that is done on leash, following the judge's orders of the following things:  Forward, left turn, right turn, about turn (where you turn 180 degrees and go in the opposite direction, fast, slow, normal (comes after a fast or slow), and halt.  At "halt", you come to a stop and the dog is expected to sit automatically in heel position without any cues to do so.

Kash's progress: This is already a decent behaviour for him, due to his Rally training. However heeling is one of those things that always needs to be practiced and can always be improved somehow.  Our biggest work has been in making it quieter, as the biggest difference between Rally and Traditional Obedience is that you can interact verbally with your dog in Rally; in Obedience you cannot, so I've been working on removing that verbal feedback so it's not a surprise to him later. And of course just being an adolescent, distractions are important to keep working through.

Exercise 2: Figure 8 Heeling
This exercise is an extension of the on-leash heeling.  Two people stand about eight feet apart and on the judge's order, you walk a figure 8 pattern around the two people.  The dog must ignore the people and remain focused in heel position.  There are two "halts" as well.

Kash's progress: We haven't previously done much of this, so it's something we will need to practice. We have done this exercise using two trees, but no people yet.  I doubt it'll be any issue though because we do lots of regular heeling by people and he does well.  But I'll have to make a point to practice it some!

Exercise 3:  Stand for Exam
In this exercise, on the judge's order you ask your dog to Stand and Stay, and walk 6' away.  The judge then approaches, gently examines your dog by touching it, and your dog has to remain standing, without moving about, and accept the stranger's  touch. When the judge is done, I go back to my dog and he is to remain standing until the judge says we're done!
Kash's progress: We only started teaching this about 3 weeks ago.  He struggled a bit at first, as he has long been conditioned to "Sit to say hi", but I think we've had our lightbulb moment as he seems to really understand the purpose of this exercise now.  Since the initial training, he has now done four perfect Stand for Exams, from start to finish, for four different people.  Four down, forty-six to go.  Just kidding. Well, not really. If I got 50 people to do it for me, then I know he'd never have a problem again! It's something we'll do every chance I get (as in, as much as I can hassle people to help me out!), but I don't really foresee any problems from this point on.

Exercise 4: Heel Off-Leash
This is the same heeling pattern as the heel on-leash, except it is done, well, off-leash!

Kash's Progress:   This should not really be a problem for Kash.  99% of Kash's heel training has been done off-leash. We just have to work on our overall heeling, and continuing to work around distractions, as mentioned above.

Those are the first four exercises that are included in the Novice-level of Obedience.  In my next post I will share the final three exercises, which in total will make up the requirements for his CD (Companion Dog title).  Stay tuned!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Traditional Obedience, A New Venture

(Puppy Kash playing with his tug)

I'll be honest. Traditional Obedience, as it is called in relation to its newer cousin, Rally Obedience, has never been my cup of tea. It's not the level of training required, I love training and I love training precision skills. I love spending time working together towards a common goal with my dogs. The thing that has always made me look the other way is that when watching it, it has always looked so....dry.  Cold.  And in some ways, militaristic. And that's not me. I like upbeat, excitement, mutual interaction (versus "do it because I say so").

And, if I can be entirely honest, growing up, I've watched quite a few obedience trials while hanging out around the conformation rings, and the training methods often....left something to be desired. Choke chains, physical corrections, ear pinches to get a dog to retrieve. Just not my thing. Thankfully, training methods are changing to a more humane, dog-friendly way of getting desired behaviour from your dog. Although to be honest there is still quite a lot of correction-based training in my local obedience ring - I think that is what continues to drive me away, as I hate watching dogs being jerked around by their necks, or have to wear a special training collar to perform, and some downright unhappy dogs. But times are changing, albeit slowly.

The reason I HAVE decided to venture into this sport is three-fold:
1) As much as I'm sure I question it at times, I feel the need as a trainer to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk! I've said time and again, and I know it is true, that you do not have to hurt or intimidate your dogs to be a successful competitor. I know it's true because I see my colleagues doing it, and read about it often. But at the same time, I feel a niggling urge to actually get out there with my own dog and demonstrate that fact.  Also, there's that little part of me that loves to say "Hmmm....another challenge for my terriers and I?"  I'm a sucker for seeing non-traditional breeds excel in more traditional sports.  But the fact remains - it's easy to complain about the less-than-stellar training methods that still occupy that sport, but in order to see change - sometimes you have to contribute to make change, instead of sitting back and waiting.
2) We have limited options here for competition.  Now I know, I have my hands full enough by doing Rally and Agility, but sometimes I get a craving for something different. This definitely fulfills "different". Disc dog is becoming more popular, and I'm thinking of getting Kash's RPT (Retrieval Proficiency Test), and eventually branching into that, but he has to become able to catch the frisbee mid-air to make progress beyond the RPT. He's not there yet. Agility, and everything else besides the Obedience sports, takes you out of province, and let's face it - running a business takes time. Competing out of province takes time (and money). There's only so much time, and I don't have a lot of extra to spread around! So keeping things local allows me to do a little more.

3) Finally, and perhaps one of the most important - Kash LOVES to work! Sure, he's young, and gets distracted from time to time, but he's so comical, and engaging, and he learns. so. fast. I just love working with him, as it's not even work, it's more like learning through play.  He can turn anything into play. Chasing me. Playing pushing games. Making a toy out of anything - seriously.  You can go somewhere without toys, and quickly find something that will qualify! He just has such a joie de vivre, I so want to show him off!  He's really the first dog I've considered entering into traditional obedience. So that's the angle I'm approaching this with - making what feels like "dry" exercises into extensions of play. Mixing the two so it's hard to tell the difference between them! Obviously at some point we'll have to formalize it, such that it's clear for the dog just what each exercise entails, but it doesn't mean that we have to do boring drilling to get there!

(Kash found a child's rake laying in the grass. Makes a good toy!)

So, there you have it, we're going to try it out!  Maybe I'll love it, maybe I won't. But I won't know until I try.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

So What is the Plan?

(Kash practicing his Long Sit today in a distracting environment)

I think I've finalized my plan for the 2012 trialling season. Note, I've said planned, as we all know some plans can go awry (for instance, since making this plan, I realized I have since been invited to a wedding during one of the weekends I put on the plan, therefore making me alter that plan to choose another trial would be nice to be human-social every once in a while, after all).

So, without further ado, this is what I'm hoping to achieve:

May -  Agility Trial - Shimmer and Gaci competing, out of province.
June - was originally Agility Regionals weekend in New Brunswick, but a wedding has made me have to change this. Will still likely be agility, just not sure which weekend, nor where.
July - Rally Obedience, for Kash.  Two runs, hoping to complete his Advanced Title that weekend.
August - Agility Trial - Shimmer and Gaci, out of province.
September - Agility Trial - Shimmer and Kash (his debut to agility), out of province.
October - Rally/Traditional Obedience trial.  There are 6 Rally runs, and I think 2 obedience runs, over three days. I know I want to enter Kash in at least one Trad. OB run, and also work on his Rally Excellent Title. So it's just a matter of figuring out how many of each I want to enter Kash in, and whether I'll do one per day over three days, two per day over less days, or some combination of those. I have time to decide, especially after I see how Kash's Trad. OB skills shape up.  We've started working on it, keeping logs, which I'll share in a future post!

My Overall Goals for the dogs:

Kash (as referred to before):
- complete his RA title, begin working towards his RE.
- enter Traditional Obedience and earn at least one leg towards his CD (he won't be entered until October, which is why I'm only expecting one leg - if we do two runs, then I'll hope for two legs!)
- make his debut in agility.  I'll probably only focus on Standard and Jumpers for his first weekend out, and I'm aiming for a fun, positive experience, with commitment to working, rather than placements (although a Q would be appreciated....I'd never say no, after all).
- if a CGN testing opportunity arises, we`ll try to jump on it.

Shimmer's main goals are all agility-oriented this year. We're still on a break from Rally (she's received her CGN and RA titles). But, I also have more concrete goals for her this year:
- complete her second Starters Jumpers Q, and enter Advanced.
- complete her first Gamblers Q (we still have lots to do on this, to build up her confidence for distance work).
- begin her first Standard run, and -maybe- earn her first real Agility title. That might be a bit over-reaching, but I need to start somewhere.

Just have fun in agility and continue to build confidence in public areas, and to spend quality time together.

- continue warming beds like a champ!! (Love you old guy!)

November starts the beginning of the winter break again from trialling, so it's a lot to put into one season! I'm not 100% sure I'll reach all of my goals, and if not that's okay. I'm having a blast with my dogs, and that's what matters in the end. We will see how the summer pans out!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Children: A Complex and Curious Species

(Kash playing with 11-month old Alexa,
both equally interested in the mysterious covered dish)

The play on the title is not an accident; a great many dogs view children as an entirely different entity than "humans". Even well-socialized dogs understand that children are not at all like their adult version: they have high-pitched voices (that squeak, squeal, and shriek), they move fast - children generally don't walk from place to place as much as adults do ( running is a joyous thing), they are unpredictable in their behaviour, often have limited impulse control, and may even show more fear and uncertainty towards dogs they don't know. Many dogs, who grow up in the presence of children, learn that this stuff is "normal", and as long as parents supervise carefully it can go without a hitch. But for families without children, especially those who live in rural areas, even puppyhood exposure to children can result in dogs who just aren't quite sure what to do in their presence.

I had an interesting experience with Kash today. A wonderful family with two girls, 4 and 10 (I think), came to visit with a pup I am caring for who is looking for her forever home. Now, Kash was exposed to lots of children when he was a puppy. He is generally great on walks when children are present, he gets on well with my niece and nephew, but to be totally honest he doesn't see a ton of children on a daily basis. We don't have kids, we live in a rural setting, and when we are out and about he generally ignores them as I don't often -want- children approaching my dogs on their own, especially without parents present.

So it was an interesting assessment of his level of socialization when these children arrived with their family. He was, overall, great with the older girl. She was calm, laid back, and totally unobtrusive. She actually was surprisingly great with all of the dogs (surprising due to age, not anything specifically about the girl). The interactions with the younger, four-year-old girl were....interesting. The younger girl is a typical, active, child, who does very typical child-like things! Kash really enjoyed her presence immensely if she was sitting and calm, and he would show off tricks, work for her, and solicit attention and touch. However, he was clearly worried when she would run full-tilt directly at him with her arm outstretched (ball in hand), as he would pin back his ears, drop his tail, and back up and bark. Then as soon as she stood still, he would approach again. He chased a ball until he got tired, and did seem to adjust quite well over the 1.5 hour period.  Which just goes to show that it's very rarely an all-or-nothing thing.  He very much likes interacting with her, but at at the same time is not entirely confident in all of her behaviours towards him, as he doesn't understand what some of those behaviours mean.

From this, I have learned that I am going to make an extra effort to take him to places where children tend to be more active - parks, the boardwalk, etc - and actively countercondition him to the quick movements of children, so he learns that running around, running away from him (this wasn't a problem for him at all), running towards him - are not scary things, but normal things that children do!  I'm also going to work on teaching him that children running towards him is a cue for an auto-check in, so that if there is an unsupervised child running at us, I can instruct him on what to do, and know that he'll do it quicky while I intervene with the rampant child.

All in all, it was a great visit, and I do think it was good for him. He had some stressful moments, and in another situation may have approached it differently, but he recovered very quickly and continued to enjoy her presence even if a few moments before she accidentally scared him.  And boy, did he sleep after they left! Between the running for his toy, showing off his tricks, and the small bit of stress he experienced, he napped away the afternoon until suppertime.

For more information on dogs and children, and how to keep everyone safe, please check out the following great programs and resources:
"Be a Tree" Program -
"Dogs and Storks" Program -
"Dogs and Storks" Blog - 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Getting my act together!

It's springtime! For many, that means getting ready for planting flowers and gardens, cleaning up leaves, and digging out the mowers and deck furniture.  For me, that also means it's time to start planning my dogs events for the year!

Due to being the sole owner-operator of Courteous Canine Training, it's not often easy to book out time for dog sports. Often I'm either booked for clients, boarding others' dogs (so cannot leave the province), or simply have trouble actually convincing myself that it's OKAY to actually book a weekend away! Living in PEI, options on-island are limited for dog sports. We're getting better, year by year, but we are still lacking quite a bit compared to other provinces. Therefore some of those weekends need to be booked off-island, which also means worrying about accomodations and the like.

Not only does it mean planning the "what" (the event I want to compete in each month), and the "when" (which weekend is feasible for travel and competing), but also the "how" - getting back into the habit of making a plan for training! 

The winter time is often the time my dogs get a break from training - after trialling season I generally do at least 8 weeks off from any formal training, but that generally turns into 12-16 weeks as I get a bit hibernate-happy myself.  They still do lots of training, generally trick training and shaping for fun games, but my serious "planned" training takes a dip.  I'm not complaining, I think it's healthy for all dogs/handlers to take a break to avoid burnout. But it's come time to start making official plans and begin developing concrete goals that I want to achieve with each dog.

I'll take Kash, as a quick example.  This year I have the following hopes for him: 
- to complete his Rally Advanced title (he got his Novice title and one leg of his Advanced in one weekend last fall), and earn at least one leg in his Excellent title.
- Enter the Obedience ring and earn a leg or two towards his CD title.
- Enter agility when he's of age (September).  I don't care if we get far this year, as that's late in the year, but I do want to get him in at least one trial this year to assess his training level (he will be in that environment several times before he competes, as Shimmer will be competing).
- Possibly attempt his RPT (Retrieval Proficiency Test) for Disc Dog, and maybe, just -maybe-, get him to actually begin catching the discs mid-air (he can catch it from my hand, catch it while it's rolling, and retrieve it after it's landed, but he hasn't succeeded in catching one while it's airborne yet).
- Developing a more concrete fitness plan to ensure that he is getting properly stretched before and after training, and to continue working his different muscle groups to prevent injury. I generally create two "fitness" days per week where we simply do strenghtening exercises.  In the past this is the first area I tend to get slack with, and I need to make sure that it remains an important part of his training.  In a future post I will share what types of things I do (and will start doing) as part of his (and the others') fitness conditioning.

And that is just Kash! Shimmer has an agility season to plan as well, and possibly her final Rally title (we took a break from Rally to do agility, and as it turns out, Shimmer prefers agility to Rally, even though she enjoys both!), if time allows. Gaci will be doing her last season of agility this year before "retiring", but I need to consider her options and where she will fit into the equation.

So, that leaves me with lots to think about:
- If I do one weekend per month for dog sports, how and where am I going to split up my time for each sport and each dog? Can I reasonably get all of that into this year with only one weekend per month devoted to trials? Am I asking too much, especially since I have more than one dog?
- Developing a training plan in order to achieve the goals I have for each dog (I will elaborate in a later post to explain more about training plans and my individual dog's goals).
- Actually carry out that plan amidst teaching classes,  coaching clients, and running the business.

I haven't been one to blog about the training process of my own dogs, but this year I think I'm going to try to make it a (semi?) regular thing, so that others can read and understand just what training for dog sports can be all about (there's a lot of work that goes into what you see!).  If nothing else,  I'm hoping that somehow writing down my thoughts and plans makes me better able to stick to a plan, because now that the world can see it, I have to actually try to live up to it! LOL!

In the coming weeks I will share some of my specific training plans for each dog; what I hope to acheive, what specific behaviours I need to introduce and/or improve, and I'll share examples of what that process will look like for certain behaviours. I'll share what I decide to enter for the year (I think I have it almost finalized!).  I'll also share some of the things that I do with my dogs as part of their fitness building to keep them in shape and to minimize any chances of injury.  And I'll also share what we do in our "downtime" that still contributes to physical, mental, and emotional health - the stuff we do in between classes.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How does your bond with your dog rate?

I am currently reading a new (to me) book, called "Bonding With Your Dog: A Trainer's Secrets for Building a Better Relationship", by Victoria Schade.  In this book, it starts by telling you to take a sort of "quiz" to assess you and your dog's overall relationship.  Not just the training you've put in (although the two are very much intertwined, it's hard to separate one from the other), but your dog's natural inclination to check in with you, how you relate to each other, and how you feel about your dog. 

One would argue that it's possible to train your dog just about anything, but at the end of the day it is the bond between you and your dog that most people have -real- problems with. Many "training" problems can often fall into the category of "bonding problems".  After all, if you don't have a bond with your dog - if you live two separate lives, and are just two separate beings at opposite ends of the same leash, then how can you really expect training to really take off?

I thought it would be fun to take the test with my own dogs, and see where the answers lie, in terms of this quiz.  I'll go through the questions and then provide my answers for each question.

1.Does your dog check in with you during walks?

My quick answer to this is "Yes".  Zipper, Shimmer, and Kash are amazing at doing self check-ins during walks, off leash and on-leash. If I stop walking, they will also stop, to see what I am going to do next. If I change direction when they are off-leash, as soon as they notice they will run to catch up, without being prompted (at least most of the time, I would say 85%).

Gaci has, honestly, struggled with this behaviour, although we do work hard on it.  She has, by far, the highest prey drive of my four, so for her "walks" generally translate to "hunting", and when she is following a scent sometimes she will admittedly forget to check in with me on her own, although she is decent at responding once I call her. She also has been dealing with anxieties for a lot of her lifetime, as well as impulse control problems,  so on walks she has a tendency to remain more vigilant, scanning the environment and looking out for #1.  That has lessened dramatically, for certain, and most walks are completely uneventful, but she would be the one who would be most apt to end up checking in less often naturally. It's something we've worked hard at, and we continue to work together on, but for the most part I would have to say I am happy with her current level of focus.

2. Are you afraid that if your dog slipped out the front door unleashed, she'd take off running and not come home?
Honestly, no. Never with these four.  I would like to say I've worked hard to "train" my dogs to re-orient to me when they go out the door, but honestly I barely work on it at all. It is something that they just do.  We have worked on door manners so they don't run out in the first place, though, but once released through the door each of my dogs will run through the door, stop, and look at me, with a "What's next pardner?" kind of expression.  This is actually something I admit to being quite proud of, considering terriers are not always the most dependent creatures, but I never fear for leaving the door open or losing a dog off-leash out my door.  We do almost everything off-leash at home, which generally contributes to a large part of that behaviour I'm sure. My dogs also know that I am the source of all-things-fun-and-exciting, so they tend to wait to see what I have in store before dashing off in any particular direction (whether it is to the woods/fields, the van, or the agility area).

So, byproduct of other training? Or simply a strong bond? I would like to think it's a bit of both.

3. Do you think that your dog is "too stubborn" or "too dumb" to learn basic obedience behaviours?

Nope. That has never registered on my radar.  I have always said that those labels indicate a problem with the trainer, not with the dog. All dogs like to learn -something-, and all dogs CAN learn new skills. My guys take part in Rally-O, Agility, Trick Training, and lots of off-leash things that require they respond to my signals.  I believe the opposite - my dogs are extremely intelligent, and love to work.

4.  Does your dog seek you out in new environments (for example, at a crowded dog park?)
While I choose not to use dog parks as my dog's source of exercise, my dogs are constantly going to new environments, whether it be a new beach, a new provincial park trail, an agility venue, or just camping in the summer. They are well-travelled, so I don't really notice that there is any change. Kash, being the youngest and extremely social (ie. nosy), would be the most likely to investigate a new environment, but I would be comfortable in saying that he would come back to find me within a short time.  He is still building his "working focus" around distractions, for competition, it's not 100% there by any means, but I don't worry that he would just run off and forget I exist, like I see happen a lot at dog parks.

5. Are you frequently frustrated with your dog?

The next line is "You are reading this book, so it's a safe assumption that your relationship with your dog is frustrating you".  To the contrary, I saw it online and thought it was a great next read for continuing education as a way to help my clients, and I'm sure many people read it who don't feel frustrated with their dog all of the time.  But in keeping with the point......

Honestly, I am quite patient with my dogs, for most things. Life with my dogs on a daily basis is quite easy, most of the time. Sure, sometimes Kash gets "interested" in Gaci, and will spend a day here and there certain that she's meant for him, driving her batty, and as a result driving me a bit batty while I remind him to leave her alone and redirect him to other tasks, but for the most part my dogs don't do a lot of irritating things.  They don't steal food or garbage (sweaters thrown on couches with treats left behind are fair game, however), I can leave things on the table and leave the room and know it'll be there when I get back.  They aren't over-the-top barkers (although Gaci has been dealing with barking at Kyle when he returns home,  a conflicted happy-but-anxious behaviour we have been working on for a bit now, although it doesn't irritate me at all, to be honest. Him, maybe a little bit?).  Life's pretty care-free, stress-free, and straightforward.

I think part of my lack of frustration is due to my stance as a trainer, though.  I suppose it's not that I don't get frustrated - we all do at some point or another - it's a normal part of living with any social species, whether it be a dog or another human, but I think I say no to this because if I -do- get frustrated, I know how to deal with it effectively and quickly, and can acknowledge that building frustration means that I need to deal with some situation to reduce the frustration. So it never lasts, and it never becomes a chronic issue. I don't let problems get to the point where they are frustrating, if I see a problem I deal with that problem.

I do see this problem happening with a lot of my clients, though, simply because they don't understand the motivation behind the behaviour, or they don't understand what their dog is saying. Once they do, they find it easier to develop a solution (which, of course, is what I'm there to do for them!).  And that solution will depend very much on the circumstance - sometimes it's a family with an otherwise great relationsihp and it's simply a training issue, but often it is a symptom of a deeper problem in the overall relationship between the dog and the family, and that needs to be addressed before the problem can be trained away.

So, whether you decide to do it publicly or not, I do challenge you to answer these questions for yourself.  And if you have the means, feel free to share your answer publicly, as you may surprise yourself at the results! 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Life with Senior Dogs

(A poor photo, but Gaci is hanging out with her best bud Zipper the day he came home from the vet).

I've always said that I've been lucky with having medically healthy dogs. Sure, we've had some vet visits - I had Zipper's thyroid tested due to his thin hair coat (actually tested twice, but both times medically totally normal!), Gaci's pulled muscle in her back last year, etc.....but generally we see the vet pretty much only when they are due for their annual exam. I do attribute this to a healthy diet (raw diet, and when feeding a commercial food it is soy-, gluten-, and corn-free, and where possible entirely grain-free), minimal vaccines (I am not anti-vaccine, but I do not vaccinate yearly, and some vaccines I do not give at all), and lots of healthy exercise while keeping them at a healthy weight. 

But even so, as dogs age, some things start to change, even if just a little bit.

We had a scare on the eve before Good Friday long weekend. I had gotten home just a little bit late from teaching classes. As usual, I got in, dropped my bags on the counter, let the dogs out to have a pee, took off my coat and shoes, and then let them back in to feed them.  All was normal.  As I was getting their supper ready, I noticed that Zipper was not present. I called him, then went to look for him, and found him vomiting in his dog bed. No big deal, at first. Dogs throw up sometimes. But then he went to another bed, laid down.  Then to another one. It looked like he couldn't get comfortable. Finally, he went into the office, and collapsed. 

Fast forward to the vet visit, he took an allergic reaction to....something. What, I have no idea. My yard is extremely "dog-proofed", with no flower beds, the lawn is not treated, there is no access to any chemicals.....but as it turns out, I can't keep all the bugs and grasses away, and the vet said it was likely something as simple as eating a bug (apparently caterpillars can be quite toxic, and stink bugs can be caustic, which I did not kow!) - this time of year they are crawling out of the woodwork on the warm days. He said we'll probably never know. Anyhow, Zipper did have to stay the night at the vet's, but he pulled through.  We were scared for a while, though - his heart rate had dropped to a mere 27 beats per minute (normal range should be about 70 for him), and his temperature was over two degrees lower than normal, his extremities so cold to the touch.  His body was, in essence, shutting down.  It is likely that the slow speed at which his heart rate came back up is in part due to his age (almost 9 years old).

I am extremely lucky that I was home when this happened. While I know it was just a fluke in the timing, as if it had have been mid-day and I was just letting them out for the last-minute pee that pretty much everyone does, and left right after, he would not have survived. It's scary to think that way, but I do tend to overthink these things after the fact.  But I did learn a lesson from this:
Never again will I do the "send-you-out-to-pee-then-dash-out-the-door" routine that I, and many, do.  I will always make sure my dogs are out, AND back in, at least 15 minutes before I actually leave the house for any period of time.
It's awful how these things can make us a little more anxious (or anal?) about our habits, but it's easy enough to do and I know I'll leave the house reassured that they are all healthy and safe.

Zipper was due back for his bloodwork today, as well as a urinalysis. As "luck" would have, didn't Gaci, out of the blue, urinate while she was sleeping last night, and apparently did not awake when she did so, so we all awoke this morning to a soaked Gaci and a soaked bedspread.  And when I mean she peed, she PEED. Not leaked, downright peed. So off she came to the vet with us, with this sudden turn of events!

Zipper's bloodwork is all normal except for one liver value (his ALT). It was outside normal ranges, but was not dangerously high. Scheduled to recheck in one month to make sure they go back down, and that there is no long-term problem from the event.

Gaci's urinalysis showed totally clean urine. No blood, no bacteria, no crystals, glucose normal (no diabetes). The only part of it that was off was that it was a little to alkaline (pH of 8), where it should sit at about a pH of about 6.  Anyhow, since there is no sign of trouble, in fact her urine was really healthy other than the pH, basically we'll just be taking the "wait and see" approach to see if anything happens again.  I've been discussing starting Gaci on cranberry supplements for some time now, to help with some of her hind-end issues she has experienced over the years.   This confirms that it is indeed a good idea for her, one which I will be starting for her this week. The cranberry extract will ideally bring her urine pH back into normal levels. Although she's never had a true "problem" with her urinary system, she did have a tucked vulva that was corrected surgically, which left her with some discomfort issues as well as *possible* incontinence (I say possible because up until this time, we'd never seen any evidence of her leaking urine).

I felt most badly, though, because Gaci had a particularly stressful experience this time around at the vet. She's made huge strides in her vet visits,  in which vet staff have even complimented her behaviour improvements, but I will admit that this visit was a bit out there, even for her. No reactivity - there was no barking or anything of the sort. In fact, it was totally the opposite - a desperate attempt at escape from the counter and climbing up me for safety. This is totally -not- Gaci's way in doing things. The only thing I can think is that she did just recently have a single-tooth extraction due to a bad tooth (from chewing a bone or playing tug? She had great teeth for her age, has never had a dental - another benefit of her raw diet), which did require a sedative, and she had a really tough time with the sedation. It really made her anxious - very anxious, while sedated - she would whine if I left her sight, howled in her crate (she generally loves her crate!...I ended up not crating her at all, but instead resting with her), and she felt really defensive at the other dogs approaching her, until the next morning. I think that experience, only being within the last two weeks, has made this current visit stressful for her. I'll be taking care to let her body de-stress over the next 72 hours, with low-key interactions and some calm exercise, but I'll have to keep it in mind for next time. I think next visit we have, I will use her Thundershirt and some Rescue Remedy to see if it'll help her stress levels a bit, as I don't want to see her that stressed about vet visits, especially after we've come SO far. Time will tell.....

So thankfully, I continue to have medically healthy dogs. But as it goes, seniors tend to bring us just a little more concern at times, and begin to require slightly different things as they age.  I'll knock on wood for no more vet visits for the year (after Zipper's bloodwork re-check, that is), and appreciate that even with the scare, my old dogs are still aging gracefully and heathily along the way!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Celebrating 8 Years Strong

In some ways time flies by, and in some ways it feels like forever.

Yesterday we celebrated Gaci's 8-year birthday. We got up, played outside, she came with us for a birthday drive and she even went to Blue Ribbon Pet Supply to pick out her own present.  In we go, on her harness, and as soon as we get in the door we are met with a little Doxie running about. No big deal, I ask Gaci to follow me and off we go to the bone section.  I let her sniff out all the different chews and treats, when a big dog comes barrelling around the corner at her (turns out, I had forgot that it was the Nail-Clipping Clinic that day, so it was doggy overdrive!).  She looks up at the other dog, stands up, then immediately sits and looks at me again. I smile at her, and reach down to scrach her ears. 

A lady approached, and immediately bent down to say hello to Gaci.  I ask the lady to give her a treat or two, and then I call Gaci back to my side, which she happily scoots over to do. We continue on to look for her birthday treat, and we head to the back to find her favorite - a frozen raw bison bone - Yum! As we were coming back up front a little Shih Tzu lunged to the end of the leash, whining and trying to reach us. We walked on by, walking by the Doxie (who was heading out back for nail trimming), and then got into line to buy her purchase.  She sat patiently while we waited our turn, we paid, and off we went.

Sounds like a casual visit to the pet store on a busy Sunday morning. What's beautiful about this is that not-so-many years earlier, it would have looked so much different.  It would have been pre-planned, well thought-out, and I would have been preparing her Gentle Leader, necessary rewards, and I would have gone into the store before bringing her in to scope out who was indoors. We would have been setting ourselves in places where we could easily leave the area if needed, or to put a visual barrier between her and what she feared.  I would have had to stand in front of her and said "Please don't pet her", so that she wouldn't bark and scare the friendly, but totally unknowing, strangers who keep reaching towards her (she is cute, after all...she attracts more people than any of my other dogs!).  I would have had to move to aisles that didn't have dogs, because most people do not pay attention to what their dogs are doing and let their dogs say hi to just anybody, and heaven knows that Gaci did not make good decisions when it came to interacting with other dogs. And at some times, I would have just left her in the vehicle so as not to have to worry.

It's hard to see the day by day progress through life with a dog who lives with fear aggression (past aggression directed towards dogs only, but reactivity to people as well), as you have your ups and downs, your good days and your bad days, but as I left the store yesterday, dog trotting happily with me, her present in my hand, it really struck home how far this little dog has come.  Then it got me to thinking of all the other seemingly little things that would have been a "big deal" once upon a time - strange dogs coming and going from the home, and sharing her home; going to agility trials and being in close quarters with dogs, children, adults; being part of a stable group of dogs without having to micromanage every behaviour and mood, so that tolerance wouldn't quickly turn to anger and a bite injury in the blink of an eye.

But even more:  it struck home how one little dog, with such a big attitude, can change the world around her, can change the lives of others for the better.  She gives hope to other families with difficult dogs, she has changed my life immensely in ways I cannot begin to put into words, she has shown me how to enjoy the simplicity in life, and in turn I have helped her learn that life doesn't have to be all that scary all the time.

Happy birthday sweet girl.

May you continue to age gracefully.....*cough* show me everyday that becoming a "senior" is a mindset, not a number.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Easter Comes Early for the Schnauzers! (Creative Interactive Toys 101)

It all started with some eggs......

Some eggs, in a basket.....

The Schnauzers were oh-so-excited for this basket.

You could feel the stares pouring deep into the eggs.

And finally, they dig in.

Zipper tried the nose-under approach

While Gaci cut to the chase by biting it in half

Shimmer first tried rolling them around, certain there was a hole they'd magically pop out of.

Gaci thieved away one of Zipper's while he was occupied.

When it was all over, Kash was a good boy and helped to put them all back into the basket.

Not wanted to ever be left out, Gaci followed suit (the only two who have learned how to "put things away")

And of course it wouldn't be a photo session without a bit of terrier humour!

(That boy will do anything, I do believe)

Gaci says "I love theez newfangled goggle apparatus, if I can just figure out how to put them on....."

Until next time!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Visible Dangers of Invisible Fencing!

Normally I do my best to refrain from dwelling on "non-positive" training methods or containment systems, however lately approximately one in ten clients are asking whether underground fencing might be right for their dog.

My simple answer is: underground shock fencing is not suitable for ANY dog. Here's why.

I'll be honest - There is a lot of misinformation out there about safety of this type of containment system, from both extremes - scare tactics that many people would never believe (even though there's likely a grain of truth to it!), to the other extreme where it is portrayed as entirely risk-free. So, what are the facts?

1. Underground fencing relies on positive punishment in order to work. In laymen's terms - this means that your dog needs to experience pain - even if momentary - via a shock, in order to learn. With repeated experiences of momentary pain (the shock when the dog goes too far, and eventually the warning beep takes on that role), the dog begins to be cautious and leery when going near those areas. The experiences of pain become a minor (or major, for some dogs) fear.

A big problem with the use of positive punishment is that sometimes the dog learns things that were unintended. I have seen numerous cases where normal dogs have become very fearful of, frustrated with, and even aggressive towards, strangers within a few months of using an underground fencing system. The reason for this is that the dog - a friendly, social being - sees people walking by and desperately wants to say hi. Even though the dog has experienced the shock before, in his excitement to greet the passerby, he continues forward and just as he's about to reach the person, he receives a shock. This startles him. It happens the next time, and once more. The fourth time, the dog sees the person and instead of running to say hello, the dog hangs back, or even barks and lunges. Why has this happened? The dog repeatedly experienced a shock as they were going to approach a stranger. Instead of understanding that it's the same shock as before, the dog begins to believe that the people were the source of that momentary pain. Voila. A fear is born.

This doesn't just happen with people, but it can happen with dogs, strollers, garbage bins, and other inanimate objects as well. It just depends whether or not the dog has made multiple pairings with a repeated stimulus to make the association.

2. Dogs can become fearful and anxious about leaving the property. Many people who use these fences still like to take their dogs for drives and walks, but find that after beginning to use the fence system, the dog becomes hesitant to leave the yard, even on a leash. After all, the dog has been made to learn in the past that going over the boundary was a painful experience, and it's hard for them sometimes to understand that when the collar is not on, they can go through. In a few rare extreme cases, dogs have become frightened of going into the yard all together, even to eliminate.

I personally know a dog who became very fearful of getting into vehicles. The owner couldn't understand why, but after a few months realized that they kept forgetting to take the collar off the dog in the vehicle, and the dog faced a shock every single time it left the property in the vehicle. The poor dog! The dog was able to overcome this with a lot of work, but it was a very stressful time for the dog.

3. It only works....until it doesn't. Many people falsely believe that it will keep their highly prey-driven or highly social dog in the yard forever. I can't tell you how many dogs I've come across wandering around the neighbourhood with an underground shock fence collar on. Clearly it didn't work for those dogs. Many dogs will go years without a problem, until that trigger happens - a fox, a cat, a child on a bike, thunder, a gunshot, a female in heat - causes that dog to leave its property. And once your dog goes through it once - by golly you might as well go buy a real leash or fence because that dog WILL go through it again.

Also, keep in mind there may be a trigger strong enough to make the dog go through the fence, but that doesn't mean that when the excitement is over, the dog will bear a second shock to come back in. Some of the commercial systems you buy will shock the dogs each way. I have yet to see a dog who will happily take a second shock to come back INTO the property.

Another common complaint I hear is that "my last dog never had an issue, so why does this one?". Generally my honest answer is "Because you were simply lucky before."

4. It doesn't protect your dog from the environment! Even if it -does- work to keep your dog in the yard (at least, most of the time...), it does NOT work to keep others OUT of your yard! Stray dogs and wildlife can still come on to your property and hurt your dog. Children may tease your dog, knowing that the fence keeps the dog a few feet away. It sounds harsh, but children can be quite cruel, especially when unsupervised by adults! Even kind children can unknowingly tease a dog into frustration or anxiety.

5. Many people use shock fencing as a replacement for exercising their dog. It's not uncommon for me to hear that "we got the fence to give Fido more room to run, and so he could play outdoors." When I ask, however, what their dog tends to do when they let the dog out, most often the response is napping, lying by the door, or barking to get back in! Not quite what they had planned!

Then there is the other category of dog, who IS busy, curious, and active, and who will find things to do - they become self-employed, if you will. They dig up gardens, bark at the neighbours, chew on your deck, and still come inside at night wired. It's a real fact that many dogs are grossly underexercised, and it's also a real fact that dogs rarely self-exercise, in the sense that they get their heart rate up and are left satisfied. For some owners, it replaces off-site walks altogether and the dog quickly becomes territorial and undersocialized to the normal everyday goings on of human society.

Dogs need to be actively exercised - as in, interactive activities between you AND your dog or your dog with other dogs. Dogs generally are poor self-exercisers in a yard (although they become GREAT self-exercisers when they are triggered to leave the yard and not come back!).

6. This is purely anecdotal data, but in my case work often when a client is using, or has used, invisible shock fencing, the clients have called me because: their dog is barking a lot more, the dog becomes more reactive, the dog has become "suddenly" fearful, the dog escapes the yard, the dog won't come when called, the dog charges the fence line, door darting and escape attempts when the collar is not on, the dog has started exhibiting general anxiety issues - licking itself, pacing, self-mutilation behaviors, or the dog has started eliminating indoors. One or two cases don't make a truth, for sure, but over time I've seen a clear pattern develop between invisible fencing and those client complaints. Enough that my first recommendation is -always- to remove the invisible fence collar.
7. Not addressing your dog specifically, but dogs contained in invisible shock systems can really frighten passersby. I know myself if I am walking and I see a loose dog in a yard, I am very alert until I have passed that yard, especially because you can't always tell if the dog is wearing a collar or not. Children have been very startled when dogs have charged them, stopping only a couple of feet away barking. If I am walking somewhere where there is a dog on an invisible fence collar, I will do my best to avoid walking by there with my dogs in the future.
8. Lastly, from a purely cognitive standpoint - we're putting an awful lot of pressure on our dogs to understand the concept of an "invisible" boundary. For those who use flag markers forever, the dog will at least have a visual aid to learn from. But traditionally the flags, if they are used at all, are used onlye for a short time, and then the dog is expected to be able to "visualize" an invisible boundary forevermore. Not to mention, some of the systems that you buy off of the shelf at the pet store are wireless and use a circular pattern of fencing based on frequencies. Talk about expecting a lot of our dogs! Many dogs never truly learn a "boundary" with the fencing systems, as they are unable to comprehend, intellectually, the concept of an invisible cut-off. This lack of understanding (or superstitious learning) can definitely result in some of the problems above. Livestock are contained within hot-wiring or shock systems, but at least they quickly learn with help from a visual aid, so that they are able to make a quick cause and effect association.

The day I saw a dog, on one of the circular wireless systems, running with visiting dog, having a great time until it heard the warning beep, at which point it stopped mid-stride, froze, and began looking around nervously to decide which direction to move so as to avoid an incoming shock, was one more nail in the coffin for me. That dog, once it DID successfully make it back to the house without a shock, laid down by the door and was no longer interested in playing with anyone. I don't know about you, but that dog didn't seem to be any longer "enjoying" the freedom that the fencing system was meant to provide.

Now, I know before some of you even get halfway through this, some will be shouting (and emailing) that "my dog has been using it for ____ years" or "I've used it on all of my dogs", often followed up with "never had a problem". Of course there will be some dogs that it works for (at least, most of the time....), or else these products wouldn't be selling. However, you don't have to go far to find someone whose dog escaped it, and may have been fine, or sadly may have been killed or never found again. Or whose dog developed "sudden" fears within a short time of beginning use of the fence.

The reality of the situation is this - yes, some dogs will never have a negative reaction to the shock fencing. That is the way of behavioral diversity. But - some will, and some will develop very serious problems as a result.

The problem is: You don't know until you use it. And once you use it, you can't undo whatever may come afterwards.

My question is: Are you willing to take that chance with your dog's wellbeing and safety?

I'm not.

If, after reading and understanding the risks that are quite possible for your dog to experience, you still decide to go ahead with the fence system, I can only wish that your dog IS one of the "lucky ones", and that you will accept whatever changes you dog's behaviour and personality may face if it doesn't go as planned.

Visible, physical containment will ALWAYS be the safest option. Although there are possibilities of failure for all containment systems of some sort, none face the same level and diversity of challeneges as those that can occur with invisible shock fence systems.