Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Catch Me!

It was subtle. It was just a toss of her head, a slight movement away from rather than towards the collar. It was a delayed response to my picking up collar and lead which hung on the gate which usually meant we were done playing and walking in the woods and it was time to go inside. Melissa always came running when she saw collar and lead. But this time Melissa was not following me. She had stopped to sniff something in the snow. I waited, and she caught up with me. I took her collar and lead off the gate and went to put it on her. Melissa moved away to sniff something else…or was she sniffing? I caught her glancing at me. She was avoiding the collar. Our walks had become predictable; she knew when fun times in the woods were coming to an end. It was time for her to go back inside to her x-pen while I showered and got ready to start the day. Being outside was so much more fun than being indoors.

Picture this scenario: You are ready to leave the house; you need to get your dog inside from the yard. You enter the yard; your dog sees you and moves in the other direction. You say his name and he ignores you. He glances over his shoulder at you when you repeat his name, and he moves further away. You move closer, he runs in circles just out of your reach. The ‘catch me’ game begins. You call your dog’s name over and over again getting louder at each repetition of his name. You get more frustrated because you are now late for work or an appointment. Your dog is having fun playing a game with you.

NO, your dog is not being dominant or trying to be ‘alpha’ over you. Those are old-fashioned terms no longer used by trainers….trainers using the most up-to date training methods based on scientific evidence. No need to reprimand your dog, or be forceful. Look at the two points of view.

From your point of view: You are on schedule, you go to bring the dog inside. You open the back door, but he stays at the far end of the yard looking at you. You call his name, he ignores you. You move towards him, but he stays just out of reach so you can’t grab his collar. You’re thinking ‘Why won’t the dog just listen?’ You return to the house for a biscuit to entice him to come indoors. It works…this time. But over the next several weeks you notice it is taking longer and longer for him to come to you, even after you have switched from a mere dog biscuit to last night’s left over chicken. He may grab the treat and run, he knows from past experiences you are going to take a hold of his collar if he hangs around too long.

From the dog’s point of view: You enter the yard at a certain time of the day; 5 minutes before you leave for work. Your presence at that time means he has to stop playing and come indoors. You may put him in a crate for safety reasons but he never has been comfortable in a crate. So not only does he have to stop playing in the yard, but also has to face the crate….and possibly long hours while you are away. Why would he want to come to you? He backs off; you continue to come forward…a chase game begins. Dogs like being the chaser and the one being chased if it is in play. He play bows inviting you to play some more. You are joining in this game by moving towards him. What began as simple avoidance of ending his playtime outdoors has now become a game that you have joined. This is fun for him!! Not so for you.

What to do? I first increased Melissa’s exercise. I got up 15 to 20 minutes earlier each morning so she could have more time to run in the woods. I wanted her tired, worn out, and ready to take a nap. We then began reviewing some basic skills and learning some new ones.

I began with the collar and lead. If you keep a collar on your dog at all times then you can use just the lead. Melissa runs in a double fenced area in our yard so I feel comfortable taking her collar off. I used Melissa’s daily rations for this exercise. I showed her a piece of food through the opening in the collar and while she moved forward to get the food I slipped the collar over her head. In the house there was no problem, she associated the collar/lead to mean she was going out doors. I practiced at all times of the day, not only when we were going out doors. I practiced when Melissa was resting, when Melissa was playing with a toy, when Melissa was playing with another dog. She began to eagerly move towards me when she saw her collar/lead.

We then practiced outdoors a few feet from the door. At this point you could use two collars…..one stays on, hooked to the leash, the other is the one that is taken on and off. Many repetitions, collar on collar off. Melissa really liked this game. She got a reward, reinforcement, a treat each time she put her head into the collar.

Next was to take our training sessions out to the woods where the Catch Me game was taking on the beginning stages. We practiced before meal times. I was the provider of all good things….Melissa was hungry; I was more reinforcing then a run in the woods I had part of her meal in my pocket! She was eager to have her collar and lead be put back on. We practiced many reps, and then I allowed Melissa to go play. I tossed a ball, we played tug, Melissa stayed close by, and she followed me as we made our way thru the paths. The sight of the collar and lead had Melissa moving to me each and every time. Sometimes I put the collar/lead on Melissa, fed her some of her food for a reward, let her off lead and then allowed her to go play. We played tug and fetch some more. I then gradually moved towards the gate. Each time Melissa saw collar and lead she came running.

Sometimes I put collar and lead on, opened the gate, we would begin our walk up the driveway, but then go in the opposite direction…back to the play yard in the woods. And I allowed Melissa to once again go play. I was mixing things up, I was unpredictable. Melissa was no longer anticipating that just because I had put on her collar and lead that play time was over.

Sometimes we had a short training session in the driveway before we headed back to the play yard. Melissa looks forward to our training sessions. Although the skills may differ, she has fun interacting with me. Sometimes we even made it all the way into the house, Melissa would get a handful of different yummy treats (remember I am trying to be unpredictable) and then we would go back outdoors again. I was engaging Melissa’s mind, another way to tire out your dog.

Did this all take extra time? It sure did, but not much maybe 5 to 10 minutes for each practice session, plus extra time to run, a total of maybe a half hour each morning. Melissa is 5 and a half months old; I am setting her up for good habits and associations for life. Thirty minutes now, developing a relationship built on trust and understanding that would last a life time was well worth the effort.

Next I had to set up Melissa’s indoor time to be more interesting. I had become lax in giving M something really good to do while in her x-pen while I was gone from the house. From Melissa’s viewpoint it was boring to be confined indoors. After making sure she was well exercised outdoors I set about to making indoor time more fun and interesting for her. I rotated toys. I made her interactive toys a bit harder, but also more enticing. Instead of cream cheese or peanut butter which I had used for the last few weeks (how boring and predictable could I be?) I began stuffing her Twist and Treat with some cubed cheese or chicken. I also went back to feeding the remainder of her meals we had not used outdoors for training to stuff Kongs and hollowed out marrow bones. I took a trip to a butcher and got huge knuckle bones for Melissa to work on while she was home alone in her ex-pen. Thinking back on the past 3 to 4 weeks, I had set up Melissa’s time alone indoors to become very BORING. No wonder playing outdoors was so much fun!

By observing the first subtle signs of that head toss away from her collar and watching her extend playtime a bit longer outdoors, I was able to set up Melissa’s environment so she did not learn the game of Catch Me. Collar and lead became associated with sometime great, not a signal that playtime ends each time they were in sight. Indoors was set up so Melissa looked forward to relaxing in her ex-pen and playing with different toys and bones.

As a young puppy, Melissa may slide back in some of her skills from time to time. Even adult dogs can regress but it is always something in their environment that is more reinforcing to them, then we humans have become. When that happens I stand back and see it from the dog’s point of view. I then set up our daily routine and training sessions for success.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


My husband and I flew to a warm climate for snorkeling. Melissa stayed at the Animal Inn at Sky Run in Stewartsville, New Jersey. http://www.skyrunkennel.com/

For over a decade I have brought our Borzoi to Sky Run when we travel and cannot take the dogs.

Barbara, who owns the Animal Inn, is the breeder of two of our Borzoi, Yankee we acquired in 1991, and Catera who is nearing 13 years of age. For Melissa, this was her first trip away from us. She has been to many hotels and weekend training workshops with me over the past several months, but this was the first time for her to overnight without Paul or me. E-mails thru out the week assured us that she had settled in quickly.

So why make the out of state trip to Sky Run to drop off the dogs? Many reasons; it is fun to visit with my Jersey friends, and the accommodations for the dogs are spacious, especially dogs as large as Borzoi. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable and a staff member is always on the premises 24/7. But most importantly is the renowned Sky Run pasture of rolling hills. Exercise is an understatement…it is a workout for the dogs to run in that fully 6 foot chain link fenced pasture.

For Melissa, at 5 months of age, exercise is a necessity. She could not be left for 9 days at a boarding kennel which offers minimal space, if any, to run. Puppies, especially large breeds, need to get proper exercise in order to develop properly. 9 days is way too long to go without being able to run at full speed and stretch her long legs to the fullest. It would be similar to leaving colt in a box stall for a week!!

I admit I am a fanatic when it comes to exercising my dogs, especially puppies. I don’t mean I go out and jog with them. Jogging a young pup whose joints and growth plates are not fully developed may tire him out but can do long term damage. Jogging a young pup, especially on asphalt, is courting with possible developmental problems with their structure.

Puppies the size of Borzoi need lots of free running which consists of leaping and twisting and turning. Playing with another dog is the best for this type of exercise.

A walk on a lead just does not give their muscles or lungs a chance to develop properly. They should have at minimum two play sessions where they tire themselves to the point where their tongues are hanging out. Aerobic exercise on a good running surface is a must. When Melissa is about 18 months or 2 years I will begin to road work her on my bicycle, but for now this puppy will have all the free running I can give her.

9 days at Sky Run was the perfect place for Melissa to be while we were on vacation. Melissa had the chance to run and run and run until she tired. She not only maintained the muscle she had, I believe she is in even better shape after her stay at Sky Run. Being away from home was just a part of her on-going socialization; she slept well, ate well, and met different staff members…..all part of being a well adjusted puppy. If you are in the area, check out the Animal Inn at Sky Run. We are already booking the dogs for when we are away on our summer vacation.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Nail Trimming ... a BIG accomplishment

I admit, I like short nails on my dogs. I like the look of short nails. I like to trim the hair around the foot. I like the way the grinder smooths the nail back to a little stub. I think short nails look pretty.

Keeping my dogs’ nails short also prevents the nails from ever touching the ground. Nails left untrimmed can splay the foot, can grow into the pad, and cause unnecessary pain if left so long that they impede the dog’s movement.

So it only was a matter of time that I trimmed Melissa’s nails after she came to live with us. I wanted her to become accustomed to my handling her feet, not only for nail trimming but also for routine grooming which includes looking between the pads for pine sap, cuts or abrasions after hiking on rough terrain, or those horrid ticks.

Her first nail trimming was done in the evening, when she was ready for bed, she was tired. She was busy licking some meat baby food, while I clipped clipped clipped. It was completed in less than two minutes, and I wondered if Melissa even knew what had happened. I had taken advantage of her being tired and totally engrossed in the baby food. But I knew she was not going to be that relaxed every time. Next time she just might be more interested in that nail clipper, or why I was holding her toes. So I began a protocol to get her accustomed to being touched not only on her feet but also all over her body. There was going to be times when she was not tired that I would need to examine her feet or trim her nails.

Every day I touched her gently all over her body with just a few fingers, while with my other hand I let her nibbled some moist treats. I touched her ears, her feet, her tail, around her muzzle. She began to look forward to our quiet time while I basically gave her a gentle massage.

The next step was to get her accustomed to the nail grinder. I use a cordless Dremel a 7.2 V to be exact. I could continue to clip, but the grinder allows me to get the nails shorter, and as I mentioned…I like the smooth look the grinder gives. Had I wanted to continue to clip I would have gone thru the same steps as I did with the grinder. I ran the Dremel for several days while it sat on the counter. Melissa became accustomed to the noise in fact she got lots of treats when the Dremel was running. She looked forward to the Dremel being turned on; she began to associate the noise with getting treats.

I then held the Dremel in the off positon and let her sniff it. She was use to me holding and running my fingers between her pads and holding her nails, so adding the Dremel in the other hand was an easy step. The Dremel was still in the off position. Melissa was calm and relaxed at all these steps. If at any time she would fuss I would just stop go back a few steps. I was setting Melissa up for a life-time of not just merely tolerating her nails being trimmed, but to enjoy it.

Lying next to me and not moving was a challenge for Melissa, she got wiggly. I took a few evenings of allowing Melissa to lick some baby food while I had her lay next to me. I gradually and very gently moved my fingers down her legs and within a few practice sessions she was lying still while I touched her feet and nails.

Next was to turn the Dremel on while it was in one hand and I was touching Melissa with my other. She didn’t have to be in any particular position like a down or a sit or a stand. I just wanted Melissa to get used to the Dremel in the on position while it was close to her. She had watched me grind other dogs’ nails, but having the Dremel in the on position when it was next to her would be different. No problem. She licked that wonderful baby food from a plate, my one hand touched her legs and feet while I held the running Dremel in the other hand.

I then had Melissa lie down while I had the Dremel running, she had a Kong filled with baby food and I pretended to grind her nails. I held each foot and brought the Dremel close to a few nails. No need to actually grind yet…..I was taking this slow I wanted Melissa to really like having her nails ground. I was building a very solid foundation of pleasant associations.

With the help of a friend we took the plunge and ground a few nails. My friend Lessa let Melissa lay the front part of her body on her lap while she held the baby food jar for Melissa to lick. I then proceeded to touch the Dremel to a nail. Melissa was wiggly the first few nails……it must feel a bit funny when the nail vibrated a bit. I was extremely careful to hold the pad and the nail in such a way that my fingers absorbed the vibration. We changed to a higher value treat for Melissa…peanut butter. Melissa was less wiggly and was busy licking while I finished trimming. My husband helped me the next two times. I ground, he held a small plate of peanut butter. We got two feet done and let her take a break before she got wiggly. We then finished up the other two feet. The 2nd time Paul helped me Melissa was totally relaxed and never looked at her feet just sighed and continued to lick peanut butter. We got all 18 toe nails trimmed in less than 3 minutes.

Today I trimmed Melissa’s nails solo. She lay on the couch. She licked peanut butter, I ground. Her nails are short and smooth. I have a 5 month old puppy who is relaxed while I grind her nails. Was it worth the time and the many steps it took to get to this point? It sure was, and it only took 3 months. I never had to force Melissa to be still while I trimmed her nails. I never had to hurt her. I am continuing to building a relationship of trust and understanding with Melissa. In the past, my dogs now long gone would wait in line as I ground nails. They associated the Dremel with lying on my lap and special treats. As I was busy grinding another dog’s nails today, I looked up to find puppy Melissa sitting close to us. I believe she was patiently waiting to have another turn. I think that says it all.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Canine Learning Experience Allentown PA

This past weekend Melissa and I traveled to Allentown PA to attend the Canine Learning Experience. Kudos to the Lehigh Vally Kennel for organizing such a wonderful educational event for the public. Not only was there demonstrations on service dog training but also demos on search and rescue, puppy manners, an obedience and rally match, eye clinics and tattoo clinics. Many breed clubs had educational booths where the public could meet different breeds and see the dogs at different stages of development. That St. Bernard pup may seem very appealing at 3 months of age....but you may think twice about acquiring one once you see the size of an adult....and realize that dog may not even fit into your car! Or you may never have thought about having one, but meeting a mature adult and talking to the knowledgeable owners you realize you do have the space, the time and it is the dog for you.

Melissa has been to training workshops with me, she has been to busy hotels.....but this was more crowded then anything she had experienced. I took advantage of a new and different place to practice some of her skills, one of which was 'take a bow'.

The public were allowed to bring their own dogs...it was a learning experience for everyone. Some owners did not realize that their dogs should not pull them to greet other dogs. By human standards having a stranger rush up to you, would be rude, and so it is with dogs. The patience and knowledgeable people at the breeds booths, along with those presenting, helped the new dog owners about dog-dog etiquette.

Melissa saw different breeds...some she had never seen before. Some had wrinkly faces, some were very large. Some she preferred to pass with several feet between them rather then pass inches from their face. I did not insist she walk past anything scary. She is learning about just how big and different the world can be. I wanted this to be a fun experience for her.

Melissa at times found herself face to face not only with one exuberant dark faced dog but several. Whoa....Borzoi greet slowly, until they get to know another dog. This was too much for Melissa, she didn't understand why other dogs didn't follow dog etiquette as she has known it. She would stop and not want to walk another step towards the unfamiliar dog. No problem. We either walked another way, or I asked if we could have some space to walk through. Melissa nibbled some freeze-dried turkey heart as she walked by. A dog who is so over-whelmed may stop eating, I am glad Melissa was still comfortable to walk with me and nibble her favorite treat. I did resort to carrying her through one very crowded area. Melissa was face level to all the people...she enjoyed being up close and greeting. Everyone was very helpful and understanding of the young puppies.

By noon the building was full with spectators. We gave the puppies a break; fed them a light lunch and then they both took naps in their ex-pens. Another learning experience for puppies...being able to eat and sleep in different venues.

There were six Borzoi representing the Borzoi Club of Delaware Valley. Two 5 month old pups, several adult females and males.

The public was able to see the size difference between a male and female....which can be a difference of 20 to 30 pounds.

The booth was decorated with scenes from Russia crafted by Ariel Duncan, a slide presentation of Borzoi doing various activities played continuously for the public to enjoy and learn more about our breed.

Educational materials were available such as Borzoi magazines and the books Being Borzoi and Forever Borzoi. The latter is in the final running for the Dog Writers Association of America annual award. Joy Windle is the force behind both books. We will know mid-month if Being Borzoi wins the top award! Good Luck Joy!

It was a fun day, great to visit with old friends and meet some new. What did Melissa think of the long day? She was ready to take another nap.