Monday, August 30, 2010

Dogs Digging

I've written a little bit about Melissa digging in a previous blog: At that time she was digging due to being bored, my schedule was hectic, I didn't give her enough to do.

Dogs dig for various reasons: 1) They are bored as already mentioned. Dirt is fun. Dogs dig, the dirt goes flying. They dig faster, more dirt goes flying. The fresh soil smells good to a dog. They roll in it, they taste it. They are burning off energy. It is our job as their owners to give them lots to do to engage their minds such as interactive toys, games of search, or increase the amount of training sessions per day. Bored dogs are usually under-exercised. Go out in the yard and play fetch, invite a 4 footed friend over so your dog can play, rotate his toys or go on a hike with him.

2) Dogs also dig if they are chasing prey such as moles, chipmunks or bugs...yes they get entertained by bugs. Terriers seem more apt to dig for critters but any dog can.

Dogs will dig in snow to follow moles that for some reason decided to venture out on a warm day.

3) Dogs will dig if they are looking for a means to escape. Their digging is usually around gates and fence lines. If your dog is whining, pacing, panting, and/or digging around these areas he could be stressed about something. He may never have learned to be left alone, he may be suffering from separation distress. Consult a reward-based trainer who uses only humane methods to help you help your dog.

4) Dogs dig to hide items for later use. This is a trait hard wired in some dogs, it is a survival behavior retained from their ancestors. It can be a bone, or it can be a toy, or several toys. Freshly cleaned toys are quickly rolled in the dirt, it seems the more dirt on the toys the better. That is why we have inside toys, and toys that are just for outside.

5) Dogs also dig to keep cool!! Our dogs are inside in AC in the very hot weather. They are in shaded areas when outside.

They are given hammocks to lay on.

A cottage to go into, a kiddy pool to play in, and access to a wooded area dig in.

Dogs that are now gone, began to dig near the roots of a tree that was uprooted during a wind storm over 20 years ago. I am not sure if it was the freshly exposed roots, which were a novel item in the yard, is the reason why they began to dig in this area. Perhaps it was because is was an area that was slightly higher then the rest of the yard and provides a good view of their yard. No matter the reason, many dogs who have lived with us decided that this is a great place to dig and built what I call their 'fort. There are holes behind the fort, in front of it and around it. It is off the side of the dog's area in the yard, it doesn't bother anyone and gives them much pleasure.

Melissa has decided to join in.

She gathers her toys and places them in and around the 'fort'. Sometimes she lies in the hole with the toys. The soil is cooler then the air temp, it must feel good to her. It is her spot to dig, we have never had a dog dig in our lawn or gardens. She is not digging due to boredom, looking for little animals or looking for an escape route. She will dig after a long hike and hours of splashing and swimming. I believe she is digging to keep cool and have a place to watch all that goes on around her. She digs to hide her toys.

And best of all, despite the many dog hammocks in the yard, a hole is a good place to take a silly muddy nose girl.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Canine Good Citizen and Pet Therapy

Melissa PASSED!! She passed the Canine Good Citizenship and pet therapy dog test today.

What does this mean? She will be able to visit at local hospitals and nursing homes as a pet therapy dog just like our other dogs do on a weekly basis. She will be able to participate in school and library educational programs. Passing the test demonstrates that we work together as a team and Melissa is able to follow my cues to sit, down, stay, come, being left alone with a stranger, being around medical equipment, people walking with crutches and walkers, along with being able to be in close proximity of distracting items. The distracting items: very close to other dogs, people leaning over her with floppy hats and dangling things from their neck, and several choice pieces of treats on the floor. For a more detailed overview of what the test consists of please see the Therapy Dog International website:

The American Kennel Club's CGC program is a certification program that rewards dogs for good manners at home and in the community. For more information:

We will need to mail the necessary paperwork, but in a few weeks Melissa will be visiting as a pet therapy dog. For now she is cooling off in her kiddie pool........

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Melissa's First Birthday!!!

Melissa is one year old today. She is loosing her puppy curls, she started shedding about 3 weeks ago. This is a normal occurrence. In a month or so her adult coat will begin coming in.

Most of her growth has occurred, but she will put on muscle and weight over the next two years.

She could grow another inch or so.

When we first brought her home 10 months ago she could sit in my lap.

Today she is nearly 70 pounds heavier.

Her body says she is still 'puppy', she runs like a puppy, she stands like a puppy, she does silly things like a puppy. So when is a dog no longer a puppy?

Can she can be expected to act like our older dogs because she is now a year old? is just another day, a special day since she was born a year ago, but it does not make her suddenly begin an adult and trustworthy in all situations. She is beginning to settle more: taking naps on the couch, taking a dog toy to quietly play with on a dog bed, or just lying at my feet. Of course she gets a bit more freedom after she has had LOTS of exercise and mental stimulation. Setting up good habits while she is young has given her a good foundation for the behaviors we want to see repeated.

Dogs turning a year old are still puppies to me. They are young, they are silly, they are active. They need lots to do. Their socialization and training is still important. They need to continue seeing and doing things outside of their home environment.

So when does puppy hood end and adulthood begin? It depends on the breed, the individual dog, their personality. They mature differently. For now I will continue to enjoy the last of the puppy sillies that Melissa has to offer. We will continue to train and socialize.

We took her hiking this evening with her buddy Buster. Happy Birthday Melissa, it's been a fun year.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Summer Vacation: From A Dog's Point of View

I knew something was happening. My two humans were packing things. Making piles of items that were coming with us. 'Us' ...that was the magic word. I knew I was going to be included. Lots of things went into the van as we all watched. This was going to be more then a day trip. When the kayak was lifted into the van, I just knew it meant that I would be swimming!

Monday morning arrived, we were fed a light breakfast, the coolers were packed and Lab Lucy and I were put into our crates in the van. Paul and Chris were both coming, things were getting more exciting. I settled in for a nap. Less then two hours we arrived at our destination. The lake, the lake we had spent 3 days playing at last month! There it was....I could smell it. But first, Lucy and I waited patiently as my two humans unloaded the van. We had learned to stay in our crates when the car stopped. Sometimes we get out, sometimes we don't. Chris has always given us lots of things to do, like a Kong or the Buster Cube to keep us occupied, but lately she been saying we are now old enough that we don't always need something to play with while we wait. She is right, I settled in for another short nap. I've learned to be patient.

The van is unloaded and Lucy and I are led thru the cabin and into the fenced backyard. But wait......Chris is not opening the door right away. Lucy defaults into a sit.....oh, I forgot. We have new rules. I no longer just give my human eye contact and stand nicely, I am now expected to sit and give eye contact. Something about learning to look to humans for direction rather then taking it upon myself to do things. I guess the rules that changed at the house this past week are the same for other places. I sit, look up, and instantly I hear 'yes' and the screen door opens and out we both go.

We run, we leap, we twist and turn, not only in the yard but thru the water. Paul starts the grill for dinner, which means we can't run around any more. My long tail might get too close to the fire. We have our ex-pens set up in the screened porch and another outdoors close to the action. Chris feeds us dinner in our ex-pens and we settle until after she and Paul finish their dinner.

Then more swimming! But wait.....the rules are really being enforced. I have to sit in my ex-pen.....with it open and I am not to move until I am released. I hear 'go play' and off and running I go. I am no longer getting treats every time I do something right. Sometimes I get to do something like play in the yard, or go get a ball....I think I heard them say something about life rewards. Doesn't matter to me what it is called, all I know is that if I do something humans like I usually get rewarded one way or another. Petting, treats or playing's all good to me!

I slept soundly that night, I guess it must have been all the running around and swimming. The next day we went for a walk around the lake. I practiced walking nicely without pulling. I was released to go the end of the lead to sniff the oh so many good smells.!

Of course being on vacation there were opportunities to take photos.

Then more swimming. Chris went out in the kayak. At first I watched from the dock
but swimming along side was more fun!

By the second day we were falling into a nice routine. And...we got a surprise...a new toy!! We had one that was the same but this was a bigger version. Oh did Lucy and I have fun tugging with it. Paul throws very far so Lucy swam a great distance to get it. Sometimes I watched from the dock. I didn't learn how to jump off the dock, maybe next summer I will try it, but honestly I think Lucy does belly flops. I walk into the water at the side of the dock, it's seems much easier.

Sometimes I would swim out to meet Lucy.

We would play tug in the water while swimming back to shore.

This new toy had a long rope attached, so sometimes I would just sink low in the water and let Lucy pull me in.

And we had training sessions. I can now sit still in one place and Chris can move about 6 feet away. I quickly learned to stay still. If I moved I got nothing other then an 'oops try again', but if I remained sitting she clicked and brought me easy is that? I also practiced my spin....that trick still needs some work. I am still following the target stick.

We got to stay out late at night. Swimming at dusk was fun.We stayed behind on the dock while Chris went for night time kayak rides.

We watched the moon rise.

Our training skills are becoming more solid, working in different places helps me understand that a cue means the same no matter what is around me. Vacations are fun, I like the water the best, I was wet all day long!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Grooming Table

Teaching new skills and socializing Melissa to the many things she will be (and has already been) exposed to in her life has gone smoothly for the past 10 months. Until now. We have hit a little stumbling block with the grooming table.

I didn't expect Melissa to immediately jump up onto the grooming table, it is 24 inches high. My plan was to have her walk up a two step platform onto the table. She does stairs, I figured this would be easy. She stopped after putting two feet on the platform. We walked away and tried again, she balked once more.

Ok, plan B. I removed the two step platform and lifted her two front feet onto the table, she was relaxed. I then went to lift her two back feet onto the table. Nope, no way. She just moved her front feet back onto the ground. We tried again, same scenario. I tried approaching the table from a different angle, same result. Melissa was beginning to get a bit tense, her body was no longer relaxed.

My puppy who was willing to try just about anything was bothered by the grooming table. Was it the table itself? The feel of the rubber matting on the table? Was it the two step platform that put her off in the beginning? What was she unsure about? She has gone on wobbly metal docks at the lake, she has been introduced to the dogwalk, the A-frame, and the seesaw in agility with no problems. These pieces of agility equipment were introduced at a low height, and gradually raised. She jumps onto a 20 inch agility table. She sits and downs on it.

Was it the 4 inches in height different that was causing Melissa to hesitate to go onto the grooming table?

Was it the fact that the agility (pause) table was square and the grooming table rectangular? Was it so visibly different? Was it a combination of all these factors?

In Temple Grandin's book Animals in Translation she talks about how animals perceive things we may not necessarily see. A puddle of water may be something to fear, or a rafter over head may catch an animals eye and they balk at the task at hand. The old school of thinking was that a dog who refused to do something was 'blowing their owner off' or the dog was being 'spiteful' or 'dominant'. The newer scientific based way of thinking is not to force our animals but rather to break the skill down into tiny segments and reward for the behavior we want to see repeated. By using these humane, non-force methods in training, animals are willing to try new things. They are not afraid of being hurt or reprimanded. And best of all, by using reward based methods which are kind and humane, we continue to develop a trusting relationship with our animals.

My goal for Melissa was to be totally relaxed on the table for grooming, as my other dogs are. With a coat like Puff, who is pictured, being raised up a bit certainly makes it easier on my back!

So onto Plan C: Shaping Melissa to move onto the grooming table. The abbreviated definition of shaping is to break the skill into tiny increments, allowing the dog (or horse, or gorilla or elephant) to offer a movement towards the final goal. The animal is rewarded at each step of the way for offering a tiny approximation towards the final goal. The animal is motivated to offer behaviors in this relaxed type of training atmosphere.
1) I moved the grooming table to a different area so Melissa would not associate the training session with her previous refusal. What ever caused her the refusal is still unknown, I wanted to start fresh. Onto the center of the lawn the table went.
2) I did not use the two step platform. The grooming table was lowered, the legs which folded under allowed the table to be a mere 3 inches from the ground. I put a towel near the legs to prevent any movement of the table. Melissa is used to movement from a low seesaw in agility, but I still wanted to take this factor out of the equation.
3) I then gathered my container of treats, my clicker and a hungry Melissa (we usually train before meals). We approached the table, Melissa just looked at it, and I clicked and treated...the first tiny segment towards the final goal. She looked again, click/treat. She took a step closer to the table c/t.

Melissa understood the shaping game. It is how she is learning to stay in 'heel position' at my left side, it is how she learned to stand still in the breed ring for an exam. I have shaped her to pick up an object from my hand, go to a mat and give paw.

Our first session with the grooming table progressed quickly. Melissa soon was putting two feet on, then 3 feet. She was clicked and treated for each tiny increment towards our final goal. The lead always stayed slack. Melissa was motivated to offer behaviors....specifically playing a game that had something to do with the table. She was attentive and relaxed.

After two 60 second training sessions Melissa was eagerly moving onto the table with all 4 feet.

The next session will be to raise the table in height a few inches. I'll keep you posted as to our progress. In the meantime Melissa is being groomed while standing on the ground, or lying on her side, and nails are being trimmed while she lies on the couch. For more information on how to shape behaviors:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More Summer Fun!

Our friend Corrina is visiting from Texas, with her two dogs. We are having a blast catching up and having fun with the dogs. The Wire Hair Pointing Griffons Emelie and Hunter used to live in this area. We wonder what they must be thinking being back in their ol' hiking and swimming areas. They never missed a beat, it was like they had never been gone for a year.

Emelie stood on the rocky bank waiting for a stick to be thrown. Texas has a different terrain!

Hunter resumed his favorite past time 'hunting'.

Emelie looked like an alien emerging from the water!

Glory and Melissa enjoyed their usual swimming and retrieving.

Lab Lucy joined us this morning when we took the dogs for a very early swim. She and Hunter played tug. Hunter held onto just the tiny bit of rope attached to the bumper....neither wanted to let go!

Melissa had never met Emelie and Hunter, but in her usual style she welcomed them both. She and Hunter kicked up a lot of sand along the beach.

Lucy and Melissa played tug.

Hunter did his usual 'hunting'.

Melissa did one of her furthest retrieves.

Lab Lucy swims the fastest. For those times that Melissa cannot reach the bumper first....the next best thing is to take a hold of a tail!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Out and about in Saratoga

A busy and fun day! The temps were a bit cooler and the humidity was down.
9 dogs and 9 owners met at Saratoga State Park this morning. We walked through the tall pines, and past the winding creek.

We practiced skills we have taught our dogs: walking nicely on a loose lead, sitting patiently, greeting people politely.

The dogs had to be on lead in the park but we had long lines so the dogs could go a distance and play in the water.

We walked among the gardens of Hall of Springs, we wandered past the Gideon Putnam. We passed by joggers and cyclists.

We crossed over wooden bridges. We sat in the shade and relaxed.

On the way back to cars we passed a parking lot with a row of balloons on the ground. Not sure why they were in the parking lot but it was another life experience for the dogs.

Then off to the center of town we went. It is racing season in Saratoga. The town was crowded. It was a pleasure to be with well behaved dogs while crossing busy streets and walking along crowded sidewalks.

The dogs enjoyed the attention from the many people who stopped to pet them.

They practiced sitting nicely to be petted.

They practiced moving off to the side and staying in one place on crowded sidewalks.

We held each others dogs while we each went into cafes to get take out lunches. The dogs got to practice being out of sight from their owners.

We then walked to Congress Park for a picnic.

This was Golden Retriever Lily's first time with this group of dogs, she settled in nicely. Each of the dogs remained in a down or sit while we ate and watched the ducks waddle near the pond.

Of course we rewarded them for remaining in position.

Melissa had a taste of Frappuccino.

Caedi Corgi was totally relaxed, no matter where she was!

Glory patiently waited for a little morsel of food to come her way.

Melissa and Tate played and wrestled on the grass.

Dylan waited patiently with Keith, while mom went out of sight.

Then back into the center of town we went...for ice cream.

Puppy Tate at the age of 7 months has already learned to relax and wait patiently in distracting situations.

Glory and Caedi are pros at waiting but had an added distraction of balloons!

We met Shelby, a 4 month old puppy Golden, she enjoyed her first taste of ice cream while socializing on the streets of Saratoga. Johnny's Italian Ices and Ice Cream, on Broadway, has some of the best choices of flavors for us humans. We had the option of small portions for our dogs.

Melissa enjoyed a taste of vanilla ice cream.

It was a fun day to train our dogs at the state park and in a busy town with lots of distractions. What a great way to spend a summer day with friends and our dogs. A big thank you for Debi for taking the majority of the photos. She and Keith are the owners of German Shepherd Dylan.