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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
January 2010 Is for the Dogs
It’s National Train Your Dog Month!

They say every dog has its day, but soon they will actually have their own month! The Association for Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) has proclaimed January to be National Train Your Dog Month. This new annual event promotes the benefits of socialization and positive training, which include enhanced and healthier relationships between people and dogs. January is the perfect month for emphasizing training because it is a time for new goals and because so many dogs have just joined new families over the holidays.

  Training is a great way to interact with your dog and to have fun together. It is also essential for keeping your dog (and your home!) safe. Well-trained dogs have better, happier lives because they can be allowed more freedom such as being off leash and getting to go more places. Most of us try new things in January, and training your dog more, or even getting started with training is a great way to kick off the year.

 

News: Guest Posts
People’s (and Pups’) Choice
Victoria Stilwell coming to Bark in 2010.

Has canine supernanny Victoria Stilwell steered her shiny black convertible into your heart yet? She’s the dog trainer who brings positive strategies to some gnarly behavior challenges with effective aplomb on Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog. No television, you say? That’s not a problem anymore. Starting in February, Ms. Stilwell will write an exclusive column on training for every issue of Bark in 2010, beginning in February. In each column, she’ll answer a single question in depth.

In the meantime, already converted Stilwell fans can show their love by casting a vote for her brand of patient, peaceful intervention with a vote for It’s Me or the Dog, which has been nominated for a People’s Choice Award! (Last day of voting is December 8, 2009.)

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Anything But A Border Collie
What happens when a dog is too good at something?

Last weekend I watched the online broadcast of the United States Dog Agility Association’s Cynosport World Games. As usual, the finals for the top jump heights (above 20”) were dominated by Border Collies. 

I have to admit, I love watching the powerful black and white blurs fly through an agility course, but it is refreshing to see a variety of breeds compete, which doesn’t happen very often at the top levels of competition.

Following the games, there’s been a lot of talk about wanting the USDAA to create an Anything but Border Collie (ABC) championship, a class that already exists in the United Kingdom.

The numbers certainly support the fact that Border Collies are in a class of their own. Take a look at the finals at three championships this year.

The American Kennel Club’s national competition in March: All 18 dogs in the 20”, 24”, and 26” height groups in the finals were Border Collies. There were even two small Border Collies in the 16” height group.

The European Open’s international competition in July: 58 of 67 Large dogs in the final were Border Collies.

USDAA Cynosport World Games: 31 of 32 dogs in the 22” and 26” height groups in the Steeplechase Finals and 38 of 40 dogs in the Grand Prix Finals were Border Collies.

Do Border Collies’ super canine genes give them an unfair advantage? Getting a Border Collie isn’t an instant ticket to success. As individuals, each dog, regardless of breed, has their own challenges, strengths, and weaknesses. Nonetheless, it’s apparent that Border Collies dominate the sport.

My Sheltie, Nemo, measures a whopping 19.5” at the withers and has to compete against the big dogs. He’ll never keep up with the Border Collies in terms of speed and we only place if it’s a technical course where faster dogs knock bars or run off course. Still, I can’t imagine not having the thrill of competing alongside these amazing dogs.

And while it’s not common, I’d like to think that non-Border Collies can be competitive, even at the highest levels. At the USDAA’s Cynosport World Games this year, that one non-Border Collie in Steeplechase Finals, a Belgian Tervuren, ended up winning the championship. 

When it comes down to it, I’m conflicted. I do think that having more opportunities to showcase non-Border Collies would encourage more people to participate in competition, but on the other hand if a team is talented enough to make it to the top levels, don’t they deserve to be there, regardless of breed?

What do you think about creating more opportunities for non-Border Collies in dog sports?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Teaching My Dog To Stay
I did it for the ice cream.

Well-trained dogs are a joy to be around and they are more likely to stay safe. Additionally, they often have a better quality of life due to the fact that they get to accompany people to more events since their behavior is trustworthy. These are all worthy reasons to train our dogs, but I must say I am often just as motivated by my own quality of life. Specifically, I needed my dog to have a rock solid stay so that I had the freedom to eat ice cream.

I wanted to be able to cue him to stay so that I could go inside the local Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop. This goal involved a high level stay since he had to deal with distractions and with me being away from him, though still in sight through the store window. It took me a couple of months, but I got to the point where I could tell him to sit and to stay, then go inside, buy my ice cream and come back outside to a dog who was staying without stress just outside the door where he could see me.

This occurred in Hanover, New Hampshire, which is a small and very friendly dog town. Most places I have lived, I would not leave my dog outside a store even in my sight because I would be worried that someone would either harass my dog or take him away. Hanover is ridiculously safe so that the risk of any harm coming to my dog was miniscule. It was also a town where dogs were allowed almost everywhere.

In such a town as this where dogs are allowed to be in so many places, a good stay is just part of what a dog needs to be able to do. They also need to walk politely either on or off leash and they need to come when they are called. These are the minimum core skills that dogs must be able to perform in order for them to be polite members of society. And in my case, my dog’s stay was the most important because I need my regular doses of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream in order for me to be a polite member of society.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
I Love “Wait”
It’s my favorite training cue.

I am so fond of the cue “Wait” that I wrote a column called An Ode to ‘Wait’ to express my enthusiasm about it. This cue tells a dog to pause and not to move forward until given permission to do so. It can literally be a lifesaver at doors to both houses and cars because it can prevent bolting out into traffic. Additionally, it can be a sanity-saver when heading out for a walk because it stops the chaos that naturally results from dogs who are so eager to go out for a walk that they act like they are out of their minds.

Here’s a video of Tyson

, a Pomeranian who stayed with us for a few days when his family was out of town. The video was taken after just one session of teaching Tyson to “wait.” He got better at it over the next couple of days. It was much more fun to take him out for walks when he was calm than when he was leaping and spinning around.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Agility Favorites
What obstacle does your dog prefer?

I had a dog whose favorite part of an agility course was the table. My theory is that it made the most sense to him. It was the first piece of equipment that he learned how to negotiate correctly, and it seemed as though he always knew what to do with it, unlike some other obstacles, which periodically confused him. I loved this dog, but he was, hmm, how best to say it—not the brightest dog I have known. He enjoyed the things in his life that were straightforward, and that’s why I think he liked the table.

Does your dog have a favorite agility obstacle, and if so, what do you think that tells you about your dog?

 

News: Guest Posts
First Chomper
New York’s governor hires a trainer for his testy Maltese.

Why is it that when small dogs are aggressive and biting it’s treated as a joke? Take New York Governor David Paterson’s Maltese, Cheerio--a full-time tough guy with at least two bites to his credit. Imagine if those teeth belonged to a bigger dog with a tougher reputation living in the home someone with a lot less clout. I’m just glad the governor finally recognized that a pint-sized troublemaker is still a troublemaker and deserves a trainer. Good luck, Cheerio!
 

News: Guest Posts
The Problem of Celebrity
Some veterinarians and behaviorists decry Merial’s partnership with Cesar Millan.

Earlier this month, the executive board of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a statement that it was “deeply troubled” by the Merial’s decision to partner with Cesar Millan to promote their products. Merial is a huge animal-health company and the maker of Frontline and Heartgard. As part of the promotion, the company is offering veterinary clinics a free Cesar Millan DVD titled “Mastering Leadership!” for any client who purchases either Frontline or Heartgard this summer.

“Merial’s executives may not be aware of the fact that the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), the AVSAB, and the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (SVBT) have uniformly spoken out against the coercive, ‘dominance’-based techniques employed by Mr. Millan on his television show ‘The Dog Whisperer.’”

The AVSAB statement continues, “At best, the show is entertaining but misleading to pet owners. At worst, Mr. Millan’s techniques and misinformation have contributed to increased aggression and anxiety or resulted in physical injury to the pet and/or pet owner. As practicing veterinarians, we all unfortunately have seen many cases of the latter. Merial claims to ‘enhance the health, well-being, and performance of animals.’ Asking veterinarians to recommend that their clients seek behavior information from Mr. Millan speaks otherwise.”
 
Bark columnist Patricia McConnell supports AVSAB’s criticism of Merial and offers her own seasoned and thoughtful perspective on the problem of The Dog Whisperer on her blog, The Other End of the Leash.

In general, I’m inclined against this promotion even without Millan. I’m skeptical about direct-to-the-consumer appeals by pharmaceutical companies. It’s not that I think doctors or veterinarians should be the only ones with information, but advertising and promotion (a free training video, for example?) is rarely about meaningful education. On top of that, there’s reasonable debate over Millan's approach. Do veterinarians—with our trust vested in them—really want to be seen as promoting his ideals?

News: Guest Posts
A Service Dog Who Bites?
Poor training is not fair to the dog.

A story in the San Francisco Weekly ("Service with A Snarl") describes Tita, a Chihuahua service dog who helps a man named Charles Esler deal with bipolar disorder. A happy, feel-good story, except for one thing: Tita bites. Tita regularly chases and lunges after people in public parks. She snarled and barked at a guard at the Social Security Administration. She bit Esler’s primary care provider. And during SF Weekly’s interview with Esler? She bit the reporter.

 

"'She’s vicious,' Esler says with a smile, cradling the dog, which licks his face with abandon. 'If you were to approach a guide dog without acknowledging yourself, I’m sure a guide dog would bark, too.'"

 

Actually, no. In her recent article for Bark, "The Making of a Guide Dog," Jane Brackman explains that  puppies who can’t learn appropriate ways to deal with stress do not get placed as guide dogs.

“All dogs are born with default positions that they revert to when stressed. The reaction can be anything from anxious whining to more serious issues such as biting. The higher the stress, the more pressure on the trigger. Puppy socialization programs provide an opportunity to identify environmental stressors and modify the reaction, or failing that, release the dog from the program to a companion home.”

Poor Tita! Training proper behavior is as much for the dog’s comfort as for the human who will eventually work with that dog. It seems inhumane to expect an untrained dog to feel relaxed and confident in public situations such as large crowds, public transportation, and all the normal places we humans don’t think twice about. Seeing Eye puppies are gradually introduced to all kinds of these things and carefully socialized from birth. This way, when they finally go out with a blind person, it’s no big deal to hop on a train, take a bus, be in a stadium full of screaming fans, or be around other dogs and new people. They’ve done it all and seen it all by then. Nothing bothers them. And if it does, they are rejected from the program and placed where they belong: in a companion home.

News: Guest Posts
Help Prevent Dog Bites
Learn a few simple tips this Dog Bite Prevention Week.

Yesterday I walked through a crowded Central Park in New York with an old friend and his dog Tracy (as in Spencer Tracy). Tracy is a buttery, 106-pound Golden Retriever, who at six-years-old exhibits the irresistible jauntiness of a puppy. Children are drawn to him like flies to a fly strip, and all around us, they zoomed in on the dog, many of them without warning. I was astounded and relieved by Tracy’s amiability. And I wondered, how would my dogs handle this kid fest? The experience made me realize that I’m so rarely around young children and toddlers, especially in numbers, that I don’t know the answer and that it’s a disservice to my dogs that I haven’t provided the opportunity for them to feel comfortable in this sort of environment.

This week is Dog Bite Prevention Week, and agencies and organizations around the country are spreading the gospel of dog bite prevention. Truth is, while you can’t guarantee a dog won’t bite (remember, even President Bush’s dog snapped at a reporter last year), you can take very specific steps to make it much less likely. Socializing your pup so that he or she is comfortable in a variety of settings, especially with other dogs and wee humans, can be one way to avoid a situation where your dog bites out of fear or anxiety. Other strategies include spaying and neutering your dog and taking a training class with your dog.

Although the Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 800,000 people seek medical attention for dog bites every year, the CDC considers the problem to be largely preventable. This week, take some time to learn what you can do to protect yourself and your dog.

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