Thursday, August 31, 2006

New group in town

A friend's blog alerted me to a new group that has formed locally called the Coalition to Unchain Dogs. I won't be able to make their meeting because I've got an agility trial this weekend, but I'm hoping someone I know goes and can let me know what the group is planning. The effort and the meeting was also mentioned in this Chapel Hill News article. Chained dogs are quite common around here, but unfortunately, so are loose dogs, as the article notes:
We have a lot of other work to do," said John Sauls, Chatham County's animal control manager. "We've got to raise our rabies vaccination compliance. We need to get people to stop letting their dogs run loose."

Durham County Animal Control Director Cindy Bailey agreed.

"I see a lot of animals that are just as abused in a 10-by-10 dog pen as on a chain," she said.
I definitely agree on the last point--it's just as heartbreaking to see a dog sitting forlornly in a small chain-link kennel enclosure in the beating sun or the pouring rain with nothing but a "dogloo" for protection. Why have a dog if you're just going to condemn it to a lonely, miserable existence out in the heat or cold with hardly any interaction? I really don't understand the point.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Counteracting the counter surfing habit

guard buffalo
Almost all dog people develop some funny "workarounds" to deal with our dog training mistakes. The photo above shows one of ours: We have a toy buffalo (and a similar toy mountain goat) that for some unknown reason scares our big dog, Mr. Gomez. So we put the toys to work for us as guards. Mr. Gomez is a dedicated "counter surfer," that is, he opportunistically patrols high surfaces for bits of food (or paper towels and tissues, which he seems to crave). The mountain goat guards the cat food, which resides on my desk, and the buffalo is deployed in and around the kitchen if needed. It's hilarious, but it also works very well.

Of course, it would be much better if we had never allowed Gomey to develop a counter-surfing habit to begin with. The best way to prevent a counter-surfing habit is to keep a dog from ever being rewarded for it. Ideally, people should have their pups under supervision at all times until they've matured with good habits, but that rarely happens in real life. So the best counter-surfing prevention tool is to keep counters and tabletops clear of anything that could look at all attractive to the puppy so that exploratory surfing is not ever rewarded (and "attractive" is in the eyes of the beholder--Gomey was fond of wooden rolling pins when he was a pup, and a friend's pup once ate $16). Since behaviors that are not rewarded become less likely to be repeated, a dog who learns that counters and tabletops never yield anything interesting or tasty will soon bore of checking them out and look elsewhere for food or fun.

But we dog owners are far less perfect than we expect our dogs to be, and thanks to our inattention and inconsitency, our dogs often develop bad habits like counter-surfing. The trouble with trying to break such a habit by yelling at a dog or using a startle noise (like a shaker can) is that the dog just learns the sport is best attempted when no humans are around. But even if you don't have a scary buffalo to protect your counters when you're not present, sometimes its possible to break a counter-surfing habit after it starts. You have to set up a "punishment from God," in other words, something startling and frightening that happens even though there's not a human in sight. A great way to arrange this is to build a precarious contraption of cookie sheets and clattery serving spoons that will tip and fall noisily when the dog goes for the tasty treat you placed as bait. You should be lurking nearby after baiting the contraption to be the "good guy"--the comfort and solace after the scary countertop experience. You will have to set up such a trap several times so the dog will learn it wasn't just an isolated occurence, and you should probably make the contraption look different every time. A lot of dogs are smart enough to figure out that the punishment only occurs when the contraption is present.

Another important caveat is to make sure the contraption is made of items that will only scare the dog--you don't want to actully hurt him!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Dogs & discs

Originally uploaded by baddog988yh.
Check out baddog988yh's fun Flickr set from the 2006 Indiana Canine Disc State Championships.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Some flyball videos just for fun ...

I was at a flyball tournament hosted by New River Express in Blacksburg, VA last weekend. It was actually two one-day tournaments instead of the usual two-day single tournament, but that turned out to be ideal because the lineups we ran sort of fell apart on Saturday and we had to do a little bit of rearranging for Sunday. A couple of the dogs just stopped wanting to do the pattern correctly, and the best thing to do with a dog like that is to pull it out of competition and then work on re-training later. So on Sunday we ended up running our multibreed team "FEO" (For Exhibition Only) with only three dogs, but it gave us a chance to try two "green" dogs who had never run an actual race in a tournament. They both did really well and will probably be debuted at our fall tournament

Anyway, I took tons of video at the tournament with my little digital camera and I haven't even had a chance to look at all of it yet. I have posted several online so far, however.
First up: Lucy's team. She's the "anchor dog," running last because she had a bit of a collision years ago that makes her dislike having a dog run out past her (although on Sunday we had to arrange her lineup so she was third, and she did very well if we gave her a wide pass). She's not the fastest flyball dog, but I think she's adorable (and she's very consistent and dependable). The lineup here was Kazul (a labby-looking mix), Basil (English Springer Spaniel), Reesie (Dutch Shepherd) and Lucy (mix):

I really like seeing "non-traditional" breeds doing flyball--everyone knows that border collies, Aussies and Jack Russell Terriers rock this sport, but I like to tell people that the best dog to do flyball with may be the very one snoozing at your feet right now (assuming no physical limitations, of course). Here's a New River Express lineup that includs an Afghan hound and a mini poodle:

There was a really awesome shar-pei running on another team and I think I got some decent video of it as well--I'll try to post it later. That's definitely not a breed you see often in flyball.

And here's a flyball "blooper"--Spyn, a Jack Russell owned by Mike and Beckie Randall of Blockade Runners, lives up to his name:

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Another post-Katrina custody battle

An article in yesterday's Washington Post, Fangs Are Bared Over Md. Group's Katrina Dog Rescues, describes yet another custody battle over dogs rescued after Hurrican Katrina. Although I'm of the opinion that in all cases the dogs should be returned to their previous owners, I'm afraid this is going to cast a pall over future post-diaster rescue efforts. There is no question that the animals needed to be removed from the Gulf area and provided with foster homes, but it has become clear that the waiting period before permanent adoptions were allowed was too short in most cases. So many lives were so completely disrupted after Katrina that many people took a lot longer than expected to re-connect with the pets they had to leave behind.

Of course, in my opinion a better solution would be to make provisions for pets a part of all future disaster evacuation plans. Come to think of it, it would have been nice if there had been adequate evacuation plans for the people in Katrina's path, not to mention their beloved pets, but I digress ...

In North Carolina, Hurricane Floyd in 1999 resulted in the loss of 3 million pets and farm animals. As a result the state started SART, the State Animal Response Team to plan and prepare for future animal emergencies. Several other states have also intituted their own SART programs; contact information can be found here.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A not-so-obvious danger

Today a flyball teammate posted on a link on our e-mail list to a very sad story about a puppy licking an ordinary home paper shredder with tragic results (Here's the link, but please do not read the story if you are very sensitive--take my word for it. I'll save you some wondering and tell you that the dog had to be euthanized.) Another teammate followed up with a story about a well-known, older agility dog who also had such an accident years ago. That dog survived, but he had to be taught to eat and drink all over again and was unable to be active or go out into the heat because the tongue is a dog's way of cooling itself. That dog had apparently been around the paper shredder many times before without incident, and for some reason one day he licked it. And if all that isn't enough, a veterinarian on our team said she has heard many such stories involving puppies and adult dogs alike.

To be honest, I had never thought of our paper shredder as a dog hazard before. Needless to say, I will be making sure that it is never left in "auto" mode when we are not actively using it, and preferably left unplugged as well. I'm imagining I'm not the only one who has overlooked this potential home hazard when "dog-proofing" a home. So if you've never thought of it, please do. And pass the tip along--I'm going to mention it tonight in my puppy class.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Agility: Exciting times ahead!

The place where I train, PBH, is hosting a three-day USDAA trial over Memorial Day Weekend that will feature the first Dog Agility Masters (DAM) team qualifier to be held locally. More exciting is that this is going to draw some of the top USDAA competititors to the trial, including Stuart Mah, who is really amazing to watch (and presumably Pati Mah,who is equally watch-worthy, will be there as well). I believe they will also be competing in the Sept. 8-10 trial at Teamworks in Youngsville, NC.

But the really exciting thing is that I won't just be watching Stuart Mah--he will be leading seminars the week after the PBH trial at Bon-Clyde Learning Center in Sanford, NC. So (for a fee), he will be watching me ... and presumably helping me to improve my handling skills. I sent in my registration yesterday to participate in the Excellent level session with Lucy. If I had more money (and less work--these are weekday seminars) I'd take the Novice level one with Mr. Gomez as well, but instead I'll have to just try to apply what I've learned with Lucy to my handling of Gomey (although handling a great big BC mix is much different that handling a little terrier mix!)

Although I still don't feel at all ready to enter the DAM event at this trial, there will also be a non-qualifying event called Performance Versatility Pairs that's open to all competitors not entered in the DAM qualifier. In the PVP, each individual in the pair competes in four classes of competition – standard, snooker, jumpers, and gamblers. All pairs then compete in a versatility two-dog relay class. One of my training pals, who runs an American foxhound, wanted to participate, so we decided to pair up. Since it's non-qualifying, it will essentially amount to a day of practice runs (at the lower Performance jump heights) for Lucy and me, but it will be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Agility and Flyball record books

When competing in flyball and agility, it's always a good idea to keep records of your results at trials or tournaments so you can plan your training or see correlations between different conditions or venues and your dog's performance. (Some people just like to look back and remember those crazy early days when everything seemed to go wrong!) It's also a great way to find discrepancies in official databases after they are posted (That's how I found that USDAA failed to record two of Lucy's Starters titles and now I watch them like a hawk.)

Some industrious people put together their own record systems, but for the rest of us there are ready-made alternatives, the best of which, in my opinion, are Marty Warner's loose-leaf record books, available at The agility record book has pages to record titles for AAC, AKC, AMBOR, ASCA, CKC, CPE, DOCNA, NADAC, TDAA, UKC, and USDAA, as well as pages to record the particulars of each event you enter. The flyball record book has pages for NAFA and U-FLI titles as well as pages for tracking starts, splits and other heat and race information from each tournament you enter. Both books have a removable/customizable cover insert and ziplock pouches so you can carry height cards and other loose items. The loose-leaf design makes it easy to add pages, update as titles/requirements change and organize records for multiple dogs (the biggest advantage over other record books, in my opinion.)

At this point ordering is still done the paper-and-check way, but if you live near NC you can probably pick one up from Marty at one of the local events at PBH, Teamworks, or at my club's upcoming flyball tournament. (Contact Marty first to make sure she can get a book to the event).

UPDATE! You can now use PayPal to purchase one of Marty's record books!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Gomey eats his vegetables

Tonight was Mr. Gomez's first agility class on his food allergy trial diet. I was worried that The carrots and broccoli I took weren't going to be very motivating for him, but I needn't have worried. If anything, he seemed to like them more than any other food reward I've ever given him--he was really jazzed. The really strange thing is that he would drop his ball for a carrot--he never, ever drops his ball for food! The ball is his favorite thing in the world, and getting him to drop it just to let us throw it again has taken years. Food usually isn't enough--only the certainty that dropping it will lead to more play ever works. But he was spitting that ball out left and right in exchange for carrot discs. The boy ain't right!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Orphan dogs need loving homes

I got some very sad news earlier this week: a woman who had taken my flyball classes with one of her dogs and was continuing training with my team had died in her home. Sue was a sweet, soft-spoken and caring soul who fostered lots of cats for a local rescue group and had two very sweet dogs. Now her dogs Ava (below top) and Samantha (bottom) need new homes, as do the cats she was fostering. According to a family friend, the animals went through a very rough time--police believe that Ava was in a crate for 5 days while Samantha was without food guarding her owner, and the cats were without food and water as well.


Ava is an aussie mix (I always thought she may have some golden retriever in her), about two years old (or so--I believe Sue got her as a rescue). The photo above does not do her justice--because I had always seen her with a sunny, happy expression on her face (no one would ever ask "Do dogs smile?" if they saw a happy Ava!) She loved going over the flyball jumps (she was still working on the box part), and really seemed to enjoy just being out and about, but her favorite pastimes also include snuggling and laying in the sun.

I didn't know Samantha personally, but according to Sue's family and friends she is an 11-year-old white German Shepard, cancer survivor and very sedate. She enjoys long walks in the parks and has a sweet spot for cats ... in fact she would probably like a home with cats more than a home with other dogs.

I wish I had more details to share about both dogs, but if you or someone you know is looking to adopt a great companion, email vdoucette22 (at) aol (dot) com. The cat adoptions are being handled by Snowflake Animal Rescue--I have no information at all about them.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

More belly rashes ...

Mr. Gomez has another nasty belly rash, so I schlepped him to the vet yet again today. I'm fairly positive this is NOT poison ivy! In addition to giving him shots (ampicillin trihydrate and dexamethasone) and pills (cephalexin and prednisone) to vanquish the crud creeping across his belly, the vet recommended that we start a food trial to determine if there is an allergy involved. (I'm increasingly convinced that there is.)

So in the morning we will start transitioning him to a prescription "allergen-free" food, which we will feed him for 8 weeks. That part seems easy enough, but then the vet pointed to my little baggie of chicken bits (I always take food to the vet--it makes it so much easier on me and the dogs!) and said "That means no more of those." Egads--what about agility? Gomey loves tugs and balls, but he's food motivated enough that a toy alone isn't enough of a reward ... what am I supposed to feed him? Her answer: baby carrots ... or actually anything that's not a protein source (so nothing with eggs, dairy, any kind of meat, or peanuts.) The good thing is that Mr. Gomez isn't so picky about his treats--he loves fruits and vegetables (Lucy is a bit more demanding--she's a meat and cheese girl). Mr. Gomez seems to like the act of receiving a treat more than he cares what the treat is, and he seems to like getting fruits and vegetables as much as any other food. So I've got a fresh supply of baby carrots and broccoli, and I can supplement that with apples to keep it interesting for him. I can also use the prescription kibble as a treat ... but it's so expensive I think I'll hold out and see how long I can keep him interested in fruits and vegetables first.

After the eight weeks, if he remains rash-free, we can decide to introduce other protein sources one at a time to see what, if anything, triggers a reaction. Or we can just decide to keep him on the prescription food. At this point I'm hoping it's a food allergy--if our food trial doesn't turn up any answers the next step would be to take him to the vet school at NC State for allergy skin tests. I don't even want to think about the cost involved. This is a good antidote to all my inclinations toward getting a third dog!