Monday, July 31, 2006

Agility: Weave update

I recently wrote about my efforts to get Lucy to nail her weave pole entries using three poles, promising an update on our progress. Recent intense heat has made it harder to get in as much practice as we like, but I've been able to get in several sessions of training with the three-pole setup, and it seems to have helped Lucy somewhat. I've decided that the three-pole practice needs to be interspersed with sets of six and 12 poles, because it's potentially confusing. When I first tried the three poles, Lucy seemed to think it a bit strange that there weren't more poles. She adapted quickly, however, but then when I ran her through six poles, she popped out after three poles! So I think the secret is to intersperse practice on varying numbers of poles, to reinforce the notion that no matter how many poles there are, it's still a weave obstacle.

This all reminded me of something I learned earlier in her training: I had initially taught her exclusively on a 12-pole setup, thinking that if she could do 12 poles then six would never be a problem. I was mistaken: the first time we ran in a NADAC weavers class, she blew right by the six-weave sets! I was able to bring her back to the entry and she completed them, but it was clear that she just didn't recognize them at first as an obstacle she needed to perform. So I have since made it a point to practice on both six- and 12-pole sets regularly.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Disney takes steps to counteract "101 Dalmations" effect

DVDs of two Disney movies that feature dogs are going to include inserts warning people that the breeds featured may not be ideal pets for everyone. According to this LA Times article, DVDs for the movie Eight Below, which features Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes, and The Shaggy Dog, which features a bearded collie, will contain information developed in conjunction with the American Kennel Club designed to prevent impulse purchases of those breeds.
The American Kennel Club and Walt Disney Co., aware of the potential for popular films about dogs to inspire not just love at first sight but also spontaneous purchasing, joined forces last month to head off what could be called the "101 Dalmatians" effect, when the "Eight Below" DVD went on sale. For the first time, an insert was packaged inside each DVD warning wannabe Maya owners that "The Siberian Husky is a beautiful and intelligent dog, but not right for everyone." When "The Shaggy Dog" is released Tuesday, it will contain a similar informational insert on bearded collies.

Part of the AKC's mission is to educate the public about the qualities of purebred dogs. Daisy Okas, an AKC spokeswoman, says, "People spend more time researching the kind of car they're going to buy than the kind of dog. A dog shouldn't be an impulse purchase. It's a huge commitment."

Many people enamored with the spotted puppy stars of Disney's 1996 live action "101 Dalmatians" learned the hard way about living with a big screen beauty. Dalmatians are cute, but they're also a high-energy breed with great endurance. Like many active breeds, their frustration can turn into destructive, neurotic behavior if they don't get enough exercise. The Dalmatian that chews up the furniture because it's been left alone all day often winds up in a shelter, or worse, abandoned.
I think it's a step in the right direction, but it would be more effective if the warning were filmed and included before the movie with the FBI anti-piracy warning. The young (often spoiled) children who will pester their parents for a dog just like they saw in the movie may ignore the insert or not be able to read it, and many parents don't bother to do more than insert the DVD and park their children in front of it. Also, the insert is unlikely to be included in copies of the movie rented from video stores or Netflix, and will probably go unseen by a majority of viewers.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Make way for Rally-O!

Several years ago when I had a lot more time on my hands, I was really keen to try a dogsport called Rally Obedience. Essentially, it's an obedience competition, except that competitors follow a course without direction from a judge, performing various obedience exercises as indicated by signs at points throughout the course. All dogs, including mixes, are allowed to compete in APDT and CARO competition, other organizations limit participation to registered purebreds. Rally-O is generally considered to be a more relaxed and--dare I say?--more fun alternative to formal obedience competition.

My problem at the time was finding a class to take--nobody offered it, as it was a very new sport at the time. Now that I have no time whatsoever between teaching three classes a week and having two dogs in agility and one in flyball (all in addition to my day job), there are plenty of local opportunities to take Rally-O--PBH offers it every session, and the APS of Orange County also has occasional classes. But another problem has been that no one has hosted any Rally-O trials locally ... until now! Carolina Canine Pet and Performance (C2P2), will be hosting an APDT Rally-O trial Saturday, Sept. 23 at the (air-conditioned!) Durham Kennel Club. (Premium available here.)

This brings up another problem with trying to get involved in a lot of dogsports: what if you want to go to two events on the same day? Which is the case here: I won't even be able to go watch the Rally-O trial because it coincides with my flyball club's fall tournament (Sept. 23-24 in the Holshouser Building at the NC State Fairgrounds).

Shameless self-promotion: In my day job life I'm a graphic designer, and once upon a time I designed a little Rally-O logo for those few, proud enthusiasts who want to wear their Rally-O obsession on a T-shirt, sweatshirt, coffee mug, etc. Surprisingly, people have bought them. Go figure. I did one for flyball, too.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Little dog update

I think Lucy is recovering well from her mystery pain nicely, after having a visit to the chiropractor on Saturday and a visit from a massage therapist Sunday. I think there is a "You know you're a crazy dog lady when ..." T-shirt in there somewhere (although it all cost much less than travel, hotel and entry fees for the flyball tournament I was supposed to go to over the weekend.)

I go to a chiropractor myself, and while I'm skeptical of the more metaphysical aspects of chiropractic principles, I know that my back feels much better if I get it cracked periodically. I also know that problems with the spine can result in aches and pains elsewhere, because the spine is the nervous system's central conduit. In Lucy's case, I felt it was possible that her pain could be related to a spinal misalignment of some sort. So I took her to see Dr. Elizabeth Engel, a Durham DVM who also does horse and amall animal chiropractic. She found a few problem areas and made adjustments, which Lucy tolerated very well (I though she might be a little freaked out by this woman manipulating her spine, but she didn't seem to mind much at all--once she realized there was no dreaded thermometer involved). We will have a follow-up visit in three weeks, and then I will take her in for periodic checks.

Interestingly, Lucy seemed a little more wary of the massage, done by Sue King of Companion Chi. She's not the type of dog who seeks out lots of handling, particularly from strangers, and usually when she's had enough petting she just gets up and moves away. On top of that, she wasn't eager for attention to the area of her mystery pain, so several times during the session she got up, walked a few feet away, and lay down again. Usually if we asked her she came right back, but if not Sue just went over and gently continued.

I'd like to say that Lucy appeared to be a brand new dog after her various therapies, but all I can say is that she seems to be feeling much better, and I don't know if it was the prednisone, the chiropractic, the massages or just the ability to rest up (the only activities was done have been regular leash walks). Tonight would be an agaility class night, but I think I will just do some low-impact exercises with tunnels and maybe dogwalks to gauge her energy and enthusiasm, and we'll start back with classes on Thursday.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Wishing my little dog could talk ...

The other day I got home from work to find my little dog Lucy not herself at all. Instead of rushing up to greet me and zipping about happily, she was--I don't know of a better way to put this--dragging ass and looking generally pathetic. She at her dinner very slowly and just generally acted as if walking, sitting, lying down and getting back up were a great effort or perhaps painful. She seemed to be hunching her back slightly and holding her body a little crooked. My first fear was that she, too, had contracted a tick disease, but it seemed a bit more like she had a specific pain--either on her abdomen, back or side--that was making her miserable. So we went to the vet, and on the way I as thinking through all the questions I knew they would ask in an attempt to narrow down the problem:

Eating normally? Yes, but slowly. Any diarrhea? Not that I can tell. Is there a chance she could have eaten anything different, toxic or non-food that could have made her sick or cause a blockage? Not to my knowledge--she's not an eater of plants or non-food items, but she will gladly snarf down things like rat poison or children's vitamins if given the chance, and she's always finding and eating random disgusting things on our walks before I can stop her. Did she take a fall off of anything or do anything physical that could cause an injury? Again, not to my knowledge.

There were a few more questions at the vet's, and she determined that Lucy definitely did not appreciate pressure on the right side near one of her ribs. So we did blood tests, which were all normal, and x-rays, which showed nothing amiss. So the less-than-certain diagnosis was that she dad some sort of soft-tissue injury. The vet gave her an injection of dexamethasone for the pain, and gave me some prednisone for her to take. I figured that our plans to run in the Philadelphia Barking Authority flyball tournament this weekend were right out, but I went ahead and asked the vet what she thought: definitely no flyball, she said. We also skipped agility class last night, although we did take a walk and Lucy seemed very happy to be out walking. She seems to be feeling much better this morning.

So instead of driving to Philadelphia today, I decided to go ahead and take the day off work as planned (I was looking forward to it!) and try to arrange an appointment at a doggie chiropractor. Everyone I know who as tried it with their dogs reports wonderful results. I go to a chiropractor myself, and it helps a great deal with a place on my back that frequently gets quite stiff and painful, so why not try it on my dog? She is getting up in years--she turned eight in May--and I think that even if her spine is not the root of the current problem it will still do her good. (And Mr. Gomez would probably benefit as well--I'll ask about multi-dog discounts!)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bad Owner!

What do you do when your dog chews up your brand-new Nintendo DS Lite? Take a rolled up newspaper, hit yourself over the head and say "Why did I leave my expensive toy where the dog could reach it?"

Fortunately for this guy, Nintendo agreed to repair the unit for only $50. but beyond the cost of the toy, he's lucky his dog didn't swallow any of it. Bits of ingested Nintendo DS Lite (or remote control, shoe, barbie doll, etc.) can wreak dangerous havoc with a dog's insides. So remember to pup-proof your home and confine your dog to a safe area while you're away. (Thanks to Consumerist for the link and Jacobian.org for the lesson.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Two-legged stray dog needs a home in Ohio

Via the Dogster: For the Love of Dog blog I read about a two-legged dog that was turned in to an Ohio shelter as a stray, covered in mange. The mange is now almost gone, and the shelter is seeking an adoptive home for the dog as well as donations to help cover his mange treatments. They also would like to find an engineer who can design a set of front wheels for the dog. Currently he gets around by hopping on his back legs, but dogs bodies weren't designed to do that so he could develop problems later in life if he continues.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Farewell to an incredible dog

Mr. Peabody, the dog that introduced Lucy and me to flyball*, has died. I haven't seen him in person (or is that "in dog?") for six years, but I still feel like I'm going to miss him because I've been keeping up with him in blogdom. He really was an exceptional dog.

*I know it's not entirely correct to say that Mr. Peabody introduced us to flyball--it was his mom, Nancy. She saw us playing fetch at Montrose Beach in Chicago, and she came up and asked if I'd ever heard of flyball. She invited me to the practices of Black Sheep Squadron, where she, Steve Schwarz and the other team members patiently coached us in the ways of this funny little sport. We only ran two tournaments with the team before moving to North Carolina and joining DogGoneFast.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Family struggles to get dog back after Katrina

Via a blog called Doggie News, I learned about Eric's Dog Blog, by a guy who has been involved with efforts to rescue animals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. His latest entry is a great rant about a heart-wrenching case of a New Orleans family desperately trying to get back their dog, who was adopted out after Katrina (even though the dog's papers stated that he had known owners). The adopter, Hillsborough County prosecutor and TV news "celebrity" lawyer Pam Bondi, is refusing to allow the dog to go back to its family, claiming she is giving it a better life. The story has attracted international news attention and Bondi has enlisted her own high-profile lawyer in her fight to keep someone else's dog because she would rather win than do the right thing and give the dog back to its family.

In other news, another "Katrina dog" that had been adopted out is being returned to its family. The adopter was going to keep the dog until talking to staff of TV celebrity Cesar Millan, the "Dog Whisperer."

“What the Dog Whisperer said is that unless (the animal) is beaten or abused, it’s better to (send it back),” Welsh said. “My hope is that other families who have adopted pets (from hurricane-ravaged areas) give them back.”
Well, I'm no TV star, but I could have told her that ...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

How much is that doggie in the window?

Whilst rummaging around the internets looking for something else, I found this article about puppymills over at Consumeraffairs.com (which is just a great website in general). I love to see articles written on this topic, because there are several things people who want to buy a puppy generally do not know. For example, pet stores take great pains to convince people that their dogs are not from puppymills when they really are. They say they don't buy from puppymills, which is usually--true: they buy from brokers who get the dogs from puppymills (If you're wondering whether your pet store dog came from a puppymill, you can try using the research features at Petshoppuppies.com.) Also, a USDA license most definitely does NOT mean that the puppies or parent dogs are bred, transported and kept under humane conditions. The USDA regulations are loose and a bit vague in spots and enforcement is a sham (Read more about the USDA Animal Welfare Act here. The USDA also does not license pet stores, which usually fall under state and local regulation or licensing--which can also be a bit of a farce (as I found out when I tried to get a local pet store cited a few years ago--I was told by the nice but overworked official that the state did not have any resources to pursue the court battles that always result from any attempts to enforce the standards, so they only acted in the most egregious cases. Fortunately, the pet store ended up going out of business.)

One quibble I have with the article is that it implies that "genetic defects" (and behavioral problems) are a unique problem of puppymill dogs. This is not true at all--genetic problems are astoundingly common in almost every "pure" breed as a result of decades of "closed registry" breeding that has narrowed gene pools. Even purebreds from "reputable" breeders stand a good chance of harboring a genetic problem or two. Alas, this falls in the category of "Don't get me started"--I could go on for hours on the topic. Perhaps it will be fodder for another post, another day ... (although I'm sure, if this blog were very widely read at all, that what I've just written would be enough to spur a barrage of indignant comments from purebred "fanciers" along the lines of "you're not a breeder so can't possibly have any idea what you are talking about!")

At any rate, I'd like to encourage anyone looking for a dog to consider adopting a mixed breed. Or, if you have your heart (and mind!) set on a particular breed, consider consider going to a breed rescue group. You may have to wait, and they don't usually have puppies available, but good rescue groups will usually help you find the best "fit" with your household and they often provide lots of post-adoption advice and support should you have any problems. Also, don't assume that they only way to go is to get a puppy--often a better choice is adopting a young adult or adult dog, because you can get a much better idea of their personality and energy level than you can with a puppy (Oh, there are lots more reasons, too!). I also like to joke a lot about how silly it is to pay money for a dog when you can find a perfectly good on by the side of the road, but I'm not really joking. I wish I'd counted the number of times I've asked people where they got such an awesome dog and the answer has been "I found him wandering out on Highway 98" or "He just showed up at the house one day." (Be sure to check for a microchip, try to find the owner and follow all local laws if you find a dog!)

NOTE: If you are researching breeders, pet stores, animal welfare or rescue groups and you stumble across anything by the NAIA (National Animal Interest Alliance), please be aware that this is an organization of animal breeders, companies that perform animal experimentation, hunters and others with a business or "recreational interest in keeping animal welfare laws as loose as possible. One of their missions is to discredit animal shelters and rescue groups and paint anyone advocating humane treatment of animals as a wacked-out extremist. They are a business mouthpiece disguising themselves as an animal advocacy organization and they seem to have very deep pockets. Take whatever they have to say with the appripriate grain of salt.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

On the "dominance paradigm"

I've never been a big fan of the view that domestic dog behavior and training issues can be seen in terms of (human interpretations of) wild wolf behavior, i.e. as some sort of "dominance vs. submission" continuum. This view is central to the "master trainer" approach (i.e. training by punishing undesireable behavior as opposed to rewarding desired behavior), but a lot of positive dog trainers place much stock in it as well. Nonetheless, I've never been really comfortable with the idea that to teach a dog to live in harmony with humans we need to try to act like wolves. First of all, dogs aren't wolves, and furthermore, even if they were, our understanding of wolf "dominance" behaviors is quite likely flawed.

Anyway, via The Austin Dog Trainer--Positive Dog Training Blog, I found a short article called Some Thoughts on Letting go of the Dominance Paradigm in Training Dogs. There isn't any "about the author" info listed, but I gather from the article that she is a "wolf educator" and may have some connection to Wolf Park, a nonprofit wolf education and research facility in Indiana.

At any rate, if anyone has interesting links they would like to share on this topic, please leave them in the comments.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Agility run-throughs: Lucy on a Practice Snooker course

Every Friday night at my training facility we have agility course run-throughs, rotating through the various types of USDAA courses (standard, jumpers, gamblers, snooker and steeplechase). This week it was a USDAA Advanced Snooker course. Here's a video of Lucy and I on the course:



Had this been an actual trial, our little off-course weave entry (which, ironically considering the weave-entry problems I've been having, was lovely) would have ended our run. That reminded me of something I've been meaning to practice especially for snooker: keeping Lucy in handler focus while I pass by obstacles which, to her, seem like perfectly logical choices. It's one of the many difficulties one may face in snooker. I'm planning an entry very soon on the joys and perils of snooker, but meanwhile, if you're not familiar with it, you can lear about it here, and you can see a snooker course map here. (Several older snooker courses can be found at the archives of the Dogpatch Agility Course of The Week.)

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