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Tracking Workshop

We’ve had all kinds of exciting things happen over the last 3 weeks.

Last weekend we went to a tracking workshop presented by someone who owns some of Griffin’s relatives. Her dogs have been very successful in AKC tracking (following the scent of a person over varied terrain).  Her presentation was very good and it was exciting to see so many people attend and ask really great questions.

I am not crazy about tracking -I like more active training than setting up puzzles for dogs to solve, but I can see how this will be very beneficial to my dogs. Scent related activities tend to be something my dogs are weak at (indicating it’s me…more than lack of capabilities of the dog/s) and this will give us a structured way to work through this.  My dogs have been started in tracking training with a different method and I really should follow through and hope I have the motivation to make it happen!

The presentation was very good at indicating what the final goals are and then outlining the training to get there. It’s both fairly simple (start with a short distance. Gradually increase. Gradually add in variation) but also complex (humidity, moisture, temperature, hills will all influence what happens).  I do think it’s important for us to try new/different things to be sure I keep having experiences as a learner and to see other kinds of activities.

Here’s a video of our friend doing tracking training about 8 years ago!  Bailey lies down when she finds the ‘articles’ I dropped when I made the track.



Dog Walks: Heath Community Park +Great Circle Earthworks

Griffin at Moundbuilders Park. He was on leash. On a sit stay.

Yesterday we found some places for quick walks and training between teaching puppy class at Viktor’s vet and afternoon lessons with a family of awesome aussies.

We first went the Heath Community Park/Geller Park. When we pulled in the place was deserted but there was a huge “no dogs” sign at the gate.  So we left.




Tonks at Moundbuilders Circle

Our next stop was the Moundbuilders Park – the portion near the Great Circle Earthworks.  This was a  source of many field trips in elementary/middle school.  Only in college did I realize that it’s a fairly unusual structure.  It’s nice that dogs are allowed  at a place of such historical significance – even if dogs aren’t permitted at the nearby “community” park we first tried to visit. We saw a few people walking but not many. There were two dogs (illegally) off leash but those owners were very respectful and stayed quite far away from us and appeared to have good control of their dogs.

One of my favorite things about this park is all the older trees. This will make it a great place for summer walking with plenty of shade. There are some asphalt trails but also areas of dirt trails – giving plenty of room off to the side to move away if a dog needs more space. We highly recommend this as a dog walking location!

Midwest Veterinary Conference – Jane Killion/Puppy Culture


I knew of Jane from her older book on dog training When Pigs Fly: Training Success With Impossible Dogs (though I’ll say it’s mostly just dog training, appropriate for all kinds of dogs!)  I knew of her Puppy Culture DVD/program, but was not very familiar with it.I have an unscientific bias towards a puppy raising program developed by Griffin’s breeders.

Me and puppy Tonks, photo by M Nelson

The Puppy Culture DVD is extremely well produced/professionally done. By every standard I can think of, it’s the best done dog training related DVD that I have ever seen. The editing is great, the sound quality, music added, content, how the content is displayed, it’s all very, very professional. And the content is well done. I had to go and look up some of the studies she referenced and don’t know that they are very persuasive on their own, though I do agree with the points she was trying to make. 

The sessions confirmed something I have felt for a while – breeders and shelters with litters/puppies should be doing a lot more to get puppies prepared for life in an average home. Puppies should have training to pay attention to people, to not be worried about the environment, to problem solve without being frustrated, to be fine crated alone (with a delicious chew), to have a great start on house training, training to take food from a hand, and polite ways to ask for what they want (sit and watch vs bark//paw/panic). I hope to see more of this catch on, it will only help families be better able to help puppies in their care and for puppies to transfer to new homes with less frustration.

Her early effort on attention/eye contact was interesting. She referenced this as important for bonding, especially from the perspective of the human. Apparently one study found that attachment-forming-related-hormones increased during eye contact – for both people and dogs.  This didn’t happen with people and wolves. And it didn’t happen if the dog were cued/commanded/made to look at the person, only if that attention was willingly offered.

The talk made me really want to raise a litter of puppies. For a while I’ve been half-joking about breeding/raising puppies specifically to be awesome pets (laid back, calm, healthy, social with people and dogs but not frantic) – but I don’t know that those are the kinds of dogs I want to live with myself.

I took many pages of notes, it was fun to jump into a topic I don’t know very much about and I’m especially excited about some of the widespread data collection plans Jane has for the upcoming years.  There’s so much variation within breeds and individuals – her project will let us know what to better expect – and better help – puppies and families.

Testing Your Training

Recently I read a training article that compared a beginner perspective (try something until you can get it right once or twice) to the perspective of someone more experienced (keep working until you don’t get it wrong). We’ve been talking about this in most of our training classes recently – especially when students are bored or think their dogs are bored or think their dogs “know” something.

With my own dogs, I rarely feel like they “know” something perfectly – there are usually ways I can test understanding to improve fluency and creating behaviors more resilient to distractions.  A few variables I can change:

  • Change location
  • Change handler position relative to handler
  • Alter distances between dog and handler
  • Discriminate between cues – add in handler distraction
  • Change excitement level (more or less) prior to the session
  • Tempting distractions
  • Behavior in sequence
  • Delayed rewards

And – combining some of these gives essentially endless opportunities!

Here’s a video we took for an online class – Griffin and I ran the same sequence and did a different handling option at jump 5. We could have tried variations at other places (especially the opening serpentine).

What’s something your dog knows? How can you test understanding? How can you add variation?

Dog Food Experiment

I’m not as particular about dog food as many people – what dogs eat does definitely matter, but as a consumer it’s hard to make sense of what the companies are saying and verify many of the claims about quality of ingredients or the quality of the production process.  I grew up on a cattle farm where specific feeds were mixed in huge, huge quantities (cows eat a lot!). Sometimes the same combination of ingredients was used for all the animals getting extra grain and at other times the mixture was different for various groups (growing vs adult). At OSU when I was in Animal Sciences classes we learned about nutritional needs of animals (mostly livestock) and the processes/math of creating feeds.  I’ve seriously considered finding a way to produce/manufacture dog food – but I have limited time!

Somehow I’m very lucky and my dogs do well on pretty much anything I’ve fed them. I feel bad when I feed less “fancy” brands but I also feel guilty when I feed premium foods without knowing that I actually have a better product.  One of our friends loves thinking about dog food and gives recommendations when I ask nicely.

When possible, I like to use kibble to train. When Blaze was young and we obsessively did a lot of training I would find the smallest piece sizes available. Now I like slightly bigger pieces and preferably ones that are less “dog food” smelling (Wellness products definitely smell the best!).

One  recommendation that I had to try was this one:

My dog Viktor needs to eat Victor brand dog food – at least for a few weeks!


Providing Appropriate Dog-Dog Socialization for Adult Dogs

Socialization is a frequently misunderstood concept in dog training. It’s more (time) critical with puppies, but even for adult dogs we need to continue to provide good (not bad, and not neutral) experiences with the world. For dogs who are genetically more stable/resilient, we don’t need to work as hard. For dogs who are more anxious, we may need to do more conscious and structured training to maintain progress.

Of my current dogs, Griffin (8 years) and Tonks (18 months) are fairly stable.  Viktor (2 years) is more anxious but definitely has an easier time than most of the anxious dogs I work with and definitely is more resilient than  my past dog Luna.

Here are a few of our activities for dog-dog socialization:

Golden party.

Training Class: In a class environment my dogs have a great time (not bad and not neutral!) around other dogs. My dogs are learning they can’t always play with other dogs and that they can focus with me even when other dogs are around. The structured activities provide a great way to spend time around other dogs of different sizes and types. My dogs spend more time assisting me in classes as demo dogs than truely as student teams ourselves, but it’s still great for them!

Walks: We try to find opportunities to walk with other people and dogs. We don’t do this as much as we should. Sometimes it happens as a plan and sometimes it happens spontaneously when we walk past/with dogs in public parks or at pet stores for a short period. Treats and fun with me make this a good experience (not bad  – and not neutral!).

Play Time: This is an option I do less of than some may think – I want to be sure these are good experiences for my dogs. Tonks enjoys this more than my others, though Griffin has one very best friend German Shepherd Dog and I hope to create friends outside our family for Viktor. Play creates good experiences because it’s fun – but it also creates expectations of high arousal and excitement. This isn’t a bad thing  – but if the only interaction a dog gets with other dogs is unstructured play (dog parks, some daycares), we often see dogs who get immediately and extremely excited the moment they see other dogs.

Golden party

This Weekend:  We did a group playtime with Tonks and two friends on Saturday.  They did a lot of chase (switching roles) and a little wrestling.  Today Tonks and Griffin went on an off leash walk with a dog friend. There was some chase but much, much less than when we were in the confined indoor environment yesterday. Later on, Griffin went on an off leash walk

with a new ‘friend’ (used loosely – no play, just polite interactions).


Viktor’s Plans: Viktor hasn’t played with a dog outside of Griffin and Tonks since he was young. Part of this is we don’t know a lot of appropriate adult dogs and part is because I didn’t want to risk him being inappropriate with another dog. Poor play skill practice would be bad for him – those are habits I don’t want him to practice. But also, I didn’t want him to scare another dog. We’ve been doing muzzle training (to reduce my fear of him hurting someone else) and some structured training to prepare for introductions, hopefully in the  near future. In the meantime, he does get a lot of dog socialization other than play/interaction through class time and walks.

Using the OFA Website – Finding a Breeder – Hips and Elbows

In the past few months I’ve had quite a few people ask me to help them find a purebred dog through rescue or breeders – and it’s hard.  There’s a lot of ways things can go well (a great match) and many more ways the search can go wrong (health or behavior problems. 15+ years of problems!).

One useful tool in the search for a dog from a breeder is a website by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.  www.offa.org is a result database for a few very specific health conditions.It was started by a golden retriever enthusiast and specifically to help decrease hip dysplasia. Each breed club has a recommendation on the health tests that should be performed to help make good choices on a breeding. I have golden retrievers, so if we go to the Golden Retriever Club of America website we can go to the breeder code of ethics page and see the recommended health tests for hips, elbows, eyes, and heart.  Each breed will have different recommendations, though these four are fairly common in medium and large breed dogs. The OFA is nice and has complied a list of the tests recommended by specific breed clubs.

Getting a Certification:  Regular veterinarians can take the xrays for hips/elbows and then those results are physically or digitally sent to the OFA for reading. Three radiologists rate the xrays and then the results are added to the database. An owner can chose to have non-passing results unlisted.  Some breeders will do this so that unfavorable results are hidden, though this makes it harder for others to make choices on purchasing dogs or breeding dogs. It takes about two weeks to get results and the paper results copy/’certificate’ arrives to the owner before the results are published online to give the owner time to correct spelling, etc.

Some people are very particular about where they take dogs to get xrays as poor positioning can impact results. Griffin had his done by a general practice vet in a somewhat rural area. They assured me they had done quite a few so we went with it and he was rated as excellent hips and normal elbows. This wasn’t a surprise as that was in his family history.

Viktor had his xrays done in November when we went to the rehab vet. This was mostly a matter of convenience and knowing they would do an awesome job handling him and finding the right meds to make him sleepy/compliant. He did really well with that part of things. I expected him to have hip dysplasia due to his motion and structure. I expected him to have elbow problems because of his front leg problems.  Somehow, he had excellent hips (better than both of his parents) and normal elbows.

by tcrehab

What does it mean: Well, we don’t really know. There’s some recent controversy about how important elbow xrays may be as there are conditions that may show up as elbow dysplasia when there is actually other types of injury. Hip dysplasia has both genetic and environmental factors (plus, keeping dogs at a good weight!).

How to use OFA:  On the OFA website you can use the search bar to search for a dog’s registered name or registration number. This will show you results and the age when the results were obtained.  Things like hips and elbows are done once but other tests like eyes, heart,and thyroid are done more often as many of those problems develop as dogs age.

You can see siblings, half siblings, and parents listed. By clicking on these relatives you can then see parents and half siblings of that dog.  Looking at this piece of family history can help you make educated decisions.

If a dog is not listed – the dog may have great hips and elbows free of abnormalities, but it is suspicious that the breeder is not following social norms for breeding and not being transparent about these types of tests/results.  That said – things do change over time. Griffin’s sire did not have eye clearances. That dog, Joker, was born in 1995 and this was not as common then (though Tonks’ sire was born around the same time and had several eye clearances). It was only a few years after Joker died in 2008 that eye clearances for senior golden retrievers became strongly encouraged due to  more information available about hereditary eye conditions that typically do not appear in the typical breeding years.The lack of eye results does leave a question mark in terms of knowing if he had a specific condition, but the lack of the test is not suspicious in this situation.

Look at my dogs!

Viktor was part of a small litter. He’s the only one to have had those tests so far.  I could click on either of his parents to see a more detailed health profile for either of them.

Griffin has so many siblings and half siblings it took 2 snips to show it all. The purple CHIC stands for Canine Health Information Center and means that the dog has the recommended health tests by the parent breed club.  Griffin’s CHIC is light purple as his eye exam (needs to be done yearly) is out of date – you can see his last submitted one was March 2014.  He has had an eye exam since then (November 2016) but I have not yet sent in the paperwork.

Tonks isn’t listed yet as we haven’t submitted anything yet, but her page would be even longer as she has many, many half siblings through her sire.

Griffin – USDAA Agility – January 8

We’ve had some less than stellar trial days in November and December –  sometimes fast but poor control, and sometimes great teamwork but Griffin doesn’t seem to be trying hard. As a result – we’ve not be en entering as many trials as we try to figure things out. His training has been great, with some of the best intensity and speed we’ve ever had.

Gamblers P2:  I entered the wrong class, but the secretary was able to move us up. I was glad I asked!  Some events are very strict and the secretary gets grumpy about the request/question and other times it’s not a problem. Gamblers is one of our strengths – even though we can “design our own” course we try to go for as many points as possible. We intentionally did the weave poles twice to prepare for standard. We ended up running my ideal plan with about 2 seconds to spare. The gamble/distance challenge was easy for us but Griffin knocked the last bar.  The jump was really close to the jup and I’m not worried – he was trying his best!  I loved how fast and responsive he was – this was just like he runs on good training days.

Standard: P2:    Mostly good, he was a little slower and less responsive – and popped out of the weaves.But we did the ‘hard’ parts and his table stay was great, I was confident enough to get quite far away.

Snooker P1: Our favorite strategy game. We took a greedy plan to try and get a lot of points without being unreasonable.  It worked,  great run and our only qualifying score for the day.

I’m still not comfortable enough to ask other people I don’t know well to do video, so here’s part of a training session.

Our next event isn’t a trial but one of the many informal competitions that are now occurring.  2 weeks!

Viktor’s Trip to the Pet Store

Wanting freedom!
Wanting freedom!

We’re in early December and it’s already too cold! Tonight I took Viktor to a pet store to exercise him by walking and training indoors.  I expected more activity for 5:30pm but we only saw a few customers and employees. The only dogs there were in a training class.

One of the challenges of the indoor walking plan is that most pet stores have slippery tile floors. This limited how much we could do play or fast behaviors, but we did get in a lot of calm walking, recalls from smells, stays and easy tricks.

Viktor also got to do a lot of cuddling with employees, greeting customers by rubbing on them like a cat, and practice getting on and off the scale. He may be 40lbs now!  Even though he’s not always great with other dogs, he’s very social with  people and loves petting. I really like the way he interacts with new people. One of the employees shared that she does dog walking time indoors too.  Much warmer!

We practiced attention and staying near the small animals (but not close enough to scare them!).  Initially he thought it was impossible but within 2 minutes he could turn away, stay still, and respond to cues while near the mice enclosure. That was a great opportunity to work with a controlled distraction.

I feel silly switching dogs and going back into the store, so I usually do just one dog per visit. Griffin and Tonks got very short walks on the shopping center sidewalks. We’ll be making a lot more pet store trips this winter to give everyone lots of time out  in public and around people!

Bringing CDSP Obedience to Ohio – and Griffin in Open!

Last weekend we hosted what we think is the first Companion Dog Sport Program (CDSP) trial in Ohio.  One of our instructors and I (not knowing each other!) went to a seminar about it 9-10 years ago, but it seems nothing came of it at the time.

This is a competition obedience program that is beginner-friendly in that it’s less formal than AKC. Multiple trials are allowed in a day. treats in the ring at certain points. Fun things in the beginning levels (jumping!). And easier to host than, say, AKC.

We hosted our first trial – and learned a lot. We are eager to plan more and we have a list of changes to make. The exhibitors seemed happy – we had a nice balance of experienced teams (out of state!) and new teams (local!).  Many breeds and sizes, and participants in all levels of competition. There was a lot to celebrate from near perfect scores, new titles, and having beautiful behaviors hold up well.

New title.
New title.

Griffin and I didn’t do our best – we’ve not done much obedience training since going to Sweden and that prep was very different from what we need here. I thought we’d be able to carry on longer with what we have, but our performance showed what we need to work on and I’m excited to see what we can do for next year.

We did finish our last Novice run and moved up to Open. This means we got to do retrieves (yay – he’s so fast and sharp!), jumping, off leash heeling (yay!), drop on recall (magically decent!), and a go out (decent!).  This gave us our first open leg – and my first time doing Open level with any dog. It’s so, so fun to finally be able to do these fun things!