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MN April 2017 :: Dog Adventures

Photo by MN
Tonks! Lichen, giant rocks, and there was birch. It was almost like being in Sweden!

The first time we went to Minnesota was in 2014 – with just Griffin and Blaze.  Now I’ve made the trip many times, with many different dogs. The initial trip was very stressful – I was worried about getting there in time for our appointments and getting back in time for lessons.

But now we’ve gone enough times I’ve lost count and I do most of my packing in the hour before we leave. Now I love traveling with my dogs and I do a better job of giving us a little extra time to enjoy the trip.


My dogs are great at traveling. They sleep for most of the drive and are happy whether we get out at a rest stop, nature area, or parking lot. This makes it easy to take them on trips and we don’t need too much planning. I keep a dog food bin in the car (for treats during regular outings), water, dishes, clean up bags, toys, etc. For interstate travel I am sure to keep rabies tags in the car in case we’re asked per state regulations -but it’s never come up.


We got to see our favorite rest stop in Wisconsin. This one has a “scenic view” trail. But then there’s a branch off that it’s an older trail that goes way up the hill. The mystery trail was closed due to rain. We thought about going around the block (and we may have on past trips…) but I’m too much of a rule follower, so Viktor just sat sadly by the sign.



Photo by MN

Megan and I took the ‘puppies’ hiking on Sunday. They haven’t had a lot of walking together in general because we are either in places where they can be off leash running or we’re in urban areas where I don’t feel safe walking multiple dogs at once (in case off leash dogs approach). The dogs did really well with the hike – they actually looked tired by the end.

One of the most surprising things to me in  Wisconsin and Minnesota is that state parks charge an entry fee. We were able to park just outside of one and venture slightly into one – limited by dog physical abilities with Megan’s physically challenged Gabby.  Griffin loved this walk – he wanted to peek through the railings at the river and was very hopeful about checking it out.  He’s so curious about the places we go – even as an adult dog.


Griffin leaving WI

MN April 2017 :: Vet Trip

On Monday we had one of our many trips to visit the rehab vet that keeps Griffin and Viktor as well as possible after past health challenges. For both of the dogs it was a recheck and hoping that nothing new would be discovered. We now have a board certified rehab vet at OSU – a 15 minute drive from home but with the complications for both Griffin and Viktor, we’ll keep up with our (now infrequent) trips to Minnesota.

Viktor had his highest weight ever – 40lbs now!  He had some soreness…probably from Tonks occasionally running into him during play.  There are some changes with his muscles in his front legs – we’re hoping it’s due to not swimming (much) over the winter. So with swimming and new exercises we should hopefully see him back to where he was or better.

At one point during the exam, the vet had trouble looking at his front paws because there was a lot of “forestry” in there due to his morning adventures.

Griffin was fine which is great news. I want him as healthy and happy for as long as possible. Tonks went in for a weight and to resolve an ongoing debate about her size.  45lbs which is lower than I expected.

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.

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!

Viktor’s Rally Level 1!

Photo by Megan.  Adorable.
Photo by Megan. Adorable.

We hosted a World Cynosport Rally (WCRL) trial last weekend. It was our first time ever hosting a 2 day trial – and it was easier than we expected!

I had all three dogs participate –  Griffin did well but not our best, mostly because I was distracted. We broke our streak of 60+ qualifying scores in a row –  but it was going to have to happen eventually!   Tonks had a try but just wasn’t ready.

Viktor did reasonably well!  He did a few puppy runs about a year ago – but this was his first time in level 1.

‘We had 4 passing scores and decent performances. This one was his poorest – he had a loooong sniff near the beginning and partway through.

I need to work on duration and work on calmer heeling – but his little howls are so adorable. He can’t walk and bay so he does tiny little stutter steps.

I do love his heeling. Griffin is constantly almost too far ahead or definitely too far ahead of me, but Viktor spends most of his time at the same exact place just behind me and moving very comfortably at my side. His funny legs give him a silly looking prance and it just seems easy for him to move with me.

Unfortunately we haven’t done enough to be ready for the obedience trial this weekend, but I’m looking forward to next year and what we’ll be able to do then.

November MN Trip – Good Vet News!

Tonks. Adorable. Photo by Megan.
Tonks. Adorable. Photo by Megan.

Viktor is now 24 months old.  We have been addressing his ‘valgus deviation of both front limbs’ since he was a young puppy.  Our rehab vet in Minnesota wanted to see him to evaluate his elbows and make a plan for  moving forward.

On Monday we went to an eye specialist to get a re-check for Griffin.  Pigmentary Uveitis an eye disease in golden retrievers that has the best outcome with early intervention,but eventually can end up painful and hard to manage.  He’s at risk – but the exam was all clear! The vet clinic was  interesting – they only do eye health things and had eye art all over as well as eye decorations of various types!

Megan N photo.

A few hours later, we went to our rehab vet.  Griffin got a great recheck – he’s  gained several pounds – likely in a good way. His back leg circumferences have increased which is fascinating to me, if anything he’s doing less running and swimming since our last recheck!



Photo by Megan.  See the deviation!
Photo by Megan. See the deviation!

Viktor is a wiggly young dog. While he is 2 years old, he acts like a  9 month old puppy.  We knew we would need some sort of chemical help to get the proper xrays.  Prior to our trip, we tested a few options and then used our best one while up there.  He needed a little additional medication but it ended up being a perfect combination. He was much  more cooperative and the event was much less stressful for him (the angles needed aren’t always comfortable for dogs).

Good news!  Nothing concerning with his elbows, wrists, or hips. I’m so, so happy and can’t believe it!  This means even fewer restrictions and longer between our re-checks.


We were so lucky to avoid most bad weather despite our trip north in late November.  We saw some hail and rain – but the rain meant no deer in the many hours of driving through the dark.  The dogs travel so well and we enjoy our adventures together. We’re so happy to have all this great vet news in one day!

Getting Ready – Rally and Field Practice

Only a few weeks until our training friend Fanny Gott is here for a 2 day trial-prep seminar! We did the online class version of this a few years ago and loved it.


We’ve been doing some trial prep for a change. Last weekend we did a rally fun match for our students/instructors. Our new provisional judge also got an opportunity for some judging practice.

I did some not so great things with Tonks and Viktor in the last year when we entered a rally trial without practicing with the signs setting out. As a somewhat experienced handler, I didn’t need the practice with the signs. But my young, curious dogs would have benefited from that. It wasn’t fair to them to have their first experience seeing these rally signs to be in the trial ring.

But that’s changing! We did a practice!  Surprisingly, Viktor did horrible and Tonks did fairly well. On our second turn, I had Tonks do more of a training round where I focused on her attention rather than going through the course.  Viktor did much, much better and heeled through most of the course with minimal barking.  Now I need to decide if I enter him next weekend or not – ‘sacrifice’ the first run with lots of treats (disqualifying) to minimize barking and distraction and then likely have a better second round?  Or wait until he’s more experienced?

I found it very helpful and I hope we’re able to do more of this!

Golden Retriever Working Certificate:

The golden retriever club has a somewhat instinct test for field work. Two of Tonks’ siblings passed recently (13 months!) and one of Viktor’s two siblings passed last spring (18 months!). Viktor and Tonks are nowhere near ready, but once I know they’ll happily return with an item this will be easy!

Griffin's grand-sire Goose.  They look very similar!
Old picture. Griffin’s grand-sire Goose. They look very similar!

I took Griffin to a practice yesterday – I thought he was either very close to being ready for the test or very, far away. Happily enough, he was very good despite being much less experienced than the other dogs present. Most of the group either trained dogs for others or had spent time training with a professional retriever trainer (some of the dogs had spent time away for training). It was also fun to see an aunt of Viktor run – very similar looking and in personality. There was also a dog very, very like Tonks in appearance and behavior but unrelated.

Griffin needed a short warm up on ducks as he’s only had two very short experiences with them in the past. After 1 minute of warm up he was then happy, even on new ducks. He did his first longer distance retrieves on ducks. He did his longest marks ever. He saw wingers (machines that fling the ducks!) , plus the  noise of fake-guns. He wasn’t interested in visiting the people nearby (a problem 2.5 years ago last time we tried this!). He immediately came back!

We have a few things to work on but really, it was quite awesome given how little training he’s had and how long it’s been since he worked on this. I’m so, so happy! We’ll likely be entering the test next month with a reasonable chance of passing.

“Real Practice”  On this theme of trial prep/preparing for the ‘real thing’, we’ve also added in an intermediate level manners class at the training center. Two of the four modules are “real life scenarios” and “distractions.”  I’m looking forward to having our students work on those things!


MN trip – July 2016

Our summer has been so busy – this trip should have happened 4-6 weeks sooner but we did finally make it up for our re-checks with the rehab vet! We also do adventures with our friends. While it’s a long drive, it’s never quite as bad as I think it will be. We have a really nice routine now and I’m not worried about getting there on time.

This trip all the dogs got some shorter or longer times running in woods/pastures. Tonks swam in a river! And a lake! And played fetch with an unknown child!  We did walks in town (not so great….more training!), visited two regular parks, visited a state park!  We got a lot done!

Blaze:  Blaze is almost 15.5.  Our goals are to keep him as happy, healthy, and comfortable as possible. We modified his exercises, will be feeding him just a little more, and overall he really is doing quite well.

DSC_0050Griffin: Mostly well. I mis-understood one set of exercises last time so we’ll be making some changes to try and get him to keep his back feet tucked in a little more and to hopefully make his down position better (for competition activities!).  He’s happy and doing well.  The worst part was how sad he was to be there – luckily his stress response is to get more wiggly/jumpy – not anything unsafe.

DSC_0124Tonks:  At the last minute we added in an appointment for her. We’ve been having trouble training the tunnel for agility. She’s not getting as enthusiastic as I would expect. And while this could be a training issue, I wanted to be sure it wasn’t a health related challenge.  We did find one minor thing to work on with her shoulders – but that likely isn’t our tunnel problem – so back to training!

DSC_0544Viktor:  He’s our primary reason for visits at this point – we’re monitoring his front legs for problems that we noticed when he was about 10 weeks old. We’ve been going up to this vet since then to try and minimize the potential damage and increase his chances for a pain-free life. His measurements were mostly the same. He was not painful. He is looking better and better physically.  And now we have (limited!) unrestricted activity! He is allowed to frolic and run!

We got back on Tuesday and weren’t able to go hiking until Thursday – and we did our first longer “hike” since he was about 10 weeks old.  15 minutes long… but we’ll increase from there.


Seminar Part 2 – Self Control – Fanny Gott

Tonks went to her first training seminar a few weeks ago. And then the following weekend we got to do even more training together at a Self Control seminar with Fanny Gott.

We’ve heard variations of this talk several times before, but we can always learn more about self control. Many of the activities are things we now use in classes and lessons to help people and dogs learn more about self control

It’s so nice to have a dog that responds to all cues and signals – but it’s even better when the environment and distractions can cue the dog to stay on task rather than the dog helping himself unless told otherwise.

Look at increasing self control in everyday life. When are you reactive instead of proactive? I know this is one of the challenge areas for my dogs. There are places where I know I could easily add in more self control – but I haven’t. No real excuses, I just haven’t taken the time to do it. Here are a few on my list of things to do:

  • Exiting the car (wait for permission to exit, refocus on me when leaving the car)
  • Entering the training building (calm walking, refocusing at the door)
  • More challenging self control games with food and toys – not just the same games we always play
  • Duration staying

“Control the consequences, not the dog.” When we’re controlling our dogs (“Leave it!” “Stay!” “Off!”) – self control isn’t in place. The dogs are learning to help themselves unless told otherwise.  Controlling dogs also results in dogs who evaluate where we are – and who can get to the rewards first. By setting up training sessions where dogs can make choices – and only get rewards for good choices – the dogs are learning to take more responsibility.


During our turns at the seminar, Tonks did some self control training around people. We started with one person and then moved to many people. She got rewards for staying with me, but when attentive she sometimes received permission to “go see!” someone else. She loved this game and was very, very adorable.

In later sessions, we had her walk with me around people and fewer visits. Adorable! She would lay against a person and put her face right up (or in) faces and sometimes even cry a little. She really loves people.  My biggest challenge was to give her bigger rewards – I get very serious in training and have a much harder time doing exciting reward rituals with my own dogs than student dogs!

At the end of the seminar, I intended to give one of Tonks’ turns to Griffin and do some trial prep self control distractions. I got distracted and ended up inside with Viktor. He did reasonably well – he loves people too and is much more frantic about his enthusiasm. I’m glad he had that experience and was able to eat, play, and do a little training near the group of people.

I don’t know when Tonks will get to do her next seminar – but it was a really good experience for us and I’m looking forward to the next time.

Griffin gets to do an agility seminar in a few weeks – I think my first time ever working at an agility seminar!