Training Tales

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha

This morning dawned clear and sunny, enticing Sasha and I to head outside despite the freezing temperature. We had the neighborhood park all to ourselves, so I traded leash for the 30′ long line and let her zigzag across the park in joyous abandon. (I’ve discovered that training time tends to be most productive when play time comes first.)

I can happily report she’s come a long way in our nine months together, with some skills sharper than others. (Isn’t that true of us all?) She’s happy, eager for adventures every day, and sweet-natured to boot. She’s a terrific guard dog who keeps us company no matter what we’re doing, and even keeps track of Buddy the Cat, whose bramble patch adventures will appear in Dangerous Deeds (book 2 of the Waterside Kennels series).

As you  can see from the photo above, we’re making good progress with the stand-stay command. We’re also doing well with sit-stay and down-stay, which I’m using to discourage her from lunging toward vehicles as they pass by.

The basic skills are regular part of our everyday training time, and now I’m shifting focus a bit to concentrate on the specific skills needed to earn the to earn the AKC Canine Good Citizen certification. I need to spend more time on every test item, even the ones she’s doing well. Here’s a rundown of our progress with each test item:

Accepting a friendly stranger
Sasha is perfectly agreeable to having strangers approach in pet-friendly stores, out on the trail, or in the park. She’s even polite to strangers walking through the neighborhood, although she’ll almost always have something to say to them as they approach. The test requires the dog show no sign of resentment or shyness, but there’s no (apparent) requirement to be silent. That’s good news for my talkative girl!

Sitting Politely for Petting
I’ve been coaching her on this one for a while. She’s okay with adults provided they don’t run up and thrust a hand in her face or grab her. (And really, who likes that?) She’s calm with strollers and toddlers, a bit cautious around older boys, and tends to stare at kids on bikes and scooters as though trying to figure out what they’re doing.

Appearance and Grooming
Thanks to the fabulous work of master groomer Alicia Broyles of Towne and Kountry Grooming and Dr. Hynes and Dr. Stropes of Crossover Veterinary Clinic, Sasha is calm and polite when standing for examination (and that’s why we practice the stand-stay). She doesn’t mind her ears being checked and quickly mastered the foot command–my own invention motivated by the need to wipe the mud off her feet after outdoor play time.

Out for a Walk (walking on a loose lead)
Sasha is smart and knows the difference between walking on the leash and having the long line clipped on, which is her signal to forget heeling and just have fun. Once on the leash, though, and she’s (mostly) a well-mannered dog who enjoys adding her own running commentary of mutters and low-voiced yips, yodels, and the ocassional bark.

Walking Through a Crowd
With the farmer’s market off the square for the winter, we’re relying on pet-friendly stores and the area parks for crowd work. Our local Lowes home improvement store has a pet-loving manager and a friendly crew, so we make a point of browsing there frequently. This has also proved good practice for the “sitting politely for petting” test. When other dogs react by barking or lunging, Sasha just sits or stands quietly at my side.

I follow the same protocol at PetSmart, but that’s due to inattentive owners with dogs on extended leashes. Neither Sasha nor I are fans of those leashes, but she enjoys our time there because she’s allowed to browse the items on the shelves!

Sit and Down on Command and Staying in Place
This is working well, likely because I take every opportunity to practice the sit-stay and down-stay when we’re out and about. Sure, it takes longer to finish the walk, but Sasha is rewarded with frequent sniff breaks in between heeling and the sit, down, and stay on command, not to mention the praise lavished on her by passersby who inevitably ask, “How do you get her to do that?” (The answer is “Practice every day.”)

Coming When Called
The test involves a distance of 10 feet, but we practice using the 30′ long line as well as the 6′ standard leash. Our challenge here is to have a consistent and reliable recall despite distractions. For Sasha, those distractions can be squirrels, birds, airplanes, passing vehicles, etc.

Reaction to Another Dog
This one is definitely a work in progress. As the test is described, “The dogs should show no more than casual interest in each other. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler.” We haven’t reached the “casual interest” stage. In the neighborhood, Sasha is on alert but interested: head up, tail up, body language and vocalization signaling excited interest.

The other challenge is that the neighborhood dogs always want to get up-close-and-too-personal with Sasha. We need to spend more time out of the neighborhood and along the lake trail, which is popular with dog walkers. I’ll gradually decrease the distances between us and the others. I’ll note, though, that Sasha participated in the annual Dog Walk back in May and handled being in a crowd of people and dogs with no problem at all.

Reaction to Distraction
More practice needed here. Any suggestions?

Supervised Separation
Sasha is comfortable with the down-stay as long as I’m in sight. This test, however, has me going out of sight for three minutes. So far, we haven’t made it past one minute.

The test description also says that the dog “does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness.” She won’t bark or pace unnecessarily, but she does have that tendency toward a running commentary, even if it’s quiet. I’m open to suggestions here, as well!

All in all, we’re both making reasonably good progress, and I’m looking forward to mastering the CGC and moving on to new canine challenges!

Pet-Happy Halloween!

Our neighborhood has some serious Halloween fans and the yard decorations get bigger (and some might say scarier) every year. In the past few weeks I’ve discovered that Sasha is no fan of skeletons rising from the ground, or ghostly wraiths swinging in the trees. She mutters past the tombstones propped in flower beds, skitters away from cobweb-shrouded bushes, and barks wildly at the assorted inflatable creatures that have taken possession of the lawns.

In contrast, my beloved spaniel Alix loved Halloween and was first to the door (followed closely by the two cats) whenever the costumed hordes rang the bell.  Before giving out the goodies we’d ask her “Shall we give them candy?” and time after time she obliged with a single happy bark. This became a neighborhood tradition and every year the kiddies waited eagerly for the dog’s seal of approval.

And so it went until the year that a youngster came by wearing a glow-ring necklace. Great for parents, I suppose, to keep track of their little ghosts and goblins in the dark, but apparently a bit too scary for my four-legged welcome crew. In fact, the cats retreated in rapid order and Alix hid behind me. When I asked the usual question she just peered past my legs, no doubt trying to figure out why that child’s head looked green. When no bark was forthcoming, the child begged me “Ask her again, please!”

Glow sticks aside, I’m fairly confident that Sasha won’t enjoy a night of endless bell-ringing and kiddie chatter.  So we’ll go dark and retreat to the rear of the house with a pet-friendly movie and extra treats for our own four-legged kiddies.

If you want your own pets to enjoy the seasonal celebrations, here are some tips to keep everyone happy and safe, reblogged from the American Kennel Club:

Dog Treats, Snacks, and Halloween Decorations

With all the candy and decorations associated with Halloween, you have to be extra careful. Many candies, snacks, and decorations can be tempting, but dangerous, for your canine pal. Make sure to pay close attention to your dog during this festive time.

Check out our list of items to keep away from your dog during Halloween. And we’ve got your general safety tips, too! Read those here.
beagle bee

Trick-or-Treating With Your Dog

Is your dog going trick-or-treating with the family? You’ll want to make sure he’s OK with all the Halloween chaos before you decide to bring him with you. If you do take him along, you’ll want to take certain precautions to stay safe while you’re going house to house.

This article will help you decide if your dog should come trick-or-treating and learn some tips on how to stay safe on the big night.
girl walking dog

How to Prepare Your Dog for Trick-or-Treaters

With Halloween come trick-or-treaters. If kids are going to be ringing your doorbell, you’ll want to make sure your dog is prepared.

Check out these best practices for making your dog part of the Halloween greeting committee.

dog with halloween bucket

What to Do if Your Dogs Gets Away From You

You think it will never happen, but with a crazy night like Halloween your dog might get away from you.

Learn what to do should he get away here.

Similarly, if your dog ends up lost, you’ll need a plan to jump into action and get him back home. Check out our tips here.

*

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday!

 

Love the Leash!

Responsible owners know their dogs need daily exercise, and a walk provides that for dogs and people alike. Whether you prefer strolling through your neighborhood  or trotting briskly along a trail, loose leash walking is a safe, responsible way to enjoy yourselves.

For some, though, leash walking can be an exercise in frustation.  If you’ve ever found yourself rushing to keep up with a super-excited dog or tried to hold onto the leash as your dog pulls ahead, you probably don’t find walking with your dog a joyous adventure.  And if your dog is one of the herding breeds–as my own Sasha is–passing vehicles, cyclists, and even running dogs can trigger the “chase” response (some call it the predator/prey response). When that happens, walking can become a downright chore. Let me assure you that you’re not alone, and there are simple strategies to help you and your dog learn to enjoy leash time. Read on to learn two fun and easy exercises I came across while browsing through AKC Dog Training Basics:

Who’s Walking Who? Tips to Teach Loose Leash Walking

***

I’d add one suggestion to this excellent advice. I’ve learned that Sasha is highly reactive when walking in our neighborhood, and perfectly calm and polite anywhere else. That tells me her herding instinct shifts into high gear when we’re in “her” territory. If you’ve had similar experiences with your own dog, consider a vigorous round of indoor training before venturing out into the neighborhood.  I put Sasha through some Rally Obedience basics and work on sit/stay, down/stay, and a variety of heel and come exercises. That gives her the mental stimulation she needs and releases some of that marvelous Sheltie energy!

Is it working? Stay tuned for further updates…

Take Responsibility!

akc-responsble-pet-ownership

My own sweet Sheltie Ozarks Summer Highlands Sasha (as she’s known to the AKC) is bursting with energy now that cooler temps are upon us, and we’re getting out and about to enjoy the turning of the seasons. And we’re not alone–the parks, trails, and sidewalks are crowded with people and dogs. We’re happy to report that most owners we meet honor the leash laws, pick up after their dogs, and are good ambassadors for the dog world.

Some, though, need a bit of a tune-up when it comes to being a responsible dog owner. I hope you’ll share this Responsible Dog Owner’s Pet Promise with your social media friends, post it to your blog, and include in newsletters and posters wherever dog owners gather.

First, some helpful links:

pet_promise

Here’s the link to the AKC’s Pet Promise to download, save, and share. Sasha and I both appreciate sharing our world with happy dogs and responsible owners.

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha

“Pets in Vests” – the damage caused by fake service dogs

“Pets in Vests” – the damage caused by fake service dogs

Here’s an important message for everyone. Please take a few minutes to read about this issue.

The Dog in the Blue Coat

August 7 – 13 is International Assistance Dog Week (IADW)! Per IADW, “International Assistance Dog Week (IADW) was created to recognize all the devoted, hardworking assistance dogs helping individuals mitigate their disability related limitations.”

This year’s theme is public education around “fake” assistance dogs, raising awareness about the harm caused by people posing their untrained pet dogs as “assistance dogs.”

Next week, we will post more pictures like these of Helping Paws service dogs in action.

           image    IMG_2354

Here is a press release from IADW and Assistance Dogs International (ADI) about this issue:

Fake Assistance Dogs Cause Legitimate Harm

International Assistance Dog Week and Assistance Dogs International plea:

Don’t be a part of the problem. Fraudulent service dogs create serious issues.

July 24, 2016 | Santa Fe, NM and New South Wales, Australia—As more and more people with disabilities are paired with assistance dogs to…

View original post 754 more words

“And I’d Do It Again”

In the six months that Sasha has been with us, we’ve encountered dozens of dogs and their owners. (Hundreds, if you count the veritable sea of wagging tails at the Humane Society of the Ozarks’ fundraising celebration in the park.) We’ve encountered them on neighborhood walks, along the trail system, in community parks. We’ve met them in kennels, vet clinics, and in training classes. We cross paths at Lowes, PetSmart, and a few other dog-friendly businesses. Usually, the dogs are leashed, the owners are polite, and everyone goes about their day. Good dogs, responsible owners. Those are the happy times.

And then there are the dog owners who are, frankly, clueless. You’ve seen them, and I’ll venture a guess you’ve seen them more often than you’d like. The clueless are often glued (metaphorically) to their smartphones instead of focusing on their dog. They’re the ones using fully-extended flexible leashes in crowded locations, leaving them too far from their dog to intercede if trouble begins. And then there are the owners who think leash laws apply to everyone except their dogs.

When Sasha and I come across those clueless ones, I’ll change direction to avoid crossing paths or getting tangled in those long leash lines. If a detour isn’t practical I’ll move off to the side and out of their path, then put Sasha in a sit-stay until they pass. When an unleashed dog comes our way, I do my best to warn them off with a loud “NO!” or “GO BACK!” Add a sharp thump of my walking stick and that’s often enough to deter a dog that’s unwilling to confront an angry human. Sometimes, though, that’s just not enough.

Make no mistake: I am my dog’s advocate. I will not allow any person or dog to cause her harm in any way. And that most certainly includes those clueless owners who allow their dogs to run unleashed, and who think they can excuse themselves by yelling “It’s okay, don’t worry. He’s friendly!”

News flash: it’s not okay, and I worry about owners who don’t respect boundaries, or who are offended when told to control their dog. If I’m in a good mood and know Sasha is safe, I tend to view these interactions as “teachable moments” for both human and dog. But if I have the slightest doubt about our well-being, I’ll do whatever’s necessary. And after reading the following post by Doranna Durgin (dog trainer, writer, and overall peace-loving person), I’m thinking of adding a few items to my dog-walk kit!

And I’d Do It Again

Congratulations, Dog Owner! You pushed your dog’s luck until you broke it.

You know, eventually you were bound to run into someone who was ready for you. Today, that was me.

Of course, you knew there would be trouble the instant you saw us. I saw you freeze as your off-leash dog noticed my quiet smaller dog. I heard the hint of panic in your voice as you said, “Dog! No!”

Undoubtedly you already knew that even from a mere ten feet away, you would have no control over your pet. I also saw your failed body block, your full-length attempt at a tackle. You are young and athletic, and the tackle was impressive.

But your dog had no trouble evading you.

Dog Owner, there’s a reason I carry a handful of surveyor flags when I track on campus, and you are it. Your dog is it. Of decent size, of a lineage that includes reactive, snappish, and intense behavior. And, of course, off-leash.

Usually when a dog comes our way, I have time to smack the ground with those surveyor flags, or swish the air. Little orange flags on short wire sticks—they make a satisfying swoosh and a big lot of noise, and no dog has tried to get past them. But your dog ran at us with such speed and intensity that for the first time ever, I had no choice but to strike.

I whapped my surveyor flags hard across his nose. It probably hurt. Maybe even a lot.

Your dog was stunned. He tucked tail and ran back to you, just as I meant him to do.

You were stunned, too. You said, “You hit my dog!”

I said, “Yes I certainly did.”

You said, “He wouldn’t have hurt you!!”

Let us both stop and absorb the absurdity of this claim for a moment. Never mind that my dog was still baying alarm and warning, and would never, ever have welcomed yours. What, exactly, did you think your dog intended to do at the tooth end of his charge? Do you have any understanding of dog body language at all?

No, don’t answer that.

I said, “This is a leash area. He shouldn’t have been anywhere near me.”

For instance, closing in at top speed so I didn’t even have the time to warn him off. My arms are only of a certain length, you know. If your dog isn’t well inside my bubble, there’s no way I can do anything but warn him. That’s certainly the way I prefer it.

By now you were trying to collect your dog, but since you had no leash and no control, your only option was to pick him up. You said, “You HIT MY DOG!!”

I was moving on toward my start flag. I said, “Yes, and if he comes back over here I’ll do it again.”

You said, “Shut up!!”

I said, “No, I won’t. He shouldn’t have been anywhere near us.”

You repeated yourself and I said again, still moving on, that I wouldn’t be silenced.

Props to you. You didn’t resort to cursing or try to intimidate me. Mostly, I think, this was because you were trying to gather the Frisbee while still carrying your dog. Once you had it, you left, forced to carry the dog all the way back to the pleasant spot you and your friends had staked out as Frisbee Base One.

Look, Dog Owner. I get it. I actually think you reacted pretty well in the aftermath—given your state of cluelessness, I mean. You contained your dog; you didn’t shriek or scream or threaten. You were truly horrified that your dog had been hit. And then you left.

But here’s the thing. I’m not sorry I hit your dog.

I did the right thing, with exactly the right force, at exactly the right moment. I protected not only myself, but my own dog. It’s possible that your dog carries welts; it’s even possible that an eye was scratched. You’re incredibly lucky that I had the presence of mind to bring those flags down across his muzzle instead of across his head and eye area, or it could indeed have been worse.

I’m pretty sure you don’t see it that way. I don’t imagine you have even one friend in the Frisbee crew with enough sense to say, “Dude, your dog went for her. What was she supposed to do?”

I’m not sorry I hit your dog.

However, I’m very, very sorry that you failed your dog so badly. I don’t dare to hope that you learned something from it, but I hope that he did. Because the next person you come across might not have any protection at all, or she might have a gun (it is, after all, an open carry state). Either way, you don’t often get second chances.

And yes, I’ll do it again.

*

My thanks to Doranna for generously allowing me to repost this in its entirety. If you’d like to read more of Doranna’s work, be sure to check out her website or her Amazon author page. My personal favorites are her Dale Kinsall mysteries featuring a Beagle named Sully. Give them a try!

It’s Official!

7-14-16 smiling at park

I confess: I wanted an official portrait shot to commemorate this special  occasion, but life (as it tends to do) got in the way of my plans. So instead of delaying the announcement, I chose to include this candid shot taken at the park. More than any other photo I’ve taken, this one captures that lovely “Sheltie Smile.”

And what’s so special, you might ask?

Sasha is officially recognized by the American Kennel Club as Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha.

We chose Ozark for our locale and Highlands for her heritage; we’re actually in the Ozark Highlands, so it’s a bit of a double play on that last word. We included Summer because we chose July 4th as her official birthday (independence, after all!) and because she has a warm sunny spirit. And I wanted her call name included because she came to us with that, so including Sasha gave us a bridge between her past and present.

If you’re new to the world of purebred dogs, you might not know the AKC is a non-profit organization dedicated to  “championing canine health research, search-and-rescue teams, acceptable care and conditions for dog kennels, and responsible dog ownership.” (See more details here.)

The organization sponsors many terrific programs all around the country, including many family-oriented competitive events. Two of these are Agility and Rally Obedience which both promote performance skills and opportunities for handlers and dogs to work as a team. Sasha got a taste of Rally Obedience as part of her “final exam” in the Intermediate Obedience class and she clearly enjoyed herself. To participate in the AKC events, though, I needed to have Sasha recognized as a purebred Shetland Sheepdog–more commonly known as a Sheltie. And that’s where I ran into a glitch.

If you’ve been following Sasha’s story, you may remember she came to us six months ago in poor condition after being surrendered to a rural county sheriff’s office with no documentation. Since then she’s been evaluated by breeders, groomers, an AKC judge (who breeds Shelties too), and other Sheltie owners. They all agree that she reflects the physical characteristics of the breed, and her temperament and habits are consistent with the breed as well, right down to “herding” anything that moves and that oh-so-distinctive piercing bark!

Fortunately, the AKC offers a Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) program to recognize purebred dogs of AKC-recognized breeds who, for various reasons, were not registered with the organization. Sasha certainly qualified and the application process was easy with a super-quick response from the AKC.  (If you’re interested in the PAL program, you can find eligibility details here.)

I’ll close with this series of photos taken over the past six months as well as my sincere thanks to everyone who’s helped us along this journey!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.