Winter Fun and Safety

It’s been a mild winter here in the Ozarks, with temps fluctuating between single-digit bone chilling cold to spring-like days when we traded parkas for tee shirts. Green sprouts appeared in the garden a month ahead of schedule and daffodils splashed color across the late winter landscape.

We settled in the Ozarks 22 years ago after decades of living and working in far-flung spots on the globe. We’ve seen a lot of changes in our time here, but one thing has remained constant. When the daffodils bloom we know we’re in for at least one more round of winter’s breath. And so it was again this year when the mild days of early March were swept aside by an arctic blast of cold rain that turned to snow that turned to sleet, leaving us shivering under a thin sheet of slick white stuff.

Sasha had a fine time prancing around the yard as the sleet-crusted snow crunched beneath her paws. I snapped this photo of her in one of her rare still moments, just before she returned to zooming around the yard. I was glad to see her in self-exercise mode, as I was less than enthusiastic about navigating icy patches on the sidewalks and streets. Fortunately the sun came out and cleared a path so we could continue outdoor training time without fear of landing flat on my … whatever.

If winter weather has you cutting short your dog’s training time, consider these suggestions offered by Mary Burch, AKC Canine Good Citizen director: teach a skill; tease their brains; and find ways to have fun inside and out, no matter the weather. For details, read Mary’s article here.

Cold weather brings a host of challenges for both dog and owner. Check out these 10 winter safety tips posted by Randa Kriss to the general care section of the AKC website.

Here’s an inforgraphic, courtesy of Vet Street that’s chock-full of good reminders for us all:

Don’t let winter’s chill spoil the fun for you and your dog. With a little creativity you just might discover new opportunities for training and bonding time with your best friend.

It’s a Dog-Meet-Dog World

I’m editing scenes from Dangerous Deeds in which my protagonist Maggie Porter is leading a Good Dog! class to help owners and their dog prepare for their Canine Good Citizen test. I first wrote those scenes before Sasha came into my life, so I had to rely on information from the AKC, training blogs, and YouTube videos. And while the test items seem relatively simple, achieving consistent results with a dog of my own is a bit more complicated than I envisioned.

Take, for example, test item #8, Reaction to Another Dog. If we take our test indoors, Sasha will (probably) pass this one with flying colors. She’s been close to other dogs in indoor training situations and in retail stores, and she’s been calm and quiet every time. And those of you with Shelties know quiet isn’t common behavior!

But life as we know it isn’t confined to indoor interactions, and many evaluators prefer outdoor venues as shown in the video above. We’ve made progress in reducing Sasha’s over-the-top reaction to leashed dogs but there’s still work to be done. If I see the dog in time I can move us out of the way and put Sasha in a down-stay or a sit-stay until the dog and handler pass by. (Mind you, she usually has something to say, but she tends to mutter rather than bark.)

Our current challenge, though, is the off-leash dog.

Maybe that’s happened to you in the local park, along a trail, or even in your own neighborhood. We’ve been accosted by off-leash dogs on multiple occasions, and most recently just this past week.  We were less than a block from home after enjoying a casual afternoon walk. Two Australian Shepherds bolted through an open garage door and came in low, fast, and silent. If I’d known they were in there I would have crossed the street to give us some distance, but I didn’t see them in time to take evasive action. They ignored their owner’s commands and came straight for us. They’re young, well-muscled, and already bigger and heavier than Sasha. And she most definitely Did. Not. Like. Them.

It didn’t help to hear the owner say “They’re friendly. Just stand still.” Seriously? I have no interest in taking advice from an irresponsible owner. I saw nothing to suggest this was a friendly meet-and-greet, so I backed Sasha up while staring down the dogs. The owner struggled to get handfuls of hair (no collars!) and held them long enough for me to get Sasha safely past them.

In the days since, I’ve worked to reduce Sasha’s renewed hyper reactions around dogs in general and I’ve done my best to keep her away from known trouble spots. Just this morning, though, we came across a dog who was loose in an unfenced yard. Sasha saw him as he headed our way and, predictably, reacted by barking fiercely. The dog’s body language suggested interest but no overt aggression, perhaps because we were in the street and about 20 yards away. I put Sasha in a sit-stay between my legs, held up my hand in the classic “Stop” gesture and said “NO! GO BACK!” The dog halted and immediately turned away when his owner called him. (Excellent recall demonstrated there!) Other than her initial outburst, Sasha sat quietly and, once we moved along, looked to me for approval—which of course she received, along with lavish praise and treats. She looked back just once (a big improvement over previous behavior), tossed out one last bark and then moved on.

If you come across off-leash dogs in your own neighborhood or park, you may find a flexible response strategy to be the most helpful. Consider, for example, these excellent suggestions offered by Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA in her 2015 dogster.com article “What to do when an off-leash dog approaches your leashed dog.”  And you can find more suggestions at VetStreet.com, where dog trainer Mikkel Becker talks tactics in her 2013 article “Managing confrontation with an off-leash dog.

We’ll keep working to build Sasha’s confidence when meeting dogs, whether they’re leashed or loose. Every day brings new encounters with different dogs, and that’s great training for my Canine Good Citizen in training!

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Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, weaves a tale of mischief and mayhem that sets neighbor against neighbor and disrupts the quiet life Maggie Porter longs for. A major part of the plot revolves around a proposed ‘dangerous’ dog ordinance that’s based on breed-specific legislation (BSL) enacted in hundreds of communities across the country and in multiple countries around the world.

For the record, my protagonist Maggie Porter shares the AKC position that BSL doesn’t work, in part because it fails to address the issue of owner responsibility. Unfortunately, some nefarious community members have targeted Maggie’s opposition to the proposed ordinance to further their own agenda. Their efforts generate ripples of dissent throughout the community, leading to boycotts, threats, and death too close to home.

Dangerous Deeds is on track for publication this year. Stay tuned!

Detours

training-sashaJust when I think we’re making progress in our preparations for the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification, something happens that has me reevaluating my process.

From our first days together I knew I couldn’t apply the same training methods I’d used years ago with my spaniel Alix. For one thing, Alix was just six weeks old when she came to me, and she was socialized to people, cats, and other dogs right from the start. She was rarely left alone and regularly engaged in fun activities. Training Alix was a straightforward process, thanks to the expert support of my sister Maureen Kidd, who is a superb dog trainer.

In contrast, there’s nothing straightforward about training Sasha. She was at least a year old when she came to us, and whatever happened to her before that point caused her to be anxious and generally fearful of pretty much everything. Consequently, my focus in our first year together was to reduce her anxiety and build her confidence. That’s worked to some extent, but we have a long way to go. We’ve made good progress in some areas, such as reconditioning her response to the coffee grinder or reducing her tendency to bark at neighbors and dogs on the other side of the fence, but we’ve lost some ground along the way as well. Take the CGC test #8, for example–reaction to another dog. I actually thought this would be an easy one for her because  Sasha generally ignores the dogs we see in PetSmart or Lowes. She paid scant attention to the dogs we met in obedience class. We participated in the Dogwood Walk last May with hundreds of people and their dogs, and she was relaxed, confident, and clearly enjoyed herself.

So what changed? Haven’t a clue. She’s still calm around other dogs when we’re in stores but neighborhood walks are a whole different experience. Any distraction (think squirrels, birds, passing vehicles, animals, even lawn decorations blowing in the breeze) can set her off. Sometimes the “look at me, good girl, quiet” followed by treats is effective, but dogs, whether close by or a block away, push her past the point I can reliably capture her attention.

Still, we’ve been making some progress with this. When I see anyone approaching with their dog, I’ll cross the street to put a bit of distance between us. I’ve discovered she’ll willingly go from a sit to a down-stay and remain reasonably quiet while the other dog walks by, even if the dog passes within a few yards of us. That’s been true for leashed dogs, and even a few unleashed dogs as long as they keep their distance. If we’re going to earn the CGC, though, we have to get to the point where she’ll walk calmly past another dog.

Toward that goal, we ventured to Lake Fayetteville yesterday. With bright sunshine and record-high temperatures, I anticipated the crowds and went prepared with extra-special training treats. And crowds we found; cyclists, skateboarders, walkers, joggers, and DOGS. Big dogs, little dogs, dogs who were well behaved and a few who weren’t, and one who reminded me of Stephen King’s Cujo. Fortunately, all but one dog was secured with a 6′ leash held firmly by attentive owners. The sole exception was a happy-go-lucky long-haired, short-legged Dachshund mix on a fully extended flexible leash who wanted to check out everything and everyone. (Sasha paid him no attention.)

We spent an hour out there. During that time I learned that Sasha’s reaction to dogs is neither size- nor breed-specific. She was at times friendly, interested, dismissive, or reactive.  She walked calmly but stopped often, usually when a dog approached from the opposite direction. She ignored one Boxer and barked wildly at another and then at a much smaller dog (a Westie, I think) who wasn’t anywhere close to us. Sasha had plenty to say when one BIG dog lunged in our direction but didn’t so much as glance at the pair of German Shepherds sitting beside the trail. She turned around to watch a Corgi as it passed by but never made a sound. Ditto with a Labrador, and with the terrier missing part of his back leg, despite the terrier’s obvious interest in Sasha. She managed to bark at dogs of all sizes and breeds while completely ignoring others, including several who barked at her.

As the down-stay isn’t a viable strategy for parks and trails (and obviously not a long-term solution, period), I worked on focusing her attention on me and praising her when she was quiet. When we called a halt and claimed a bench at the side of the trail, she sat quietly and watched the crowds go by. By that point, she’d probably had all the stimulation she could handle. Next time we’ll hit the section of the trail adjacent to the Botanical Gardens, where there’s a big field to run through and plenty of space between trail users. And we’ll keep working on the CGC test items. It may take a while, but we’ll get there!

An extended down-stay at the park 2-11-17

While working with Sasha, it pays to remember the words of dog trainer and writer Nancy Tanner in her excellent post The Misunderstanding of Time: “You cannot rush the teaching or learning process, on either end of the leash.”  

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.

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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

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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