The Collar Challenge

From flat-buckle to martingale collars and beyond to harnesses of all sorts–choosing the right equipment for your dog can be a real challenge! Before you go shopping, it’s a good idea to know that the dog’s breed, temperament, and strength (think “pull power”) should influence your decision.

You’ll find an ongoing debate in the dog world over the effectiveness of training tools, to include collars. My own fictional dog trainer and kennel owner Maggie Porter has firm opinions about training tools and styles. Here’s Maggie in Deadly Ties (#1 in the Waterside Kennels mystery series) addressing newcomers in a basic obedience class:

“…. Our goal is to develop good citizenship skills. That means teaching your dog to be well-mannered in all situations, and not to be intimidated by strangers, other dogs, or unfamiliar noises. A well-trained dog is a happy dog. And that takes dedication, patience, and discipline.

“But don’t confuse discipline with punishment,” Maggie warned. “Correction is limited to what’s necessary to get the job done, and it doesn’t mean endangering your animal. I will not tolerate verbal or physical abuse of any animal, and that includes using dangerous or excessive equipment. You should use the lightest possible collar and leash. Nylon or leather leashes work best, and we’ll only use nylon slip collars during class. You’ll find all the equipment you need right here. You won’t find any prong or spike collars—I don’t allow them in my kennel.”

“My breeder told me that’s the only kind worth using,” a woman objected. At her side, a Rottweiler pup strained against his heavy choke collar and chain leash. “He says one correction with a spike collar works better than a dozen pulls on those soft collars. And besides, Adolph will grow out of a nylon collar.”

“If you correct properly, you won’t need frequent pulls on the collar. Besides a risk of damaging vocal cords, spike collars motivate through fear. That’s not the way I train.”

So…how to choose the best collar for your dog? Read on for suggestions from experts!

In this video clip, British dog trainer Victoria Stilwell discusses collar options from “great choices” to “really bad ones” (see the accompanying article for more info):

If you prefer text over video, check out this excerpt of the article “Choosing the Right Collar or Harness for Your Dog” written by Breanne Long for the American Kennel Club:

These days, there is a very wide array of dog collars, harnesses, and other contraptions made to help you walk your dog more easily. Store shelves are full of training and walking implements, and it can be confusing for owners trying to select the best one for their canine buddy.

This guide will help you decide what type is right for you and your dog!

  1. Flat-buckle collar. This is the most basic piece of dog-related equipment — a plain collar that snaps or buckles closed. Many people use this type of collar to keep identification and rabies tags on their dogs. This is a great option for dogs that aren’t prone to slipping out of the collar and that walk nicely on a leash.

    buckle_collar

  2. Martingale collar. This type of collar is a limited slip-type collar. It does tighten around your dog’s neck when there is tension on the leash, but it can only tighten as much as the adjustment allows. This helps protect against throat damage that can occur with traditional choke chains. This type of collar is perfect for dogs that tend to back out of their collars. You can see in the photo that the leash attaches to the control loop, which can tighten or loosen with tension on the leash.

    martingale_collar

To read the entire article–which includes great info about harness options–visit http://www.akc.org/content/dog-training/articles/choosing-collar-or-harness-for-dog/.

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In Dangerous Deeds (#2 in my Waterside Kennels series; now in the publication pipeline), Maggie and her entire staff find themselves embroiled in a community fight over a proposed breed ban. As you might expect, Maggie doesn’t believe specific breed legislation is effective, and she’s definitely no fan of “aversive” equipment and training techniques. When the topic of “shock” and the so-called “no bark” collars comes up, you can expect Maggie to get vocal (no pun intended) about these choices.

For the record, I personally believe in positive reinforcement and force-free training techniques. In the past 18 months, I’ve found that a martingale collar (with tags included) combined with daily training time and lots of loving attention works best  for my own Sasha. In the house she wears a quick-release flat buckle collar with tags since we routinely train with leash in the house and backyard.

If you are unfamiliar with force-free training and associated equipment, I hope you’ll explore the many resources online and consider how this might improve the quality of life for you and your dog.

 

Outsmarted by a Sheltie

We’ve been working on our own version of the  ‘engage-disengage’ game.  (If you want the longer explanation with examples of the engage-disengage game, read my post titled Look at her now! ) Today, Sasha added her own twist.

“I’m cute & clever, too!”

Once Sasha disengages from barking at an approaching dog, I verbally “click” and treat. Ironically, we haven’t encountered many dogs while walking in the past few weeks, so Sasha apparently decided a creative adaptation was needed. On today’s walk she paused, barked briefly–at nothing I could see–and then looked at me for her treat.

She then proceeded to test her “bark followed by no-bark gets me treats” strategy by responding to dogs barking behind fences, dogs in houses, and (being an equal opportunity barker) at two kittens dozing in the sunshine across the street.

One thing’s for sure: training is never boring where Shelties are concerned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look at her now!

When Sasha first came to us last year, she was terrified of loud noises (clickers at obedience class frightened her senseless), anxious around strangers (men in particular), had no leash skills to speak of, and tended to be very vocal around other dogs. And judging from the condition of her coat and skin, grooming was an unknown experience. To appreciate how much has changed, here are “then” and “now” photos:

Surrendered to sheriff February 2016

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to “now” took a lot of patience and training supplemented by good food, grooming, and veterinary care. Our biggest challenge has been managing her reactivity to cyclists, vehicles, and DOGS. Sasha’s never been the kind of dog who appreciates the up-close-and-too-personal sniff and greet, but after she was jumped by off-leash dogs, her fear level went sky-high. I’ve dedicated hours to what I think of as targeted training and positive reinforcement.

We started with “Look at that!” (LAT training) to help her react calmly to cyclists and vehicles, and Sasha has reached the point where she rarely reacts to bikes, cars, and trucks. And while I was pleased with our progress using LAT training, I needed expert help to keep her moving when other dogs came into view. I turned to certified trainer Shanthi Steddum KPA-CTP who runs the Northwest Arkansas School for Dogs. With Shanthi’s help, we’re making good progress using the Engage-Disengage game. After just a few sessions (supplemented by daily at-home training time), Sasha is noticeably calmer and confident in the presence of other dogs. If you’re inclined to watch, fast-forward to the 5:23 point to see the first dog come close, and then 13:50 for the second dog’s approach. They make me laugh about the 14:25 mark when they’re clearly having a 10-second silent conversation, and again at 14:36 when the “neutral” dog breaks first!

And notice I’m using a clicker here–that’s another step forward for us. There’s a limit, though, to Sasha’s tolerance for the clicker, so I use verbal clicks and say yes or good instead. Her tolerance level varies from day to day (true for all of us, I think), so I adjust as needed.

And isn’t she gorgeous???

If you have a reactive dog, working on engage-disengage may help you!

For the text lovers among us, check out Alice Tong’s article Reducing Leash Reactivity: The Engage-Disengage Game I found on Karen Pryor’s clicker training site. Here’s an infographic from that article illustrating the basic steps (click to enlarge):

 

If you prefer video over text, these may be useful to you:

Both Sasha and I are learning as we go. For my part, I’m getting better at interpreting her body language and vocal signals. If we pass a house with dogs in the back yard, for example, Sasha will bark (hey, she’s a Sheltie!); sometimes it’s a quick bark or two, and other times it’s a clear “conversation” between the two! If she freezes in place at the sight of another dog, I stand still and secure the leash without pulling on her martingale collar.  I don’t say anything but ever since I started counting silently, I’ve realized she’ll bark up to a count of 11 (sometimes less) and then disengage by looking away and/or back at me. Then it’s treat time and we move on. Progress indeed!

My next goal is helping Sasha develop confidence in calmly walking with other dogs and walking past other dogs without comment. (I still have the Canine Good Citizen “Reaction to Another Dog” test item in mind.) Stay tuned!

For the love of a cat

Like Deadly Ties, the first in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, there are multiple scenes in Dangerous Deeds (book 2) that were inspired by real events. One of those, previously described in the post There Came Along A Kitty, is the scene in which Maggie Porter’s dog Sweet Pea rescues an injured stray kitten she finds beneath the dock. Although Maggie’s initial assessment is “not much more than bones and fur” the kitten turns out to have a tiger-sized attitude and, after a brief stay at the vet, claims the kennel—and Sweet Pea—as his own. There’s another scene in which Sweet Pea briefly regrets the new addition, and it’s inspired by my own cat’s early morning shenanigans.

Buddy The Wonder Cat starts every morning at oh dark early by tapping me gently on the shoulder. If I don’t immediately get up, off he goes to do whatever cats do in the pre-dawn hours, and he’s back in 15 minutes to tap me again.  Ignoring him might buy me a few more minutes of quiet time, but then he knocks whatever he can off the headboard shelf and runs laps around the room. And if none of that gets me up and moving in the direction of his food dish, he leaps straight down onto the still-sleeping dog. That’s a move guaranteed to get everybody up and moving, whether they wanted to or not. He can go from sweetly solicitous to saber-toothed snarly in no time at all. Fortunately Sasha, like Sweet Pea, is quick to forgive her feline housemate, and life goes on.

More soon! And in the meantime, here’s a slideshow of my own Buddy The Wonder Cat and Sasha, who both keep us laughing every day of our lives.

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Hurricanes, Floods, and Pet Safety

Hurricane Harvey is a good reminder for every pet owner to review their emergency preparations. Even if you don’t live in hurricane territory, there’s always a chance natural disasters can hit where you live. It’s a good idea to tune the NOAA Weather Radio to your local emergency station to hear the latest reports of weather in your area. And if you’re watching weather conditions where friends and family live, the FEMA app allows you to track National Weather Service reports from five different locations anywhere in the US.

Have a plan! This 2-page checklist from the CDC is one of the best I’ve seen; print a copy and keep it with you. For more resources and information about pet-focused disaster planning, check out https://www.cdc.gov/features/petsanddisasters/index.html.

Go to http://petfriendlytravel.com/pet_shelters to see a list of state-by-state shelters, as well as additional resources and information. (Here’s the direct link to Texas shelters.) And here’s a brief explanation of pet-friendly evacuation sheltering, courtesy of this website:

 
Pet-friendly evacuation sheltering can be planned and executed in a multitude of ways. In some communities, the human evacuation shelter is within the same room, facility, or campus as accommodations for pets. This allows the animals’ owners to have a large role in caring for the pet. In other communities, the human shelter and pet shelter may be in separate locations. In this case, evacuees are told where to bring their pets, while they will be staying at a shelter for people.

If you will need to go to a pet friendly shelter during an evacuation, make sure you have the following items ready to go for your pet: a leash and collar, a crate, a two-week supply of food and water, your pets’ vaccination records, medications, and written instructions for feeding and administering medication. If your favorite four-legged friend is feline, be sure you bring kitty-litter and an appropriate container, too.

Image courtesy of OlsenVet.com

Identification:  Microchips are one smart way to ID your pets. My Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat are both microchipped and registered with AKC Reunite. Make sure you complete your registration and keep your contact info current.

Take photos now of your pets. Photograph them standing, left and right profiles, and face-on head shots. Take additional photos showing you with your pets. If you can tag or add metadata to each photo, that’s even better. (To learn how, click here.) Save copies to Dropbox and/or email them to yourself and others. That way, if you lose your phone or computer, you can easily retrieve them.

Build your own “Go” bag.  Use a backpack or small tote to stash extra kibble, leashes, collars, and basic first-aid supplies. Collapsible bowls are a great addition and don’t take much space. Put paperwork in sealed plastic bags, and make sure to include your name! Keep it handy so you can grab and go.

If you have space in your vehicle, add extra jugs of water, tarps, ropes, and bungees. If you’re evacuating on foot, roll up the tarp and fasten it to your backpack with those ropes or bungees.  If you are stranded on the side of the road or have to camp outdoors, you’ll be able to rig up a basic shelter to shield you and your pets from the weather.

Communicate! Let family, friends, and co-workers know your plans. Social media can be a great tool to help you stay in contact. And have a back-up plan, to include alternate routes and destinations. And remember: cell towers and Internet providers may be impacted by disasters, so share that info ahead of time.

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Wherever you are, I hope you’ll take time today to review your own disaster preparation plans. Safety first!

PR, Canine Style

In the years since author Jim Warnock rescued a starving dog found on the Ozark Highlands Trail, Hiker-dog has become quite a celebrity at Jim’s book signings. (Longtime followers of this blog might remember I shared Jim’s story of how Hiker-dog came into his life in 2014 with an update here.) And as every author knows, it’s important to have publicity materials readily available for interested readers and fans. That’s why Jim created a resume for Hiker-dog, which I’m sharing here with permission. (Thanks, Jim!)

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Note: here’s a pdf for printing or to open links. Hiker-dog resume 072217 

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If you’re a fan of hiking trails, be sure to check out Jim’s book Five-Star Trails: The Ozarks: 43 Spectacular Hikes in Arkansas and Missouri  available in print and digital formats.

As I’m working on Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, I’ve been researching hiking trails across the Ozarks.  The famous Ozark Highlands Trail is almost completely on public lands, with private landowners granting OHT easement for the rest. Jim is one of the volunteers maintaining the trail, and he’s generously shared his expertise and experience, making my research much easier. (Thanks again, Jim!)

New to the trails? Wherever your journey takes you, follow Hiker-dog’s advice: “The less you carry, the better you move.”  

One last recommendation: if you’ve never hiked with a dog, reading Jim’s 12-point summary of what makes Hiker-dog a good trail partner will make you appreciate this experience.

Happy travels!

“Staycation” Canine Style

“Is your dog stressed?” © paddingtonpups.com.au

Does your own sweet dog turn into a Dogzilla when suffering from excess stimulation? Is the heat turning your routine activities into a stress test and making both of you miserable? Maybe it’s time to give yourselves a break and relax. I’m talking about a staycation for you and your pooch.

When the outside world gets too much, maybe it’s time to make the most of “at home” training and play time. You’ll hear lots of experts (and others who like to think they’re experts) insist you must walk your dog daily or you are a Bad Person. While I absolutely agree that dogs need regular activity, I’m not convinced that translates to activities in sensory-saturated environments, or forcing your dog to endure hot sidewalks that can blister their paws.

Instead, indulge yourselves in short sessions at varied intervals. Schedule outdoor activities for cooler parts of the day. And when the heat’s too much, there are plenty of activities to help your dog chill out while keeping physically and mentally exercised. Here are a few of my personal favorites to keep Sasha mentally alert and happy, and reduce stress all round.

Work For It! Give your dog a chore in exchange for treats, meals, and (most important) time with you!  My own Sasha shows off her sit and wait skills before breakfast and dinner, and works through down-stay, come, stop (a hard one!) followed by another down then come and heel to finish around to my left where she sits for her well-deserved reward of a special yummy treat.  Treats are also on the menu when she jogs down the drive with me to the mailbox and we go through basic drills, mixed up to reduce her habit of anticipating what I want next. We practice fast and slow heeling and turnabouts while patrolling the back yard for dog waste, as well.

Find it! Treat balls which require dexterity and persistence to release tasty tidbits are a big hit, too. I’d thought that would be a great activity to keep Sasha mentally engaged and moving about while I worked, but she added a layer of fun all her own by rolling the ball under furniture or behind doors, and then asking me to retrieve it. And being a Sheltie, her “ask” tends to be loud so I stay close to cut off the bark fest before it gets out of hand. Since that means I play most of the treat game with her, we get plenty of bonding time and everyone’s happy.

We also play the “Find it!” game with Buddy the Wonder Cat as our target. This tends to be the most fun when we’re in the yard and Buddy can run behind shrubs and crouch beneath the branches of the old forsythia. Inside, I rely on hiding Sock Monkey or her stuffed duck and sending her in search of her toys.

Hide-and-Seek. This works best with at least two humans participating. One of us puts Sasha is a sit-stay while the other hides out of sight and then the one hiding calls her by name or the person next to Sasha tells her to go search and “Find it!” This is a great backyard activity too! If you’d like to try this one at home, check out this link for a quick and easy how-to. Great game for kids, too!

Rally-O, Home Edition. Take communication between handler and dog to a higher level with Rally Obedience, commonly known as Rally-O. If you’re interested in getting involved with AKC events, go to http://www.akc.org/events/rally/resources/ for more information. And if competition doesn’t interest you, everyone can enjoy what I call the “home edition.” You can create your own “course” by choosing from a collection of skills, from basic to more advanced.  (See a list of the rally skills with images and descriptions here.) So far, Sasha and I have mastered the basics and are moving on to spirals, drop on recall, and the 270° right turn and the 270° left turn–which sounds easier than it is, at least for my uncoordinated feet!

Whether you want to compete or just enjoy some exercise and time with your dog, a “staycation” can be a great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated and physically well exercised without ever leaving home!