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.

One Joyful Year!

For seventeen years after losing my beloved spaniel Alix, I didn’t believe I had enough heart left to offer another dog. Then a year ago, a volunteer sent me this photo of a dog surrendered to a rural county sheriff’s office:

I took one look at that sweet—and oh, so frightened—dog, and put everything on hold to cross the prairie plains to bring her home. It was a long journey and a heart-wrenching one at that. What was I getting myself into? I knew next to nothing about her situation other than the sad details shared by the volunteer, and I knew even less about adopting a rescue dog. Was I making the right decision for her, for us? How would Buddy the Wonder Cat react to sharing his family? And what would happen to her, to us if I couldn’t make this adoption work?

If you’ve been following Sasha’s story, you know her most challenging issues included generalized anxiety, fear of strangers (and men in particular), and extreme hyper-sensitivity to noise. We still have work to do, but overall she’s made tremendous progress along the way. That progress might be best summed up using our experience with the coffee grinder.

In her early months with us, loud or unusual sounds sent Sasha scurrying for cover.  That included raised voices, applause, and the sound of clickers, which proved problematic during obedience class. She was wary of anything and everything in the kitchen that made noise, to include the coffee-bean grinder which left her trembling with fear and barking wildly. It was quickly apparent that this dog took hyper-sensitivity to sound to a whole new level. We tried showing her what it was so she wouldn’t be scared. Tried distracting her, supplied extra love and attention. Nothing worked.Fresh-roasted-coffee-beans-and-grounds

Then I got smart and turned it into Extra-Special Treat Time. Using Fromm’s big oven-baked biscuit treats  I put her in a sit-stay where she could see the grinder, praised her, and gave her a treat. Repeated the process when we measured the beans into the grinder, again when the grinder started and yet again when the grinder finished. Yup, lots of treats, with plenty of time to chew before we moved on to the next step. Since we don’t use the grinder daily it took several weeks to condition her to the sound and cutting back on treats at the same time.  And then one day she came running into the office, whined softly to get my attention, and then trotted back to the kitchen just as I heard the coffee grinder in action. The message was clear: it’s treat time! 

We successfully reduced her fear in favor of excitement. That success, however, came with an unintended consequence. She reached the point where she’d hear the kitchen drawer holding the coffee supplies slide open (and yes, she’s smart enough to differentiate between the sounds of different drawers!) and would begin barking. We’re talking the piercing, full-volume bark only a Sheltie can manage; it’s enough to hurt your ears and earn a disapproving glare from Buddy the Wonder Cat. Oh, and she added the word coffee to her vocabulary, which had reduced us to spelling the word to avoid the inevitable manic barking.

So….enter conditioning, phase two. These days, she has to work to earn that treat. At a minimum we go through the no-bark, down-stay, sit, and off-leash heel while the grinder’s being set up. Then, and only then, does she earn that treat. And since this is the only time she gets the Fromm’s treats, she’s been quick to pay attention.

I’ve used the coffee-treat time to build her interest in our indoor obedience sessions. Even though the treats are different, she knows if she works well she’s sure to enjoy some tasty tidbits. The indoor sessions are becoming a favorite activity on cold mornings. I use the same martingale collar and leash we use for our neighborhood walks, but Sasha clearly differentiates between my outside and indoor clothes and runs into the hall where we routinely start our workout.

And we have an audience for our indoor sessions, too. Buddy the Wonder Cat watches all the action from his perch and will follow us as we go through the house. We finish with a 3-minute out-of-sight down-stay. (The Supervised Separation is test item #10 for the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test.) Buddy is the supervisor most of the time. Inevitably, we’ll hit the 2:30 minute mark and Buddy comes trotting to find me. I’m not sure if he’s reporting that Sasha is still holding the down-stay or if he’s asking if I forgot about her, but he follows me back as soon as the timer goes off and signals the end of our session. As that’s always followed by play time for Sasha and Greenies for Buddy, everyone’s happy!

Happy might be the best word to sum up our year together.  The scared little waif who came to me a year ago is now officially known as Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha. We’ll be back soon with more news of Sasha’s ongoing adventures. Meanwhile, here’s a snapshot tour highlighting our year together. Enjoy!

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For the love of a dog

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Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha

It’s hard to believe that Sasha’s been part of the family for nearly a year. And what a year it’s been! She came to us timid, thin-coated, suffering from poor nutrition, and in dire need of love. Over the past 11 months she’s grown into a confident, sweet-tempered dog. She may never have the typical full-length Sheltie coat, but considering how much she sheds now, I’m actually okay with that! Good food and daily exercise (to include herding Buddy the Cat) combined with love and attention have her looking more beautiful by the day.

Here’s one of my favorite photos of Sasha. This one was taken in late summer at the neighborhood park and captures what I’ve come to think of as her “happy face.”

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We’re still frequent visitors to the park, even though the summer grass has long since faded away and the wind whistles, clear and sharp, across the open meadow. The chilly temps discourage casual visitors, giving us plenty of space for training time and indulging in the Sheltie zoomies. For the uninitiated, picture a dog flat-out running in circles at the end of a 30-foot line. And since she’s a Sheltie, add in joyous barking with every revolution. The faster she runs, the more she barks!

If I were inclined to make New Year’s resolutions, I might be tempted to put “barking control” at the top of the list. Then again, she’s a Sheltie, and I suspect barking is hard-wired into her DNA. <grin> I can count on her to sound the alert for the UPS truck,  the coffee pot, and neighborhood boys out in the road. It’s taken months, but we’ve progressed to the point that she’ll (mostly) stop on command, although she often interprets “stop” to be an invitation to continue to vocalize; her range of mutters, grumbles, and almost-but-not-quite whines tend to be more entertaining than irritating.

As far as New Year’s lists go, I’ll stick to my own tradition of listing some of the many things I’m grateful for. To the many who have shared their experience and wisdom in All Things Sheltie, I’m thankful. To those who joined our vigil when Sasha had seizures and we feared the worst, thank you for sharing that burden as well as the joy when the tests came back clear. To all who have come into our lives because we opened our hearts and home to a Sheltie in need, I’m grateful beyond words. So I’ll close by borrowing the words of the late Roger Karas, known to millions as the voice of Westminster Kennel Club dog show:

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

 

 

 

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…

“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.

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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!