Monday, February 28, 2011

Venus and the Bunnies

When I adopted Venus, my first Greyhound, I had been a little worried about the whole prey drive issue. We had a cat. I had done a lot of dog events in the past that included lots of LWF's, little white fluffies. Was hoping Venus would be joining me for more of those. Turns out I didn't need to worry too much. In fact, she seemed to take retirement very seriously. She adjusted well to indoor cats and various dogs  in their myriad of types. When on leash squirrels and outdoor cats excited her but she never pulled. Heck, she rarely even ran much off leash except for a quick zoomie. Retirement seemed to suit her quite well. In Greyhound obedience class she was not a stellar student of the recall. Her response was anemic at best. (We have improved tremendously, I promise.) Once when Jen held Venus on one side of the room and asked me to go to the other side to call her a fellow student quipped, "Do we have that kind of time?" So I was shocked that Venus even ran the Blur of Fur at Greyfest that year let alone display the excitement she did. That might have been the highlight of her month.

At an M&G after Greyfest I was discussing the surprise that my slugbug had turned into Superhound. Someone mentioned lure coursing but I expressed my concern she would get hurt. They said SEGC allowed some practice runs after meets on Saturdays. All I had to do was ask for a short run, not the full course. I thought about it and decided to see how she reacts to lure coursing. We arrived just before the start time on the morning of the next meet. I had volunteered to help but wanted to give Venus a chance to walk around before it started. We got out of the car. She stood there looking happy to see so many other dogs. She was a little excited by the overall hubbub but as always she was an angel on leash. We walked out to the field and she looked around with some interest, sniffing the air. We went back, set up our little encampment with shade, crate, etc. (Someone thought all that stuff coming out of my little Prius sedan reminded them of a clown car.) They were getting ready to do test runs and I heard the lure machine run for a bit and then stop. I walked Venus over to the field again for another look see. And then...

The lure machine was running again. Venus started to turn her head to the source of the whirring noise but suddenly that strip of white plastic came by. "The bunny!!" Actually I don't think there was time for her to actually think that. I didn't have time to think it either because all of a sudden this terrible force was trying to remove my arm. Before my mind could process any pain I found my dog before me performing airs above the ground as she tried to slip her collar. "Bunny! Bunny! Bunny!" She HAD to go chase that thing rushing around the field even though it was now 100 or so yards away. Never in my life would I have dreamed she could get so excited. In a millisecond little miss perfect had transformed into a true sighthound. For most of that day I had to keep her out of the line of sight of the field when the lure was moving just to let her calm down and rest. When I decided to let her watch... "Bunny! Bunny! Bunny!"... Precautions were needed to prevent her from slipping away and surging onto the field. I set up her viewing arrangements as follows: 1) Backed her bouncing, bald tuckus up against the equipment trailer; 2) Straddled her like she was some wee pony; 3) Kept my hands firmly on the leashes, one on either of the two leash and collar combos I had had to put on her. 

When the days competition was over and my girl got her chance at a short run. We were invited up to the starting line. "Bunny! Bunny! Bunny!" Venus and I were now standing mere feet from the object of her day long desire. I asked the lure operator for just a short run, a quick out and back through the first turn. "Hold your hounds!" That announcement wasn't just a formality. After the lure machine started Venus became a slippery eel, squirming for release. "Bunny! Bunny! Bunny!" She nearly pulled me over in the second before the Tally Ho! Finally she felt the slip lead release. I can now say with confidence that Venus has far more Tally in her than Ho. Greased lightening is slower than my girl seemed to me at that moment. Why yes, that dog will hunt but when the bunny took a hard left she was thrown off for a bit. With all legs scrambling, her feet appearing to go in four directions at once, she somehow managed to make the turn. That's when I saw her face light up in a way I had never seen before. This is what she was born to do and she knew it. The lure stopped briefly before the lure op reversed it for her return run. Venus stood there making quick grabs at the bags. I stood there in disbelief. Those were just white, plastic, kitchen garbage bags tied on the string. These were the same bags that, when pulled out of our kitchen cabinet would send her running from the room in fear. Now they were that which she wanted most in this world. The lure machine started again and Venus did her run back with the same intensity, enthusiasm and incomparable joy. We left with a very, very happy and satisfied hound in the back seat. The next morning I woke up feeling all sore and bruised, like I'd climbed into the ring for a round of professional wrestling. Venus woke up all happy and energized.

That was years ago. Though many dogs can do lure coursing safely, Venus was not one of them. She ran crazy, like a creature possessed. Thankfully Venus went on to the happy hobby of amateur racing. She ran most often in the straight races of LGRA meets where she could not only run safely be even get to catch the bunny on occasion. After the first couple meets she realized her turn would come and then come a couple more times after that. She started to act much calmer during the meets and walked nicely to the start line. But whoa be the person who did not release their hand from her collar when the lure moved. She would have dragged you down that track with her if that is what it took to go after that bunny. We even got to run a few NOTRA meets on the Greyhound practice track in Jacksonville. Venus was usually first out of the boxes and quick to take the rail, often in the lead. She was more mature then, six to seven years old but still a beautiful sight to watch even when the other hounds caught her on the final straight away.

Venus in the lead - Retirement means running for fun.

I still very much enjoy going to lure coursing meets to watch other Greyhounds run. Lure coursing and amateur racing meets are also a fun way to see the other running breeds and observe how differently many of them run. The people are friendly and helpful. It is just an all around nice way to spend the day outside having fun.

We all work to ensure our Greyhounds have a fun and happy life. Venus enjoys a lot of different activities. Even so, nothing in this world compares to racing and coursing. My girl is just hardwired for that. There will be exceptions, of course, but nearly all Greyhounds are pre-programmed for this and nothing else can fill that spot. Once they leave the track many of our dogs never again get to feel the same surge of excitement with commensurate level of joy that they get from a serious chase. I now know that until you have seen your Greyhound running, really running not just a zoomie or the Blur of Fur, you have not seen your whole hound.

Lure coursing plus Fun Runs - Don't miss it

On March 19-20 there will host an NLCC lure coursing meet at Chattahoochee Hills Farm in Fairburn, Georgia. (PDF file with info here.) On Saturday there will be a fundraising lunch. That gives you the opportunity for wonderful meal enjoyed al fresco while helping the hounds. There will also be fun runs offered after the end of the meet and even a photographer there. If you are like me it is hard to get a good photo of your hound in action. I plan to bring my new boy out and hope for a good photo of him looking more like the Greyhound bus logo and less like a couch potato. These runs will be open to all dogs. It will be a 100 yard straight run with a drag lure. Drag lure means the lure is affixed to the end of the line rather than to a continuous loop of line as is often used for lure coursing. As the lure machine runs is basically reels the lure in, dragging it along the ground resulting in it bouncing. Judging from the dogs reactions, I think the drag lure appeals to more of them than the lure coursing standard of white, plastic bags on a string. Though even my girl who is normally scared of plastic bags would turn herself inside out to chase those same bags across a field. Since the fun runs are a straight run there is also the advantage of there being no pulleys on the course to get in your hounds way. Plus, I think 100 yards is a nice distance. Long enough to be fun but short enough to be safe for Greyhounds who do not often get a chance to use their full power. Now if your dog hasn't coursed but is fit and has already shown a keen interest in chasing a lure you might even consider entering in singles.

Lure coursing is perhaps the ultimate sport for those Greyhounds in areas where there are no safe places to allow them to course live game. It also gives people who would prefer not to hunt a chance to offer their hounds a hunt with artificial prey. Greyhounds need a large open course with turns carefully laid out to encourage safe running. Smaller courses with tighter turns can lead to more injuries. I do not mean the courses need to be long. Whatever the length though they should be designed by someone who knows how to lay out a course for fast dogs like Greyhounds. If you have not seen lure coursing I strongly suggest you go to this next meet and watch the beauty of hounds running in wide open spaces. Bring your Greyhound with you to you can see his reaction.

If you choose to attend the upcoming NLCC meet note that competition is often finished fairly early, sometimes near lunchtime. Since it is never known in advance how long the meet will last I suggest you come early. It will give you plenty of time to see some of the competition and enjoy the great lunch. After the meet there will be fun runs so your dog can try his or her paw at chasing the lure. It is open to any breed. Though I will say that if you bring a smaller breed it would be best to provide a safe, comfortable spot for him to hang out away from the big dogs excited by the event. Actually I will suggest bringing a crate as a secure place for your Greyhound to relax in for a bit before the fun runs start. I think many will be surprised by their Greyhound's reaction to the competition. Some of us think our hounds would never be the type for lure coursing and get a bit caught off guard by how enthusiastically our hounds respond. Most of us never get to see our dogs display their true desire to chase or their potential for power & speed unless swift moving prey in a large area is available. that is what lure coursing provides. A 100 yard fun run is an excellent distance for hound and human to get a taste of that. It may just convince you to give coursing a try. For those with new dogs or anyone who hasn't taken your dog to a coursing meet I invite you to read the next post with the story of Venus & the bunnies.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Greyhound training class beginning January 18

Want to get started training your Greyhound? Here is a chance. Does your dog know how to sit, down, target? Heck does he even know his name? No, seriously. Many do not & it isn't because people don't love them or lavish attention on them. Have you wanted to start that recall, come when called, training? Well jump on this chance offered by Jen Bachelor at a price that can't be beat. Jen is a trainer of the top level Agility & Obedience Greyhounds. Her dogs are not just well trained. They love, love, love training. My Greyhpunds & Deerhound love training as well. What we learn together helps make them versatile but also keeps them safe. (Plus getting the Greyhound to retrieve things I drop or the Deerhound to unload the dryer for me saves my back.) It's a New Year. Start a fun new adventure with your Greyhoind & give her the training she deserves. See the announcement below.

For those outside the Atlanta/Marietta, Georgia area I recommend starting with Sue Ailsby's Levels Training in the link on the right. It is free, fun and very effective. If you are like me though, it helps to attend a class. So read on.

 2011 Greyhound Training Class
      Presented by Jennifer Bachelor 
         Never Say Never Greyhounds
Duration:  Six weeks with each class lasting about 1 hour
When:  Sundays at 3:30 PM
Schedule:  January 16th, 30th; February 13th, 20th, 27th; and, March 13th
**Please note that there are several gaps in the schedule. I just do not have 6 weekends in a row that I am available.**
Address:   6625 Commerce Pkwy, Woodstock, GA 30189
Location:  Indoor dog training facility in Woodstock, Georgia.  Controlled temperature, lights, and rubber matted floors!

Cost:  $85

Curriculum:  I will teach you how to teach your greyhound how to sit, lie down, stay, and come when called.  I would also like to cover some behavior problems and solutions, so please let me know if you have a specific problem.
Why train:  Increased communication between you and your greyhound.  Great activity for an active greyhound.  Build your greyhound's confidence.  Increase your ability to control your greyhound.  Gives your greyhound a purpose and makes them feel useful.  And because it is fun!
Type of training:  I teach clicker training.  It is a very positive form of training that generally dogs enjoy participating in. 

            Did someone say that Greyhounds DO NOT sit??
 For more information and to pre-register, Contact Jennifer Bachelor:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Shaping versatility - Applying what you've learned

We have a new kid in the house. I adopted my foster dog, Lucky Latin. That means we are now training a new dog from scratch, something I have not had to do in two years. That was with the puppy, Stellaluna. I have not trained an adult dog from scratch since adopting Venus four years ago. Luke wasn't trained to follow commands but he did know enough about living with humans that I could not say we started from scratch. Soliel, still sometimes called Lucky, has just finished racing and ours is the first home he has lived in. The main items of focus with him right now are socialization, exposure to all this big wide world has to offer, and basic obedience training. Training a recently retired racer adopted straight from the kennels is definitely starting from scratch. It has taken me a while to get back into the swing of things. I had forgotten how much fun and frustration can be involved in working with an adult dog who has no clue of even the simplest things about training. Sol asks, "Who me? You're talking to me?"

Luna is my first dog to be trained almost entirely with clicker training. She has taught me a lot of things that I will hopefully remember while working with Soleil. One of the best and most useful things Luna has taught me is the amazing power of shaping. (click links for explanations of terms) She has help me learn directed shaping in particular. Shaping just means shaping a behavior into what you want. In clicker training, which relies on operant conditioning, it specifically means rewarding successive approximations of a behavior. There are different methods. Frequently free shaping is used as an intro into shaping. A classic clicker training exercise is 101 Things to do with a Box uses free shaping. Will veer off course a bit and admit that I when I learned this exercise in our first clicker training class I hated it. The dog I was using for class just sat there staring at me. My other dog at the time enjoyed it but I did not see the point of the exercise. Perhaps the instructor tried to explain the its benefits but I must have missed it. After that class I never did 101 Things again. I did not like it any better when asked years later to try it with Venus & Stellaluna.

Initially Venus did not even sit & stare. She would stretch and then lay down. "What is your problem woman? I don't care about no stinkin' box." However, with the help of the Luna-tic and a wonderfully patient, upbeat instructor I learned the purpose and many benefits of an exercise like 101 Things. That link is different from the first 101 Things link. (There are Greyhound pictures are at the top. Will that get you to click it?) Wish I had had that article when we first started training. It sure would have helped. Anyway, the point is free shaping is a bit ad lib but useful in a variety of ways. The 101 Things exercise helps the person learn how to shape a behavior even if you are just getting used to using a clicker. (You do not have to use a clicker. You can use a word or other noise as a marker.) With Venus, even though she already had a good bit of training, this exercise in free shaping help her learn to offer behaviors instead of waiting for me to give her instructions. This is important because I want a thinking dog, a dog who has learned to problem solve. That speeds up learning and contributes greatly to a dog's versatility. Free shaping is still not my fave though.

What I love most is directed shaping. Though very similar in ways to free shaping, in directed shaping you know what behavior you want and shape specifically for that behavior. As mentioned above, Luna was a big help to me when learning directed shaping. She made it fun. When I then started applying my meager skills to teaching Venus new behaviors the effects were amazing. Venus became much more animated during training. Instead of being just a willing participant, happy for the treats and interaction, Venus became bouncy, tail wagging in excitement, eyes twinkling. Her exuberance and obvious delight was such a thrill to me. The best part was the effect this had on the behaviors she learned through directed shaping. Not only did she enjoy the learning process of learning the behaviors but then took delight in performing those behaviors. Apparently when learning them so rewarding & that much fun the behavior itself becomes almost a reward. That then had an unexpected benefits. My independant, I work for myself not you girl actually started working for praise. Even better we could use some of those simply, rewarding behaviors to give Venus more confidence in otherwise stressful situations. Venus is a reserved, rather timid dog. If she is unsure of a situation she gets stressed. Yet she loves going places & doing things with me. That sometimes leads to her being put in strange, stressful situations. Now when that happens if she looks a bit overwhelmed I just ask her to do a simple behavior she knows well & enjoys. Being able to confidently perform a behavior associated with the good emotions she felt while learning it seems to make stressful situations much easier. It was a huge turning point in not only our training but our entire relationship. It was good before but now it is even better.

There was no turning back then. I was totally hooked on this style of training. Even though I had been using reward based training for years, this method worked so well for my sighthounds that I really wanted to learn more. So early this year Luna & I headed off to a Pat Miller shaping seminar. That weekend is a whole story unto itself but suffice to stay that was started as a very challenging, frustrating, humbling and even embarrassing weekend. Yet it ended with tremendous satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment. I learned a great deal and now with Soliel I will be putting a lot of it to use. By the way, if you go to that link, scroll down to the picture below "Shaping Molly to rock the cradle", and look in the back corner you will see a chubby woman with legs as pale as the white walls. That is I and of course the beast in front of me is Stellaluna.

So now we have the new boy and I can no longer choose to just hang out or play with the dogs when we should be training. And I say we should be training for many different reasons. Among them are that the dogs love it. They think of it as a game and it builds a very strong relationship between us. It helps us exercise not only their minds but mine as well. As a bonus it helps give them burn off some energy while we get to stay inside where it is warm. Oddly, it also has the effect of energizing them. The more we train the more excited and energetic they get when they think we are going to do something. It is a funny paradox to simultaneously energize and wear out your dogs.

One of the biggest reasons we should be training is that my dogs have learned a lot of behaviors that are at times very important to safety and others just very convenient. In either case we do not use all of those all the time. The phrase use it or lose it applies perfectly here. Without some practice and occasional reinforcement those behavior I take for granted can start to slip or even disappear. For example... uh-hum, errr... well, I hate to admit this but Venus recall has gotten less reliable. Though I am careful about where my dogs are off leash we do use some very, very large fenced off leash areas. The dogs may not be able to dart into traffic but that doesn't mean a solid recall is not necessary for their safety. Venus, my versatile & theoretically well trained Greyhound, was out in the pasture recently doing zoomies when I called her. She immediately spun & rush full speed at me but in her enthusiasm overshot. Ah, that's OK was my thought. She quickly spun to return but didn't stop at me. She gave my leg a token bump & kept going. A flyby?!! Arghhh! Later she was in another area of the yard, excited about something I could not see on the other side of the fence. I called her and got... not even an acknowledgment from her. Had to call her a second time. So yeah, I'd say we need to get back to work on recalls.

And then there is "Leave It". Luna used to be fantastic with this one. On occasion lately though, "Leave It" with the Luna-tic gets her to give a quick flick of her head, really just a token acknowledgment of me & then immediate return of attention to whatever she should be leaving alone. It's like she's asking, "You mean this thing? This very, very attractive thing. Thiiiiiisssss..." And of course by then I barely exist in the Luna-tic fringe where darling Stellaluna often resides. & have to repeat the command. A diminished response to Leave It could be life threatening.

Of course, with Soliel we need to work on everything. All that good stuff Venus, Luke, Luna & I learned together will now be applied to Soliel. While we are training a number of different basic things right now, one of the most important is I need to brush up & expand on with Venus & Luna start to slip. That is attention. Being able to get & keep your dogs attention is essential to training and everyday life. In a prior post I pointed out that the simple acts of getting your dog to turn his attention to you could save his life if you drop a leash. For my dogs, I use shaping to teach them to not only give me their attention when requested but to also offer their attention even when not requested. It a very necessary thing to teach a Greyhound. So that's what we will cover next.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What do versatile hounds do when not being versatile?

Kong excavation - A study in technique

We do not often use Kongs. The dogs are generally too good to need them & I am generally too lazy to make them. So Kongs are a special treat. This afternoon while I tried to work our foster dog, Lucky, kept wandering about playing Goldilocks with all the dog beds. This one's in a cold spot. This one isn't fluffy enough. This one is too lumpy. This one has a Deerhound on it. But ah, this one! It's j-u-s-t right. Just right that is except Venus was on half of it. You should have seen her expression when he not only plopped down on the same bed with her but he *gasp* was touching her. Shock & awe is my best description of it. Worse than that though, he next proceeded to stand up & try to fluff his half of the bed. "Oh pity me," the poor, resident Greyhound tries to convey by force of pathetic, downcast eyes. "They make me share my bed with this young ne'er-do-well who still carries faint smells of the race track. [Cue the music.] Noooobody knows the troubles I've seen..." Something had to be done. Drastic measures forced me to stuff three Kongs, carry them back to the living room & send Lucky to his crate to wait his turn. Luna & Venus know the drill. They each quickly rush to an unoccupied bed & lay down hoping their choice of beds turns out to be the magic one to get the first Kong.

Venus - Lays on bed with head up, ears at high alert, nose twitching & teeth chattering as she waits. Once upon a time this girl could barely get plain ol' kibble out of a loosely packed Kong. Add anything soft that made it more challenging & she would just give it up as a lost cause. It was just pathetic. Those days are over but her approach is still rather methodical. She receives her Kong. Pulls the appetizer out of the little hole at the end & eats it. Then she starts licking at the yummy goo plugging the main hole. The Kong starts to slip away from that pressure. "No way, man!" She quickly latches onto it with her nearly prehensile toes. She then shoves the ankle of her other leg underneath to hold it up in ice cream cone fashion as she alternates licking & gnawing with her front teeth until the first layer is gone. Then she turns it sideways for the technical stuff. 1-Give it a good smack down again with one paw. 2-Snack on the results. 3-Nudge it with your nose. 4-Snack on the results. 5-Grab entire Kong with mouth, squeeze just a bit & reposition it. 6-Snack on the results. Lather. Rinse. Repeat as necessary.

Lucky "Beckham" Latin - Waits for Kong to be set in crate. Chews as much out as easily possible until impatience overrides hunger. Starts knocking it around until it is lodged under his bedding. He starts rapidly digging & shoving his bedding to regain access to his Kong. Ultimately this forces his bedding into a nest like pile but leaves the Kong exposed on the smooth plastic crate pan. *SMACK*  Hits it with a paw sending the Kong sideways against the side of the crate. ASAP, he hoovers up every readily visible morsel knocked loose. For like a millisecond he looks longingly at some bits of kibble that landed outside of the crate when Kong contents flew in all directions from force of impact. Time up. *SMACK*... He hits it again with a paw sending Kong spinning. More contents scatters across the pan... Hoover. *SMACK* Hoover. *SMACK* Hoover. Stare. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Luna the Deerhound - Stands on bed, looking down at Kong. Leans down in semi-play bow for a careful, quality control inspection. Sniff-sniff-sniff. Pulls nose back an inch & twitches it. Sniff-sniff-sniff. Pulls the appetizer out of the hole on the little end. Drops it on bed. Gives it a good sniff. Leaves it on the bed. Using a maneuver learned & perfected in puppyhood she manages to pull nearly the entire plug out of the large end. Eating only the absolute bestest part, she leaves the rest on the bed. Lays down on bed partially on top of bits she has rejected, for now at least. Rests a paw carefully on top of Kong, pressing it securely into the bed. The licking will now commence. It accounts for about 90% of her Kong destuffing time. Lick, lick, lick, lick, lick, lick...

Venus is now standing & nosing her Kong all over the bed listening to the last stubborn chunk of stuffing rattle around inside. Luna is lick, lick, licking. Lucky actually gets down & stares inside his as if to decide whether he should continue or concede the game. Luna is lick, lick, licking. Venus nows tries a girlish Lucky Beckham maneuver with the satisfying result of her Kong doing a somersault across the bed, yielding the last of its stuffing. "Awe, sweet success." Luna is lick, lick, licking. Lucky manages to get a couple more pieces of kibble, enough to give him renewed hope. Luna is... well, you know. Venus lays her head down with a contended sigh. Luna's still at it. Lucky's Kong still has the rattles so he perseveres.

Now Luna breaks the cycle. She stands up, stretches & goes for a drink of water. Venus lifts her head to stare in the direction of Luna's bed. Lucky stares that way as well. Luna notices & hurries back to eat the tid bits she was laying on then gathers her Kong to her again, giving the others a "Don't even think it" stare. Venus turns to look in Lucky's direction. He notices & redoubles his effort with *SMACK* a force that sends the Kong flying again to hit this time high up the side of the crate. The noise attracts the attention of both girls. Venus watches. Luna watches. I saw the smack out of the corner of my eye, turn my head just in time to see Lucky watching the last of his Kong stuffing fly in a trajectory that sends it... Venus gets up. Luna's Kong is now the only one not empty but she seems to have forgotten it as she looks at poor Lucky. He sees his hard work laying on the carpet in an arc outside his crate. Luna stands but she's much too late. Venus trots over to snarfle up the spoils of Lucky's futbol playing. "Awe, sweet success," says Venus. Lucky Beckham just gone straight from Manchester United to the LA Galaxy.

Then there is a noise and all attention turns to Luna whose back is to the rest of us as she chases her wayward Kong across the hardwood floor. She picks it up and takes it back to her bed again. Still not paying attention to us, Luna doesn't notice a certain dark brindle beauty walking in her direction. Luna drops the Kong, stretches. All that licking is tiring and sure makes a girl thirsty. She again heads to the water bowl. Lap, lap, lap. She heads back to her bed & her... "Hey, where'd I leave that thing? I thought it was right here."

Lucky is already snoozing on top of his nested bedding. Luna turns around in a circle looking for her Kong.
Venus is back on her bed licking her lips. There are two empty Kongs next to her. "I've still got it." She lays her head down to get some beauty sleep. True to her dark brindle, passive-aggressive self, Venus gets the last laugh, "Ha. Those pups don't know who they're dealing with."

Venus turned nine years old on Monday. With age comes wisdom.

Friday, October 8, 2010

You gotta hear this

When I caved in and got an iPhone I finally discovered the joys of podcasts. Some are trash but there are also great ones. Podcasts come in all types, qualities and time lengths. It should be no surprise that the ones I subscribe to are all related to dogs, science and music. Soon I'll put up a list of dog and animal behavior related podcasts. They are great to listen to while you walk, jog or hike with your dogs or when you are doing something & wish you could be spending time with your dog instead.

On my short list of great podcasts is a particular one on dog training, naturally. It is brief, arrives every week and even when it is about something I basically already know there is always something useful, thought provoking or a great reminder and it's usually a bit humorous. As a plus their is a website for the podcast that posts a written version. Check out "The Dog Trainer, Quick and Dirty Tips for Teaching and Caring for Your Pet" with Jolanta Benal This weeks episode is one I really want to share with you.  Go listen to or read the episode entitled "$#*! Your Dog Doesn’t Care About"

She's right, ya know. Greyhounds, no matter it may appear that sleep is their greatest desire, need more than a comfy bed or couch. They need stimulation to stay healthy. Right now I am trying to write up a blog post on running sports like lure coursing and racing. I believe many people would be surprised at their Greyhounds reaction to those if given the chance to watch. My otherwise low key, seemingly low energy and low arousal dog turned into a crazy fool the instant that lure started moving across the field. WOW! That was an eye opener. Many others have experienced this same surprise.

Some dogs either simply do not have that same burning desire, though you won't know until you take them out to the fields and let them watch. others would love to but have a past injury or some other reason participation is not advisable or not possible. And even dogs who are very active in events on weekends need something to do during the week as well. You need an outlet for their amazing brain power. Let Jolanta give you a few ideas. These are great for hound and human. Jolanta's ability to provide lots of info with such brevity will be a refeshing change from this blog. Go have a listen or read. Tell me what you think.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A picture is worth a thousand words

Does anyone ever work with their dog in silence? Does anyone else try to work in silence? Anyone who has met me knows I talk incessantly. This extends to time spent just me and the dogs. OK, honesty check here. I also babble when I am by myself, sans chien. And yes, I answer myself as well. Very scary! Unfortunately, it seems the non-stop prattle is a hindrance when working with dogs. The saying, "Actions speak louder than words," appears quite true in dog training. After publishing the post on deaf dogs featuring Sam, that gorgeous hunk of a hound, I realized I had neglected to mention this. Deaf dogs are very easy to train once you remember to use actions, like hand signals, instead of words. Though lack of hearing can make getting their attention more challenging at times it also removes most or all noise distractions. Several times this week I have done very short training sessions with my Greyhound maintaining absolute silence. They had to be very short because I could not keep my mouth shut for longer than that.

Though I have known for many years that my dogs pick up hand signals faster than voice commands, I am still sometimes caught off guard when my dog not only does not respond properly, whether that be to a verbal or hand cue. You can sometimes even see the confusion on her face. (I'm not a behavioral scientist so I will not apologize for anthropomorphisms.) Others have had this happen as well. Just ask any dog trainer of any level. The problem is that though we may think our dog knows what a particular cue like Sit means, our dog may actually be cuing off something in addition to or even instead of our intended cue. This can lead to misunderstanding & confusion should any of the many variables change. After just one session session in silence my Greyhound began responding faster and more reliably to my hand signals than she does to verbal commands. Yes, yes, all you obedience training geeks. I am constantly using double, triple or quinticazillion cues.

This same dog-human misunderstanding frequently happens when attempting to correct their dogs. That is one of many reasons I prefer reward based training rather than relying so much on corrections, particularly verbals scoldings. More often than not the dogs just don't get it. Neither misunderstanding is a crisis & at least one makes her happy while the other makes her less enthusiastic about training.

[From Gary Larson's Far Side cartoon]

Our dogs see the big picture and learn things contextually. Humans do as well but to a lesser degree. Most of us have experienced this confusion, ex. meeting up with an acquaintance from church while grocery shopping only to find that though they look familiar you cannot for the life of you quite place who they are or why you should know them. This happens to you right? Please say it does. (And then consider that my entire life is spent like this so if you greet somewhere without your Greyhound in tow and I look befuddled please remember it ain't personal.) Our dogs view the entire context of the situation to determine what the cue really is with no two dogs taking in the situation in quite the same way. It is up to us to make sure our dogs recognize what the cue is and what other info is irrelevant. We humans, verbally centered beings that we are, often have great difficulty conveying this information to our dogs.

For this reason, it takes many, many repetitions of using a command in a large variety of settings, at many different distances, in a variety of tones of voice at varying volumes, etc., etc., so-on & so-forth, before our dogs learn that the real cue is really just the simple word Sit rather than when I say Sit while facing you with my hands held just so, a gentle breeze blowing from the Southeast and the sun at this particular angle as three geese fly over head. I remembered a little Dr. Seuss like poem I had read that played on this training issue. After some search I found it on Suzanne Clothier's website in her "Green Eggs & Ham & Dog Training?" post. Please, please read it. I love that poem & searched it out just so you could enjoy it also. For the record, I had already written the "contextually" statement before reading her post. She certainly does say it much better than I ever could. Shortly before finding Clothier's poem I stumbled on this post from Susan Garrett's site, "Can You Do It In a Box?" I do have to admire a woman who will not only stand on her head to train her dog but share the video on the internet. I'll leave the readers to ponder the similarities between the Clothier & Garrett posts or any possible meanings. Both while saying similar things are worth reading.

One of the most interesting things I have discovered recently came after a volunteer session at a local assistance dog training organization. As many of their clients have limited hand control or speech ability, the dogs are taught to respond to eye gestures as well. I came home and gave it a try with my dogs. To my amazement I discovered that if I remain silent and motionless while using just the eye gesture of looking down at the ground just in front of my dogs' feet they both will usually do a down for me... Though the Greyhound needed to be in the living room with her back to the windows.

There are quite a few cues that can be done just with eye gestures. Some like the down are easy to add because they are connected to things we may already be unconsciously doing. Others are very easily taught with clicker or marker training. But no, I've not done it yet. Remember the first paragraph about my chatty nature? Yet a recent experience showed me that it can be very, very handy to have not only a verbal cue and hand signal but also eye gestures. I found out when carrying far too many things requiring both my hands and my mouth. I tried to shuffle things around to get my car keys while worrying my dog would drift into the traffic lane. Unable to give my dog a verbal cue I amazingly got my dog to sit and wait using just eye gestures. [Cue the advertizing announcer's voice.] "Amaze friends and astound your neighbors. For the low, low price of ___ we'll send you this book with the secret methods of assistance dog trainers." Or you could just click the link on the right for the Sue Ailsby training site and save yourself some money.

So Sam, what do you think of green eggs & ham?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Special Edition - Celebrating the Deaf Dog

This special edition will feature a hound who was a special addition to the Manning household three years ago. Sam fka "Every Day Romp" is as striking looking as he is special. Since Sep. 19-25, is Deaf Dog Awareness Week, it seemed a fitting time to feature Sam. [Ahem, well it was fitting. As usual I am a day late (and a dollar short) but finally getting the post up.]

Sam raced in Birmingham. When he retired & was staying at the SEGA adoption kennels some of the volunteer hound walkers noticed a few things that tipped folks off. It turned out Sam is deaf. The story of Sam, the discovery of his deafness & his subsequent adoption even spurred a couple of imaginative Greyhound adoption volunteers to write & perform a skit at a SEGC meeting. Wish I had seen it. Here is part of the script of "Life at the Kennel – by Every Day Romp nka Sam":
Hi, I was born April 12, 2005.  I’m a big ol’ white male dog, 2 years old now.  I used to live in Alabama with lots of other greyhounds.  It was pretty easy for me there, because all I had to do was watch the other dogs and follow what they did.  A nice man named Bobby was my owner there.  He said I didn’t know my name – whatever that is.
Then, a few weeks ago, some nice people with big smiles came and put several of us in something called cars.  They kept smiling at me and moving their mouths like this…….. (demonstrate)   The other dogs told me they were saying I was a beautiful boy.  I don’t know how they knew.

Dogs are masters of reading us. They can be so good at paying attention to our body language and environmental cues that many dogs like Sam may not appear to be deaf. So when these dogs miss verbal cues it can lead to misunderstandings. Sam's race trainer, Bobby, also commented about Sam, "Yea, he really was a stubborn boy!" When later told Sam had proven to be deaf he reportedly laughed & said, "No wonder!" While Sam, like other deaf dogs, may never hear his name he is a wonderful, loving boy with a huge heart. In turn that allowed him to quickly captured the hearts of the Manning family. He was very lucky. Quick adoption is rarely the case for deaf dogs who are too often passed over by families worried about the challenges of owning & caring for a deaf dog. There are many resources available online to help people learn tips & info to make owning a deaf dog just as wonderful & rewarding as owning a hearing dog. A quick search will turn up a wealth of info.

 Sam's first day in his new home:
                  Saying "Thanks, Mom!" to Susan           Taking in the sights with his new friend with Lydia.

The post this week on Melissa McDaniel's blog highlight's "Deaf Dog Awareness Week". A fantastic dog photographer, Melissa is trying to raise awareness of deaf dogs as part of her photo books project. I was happy when Susan wrote, "Sam was photographed last year by Melissa McDaniel to be featured in her Deaf Dogs Book" The book will be released soon & is currently available for pre-order. His photo appears in a collage print, on sale at her Etsy site . Sam is the third dog on the seventh row, second from bottom. Plus, her accompanying YouTube site features this video of Sam lure coursing taken by Michael Strickland:

That leads nicely into the obligatory info on Sam's various activities. Obviously, one of those is lure coursing. The video speaks for itself. This boy loves to course. For me few things about owning a Greyhound can rival seeing the joyful expression & intense excitement these dogs get from running events. Will feature some of those soon. If you have not gone to a lure coursing or amateur racing event I encourage you to attend. It is a wonderful sight.

 Sam love coursing!

But he also managed to win 3rd place in the conformation portion of the ASFA Greyhound Specialty last year.

Sam is an M&G pro, schmoozing with all the ladies he can find. I've seen this boy at work & he is very good at attracting adoring admirers. Susan comments, "I think his 'leaning' touches their hearts. At almost every M&G someone wants to adopt him. We have to say, 'Sorry, he is our boy'." Between his stunning looks and his signature Sammy-lean the boy is a real chick magnet. And it seems to me John is usually the one holding the leash more often than Susan. ... Hmmm?? ... Oh, nevermind that. It's pure coincidence, I'm sure.

Pet therapy is also on Sam's list. Susan says, "Sam has the most gentle nature but is such a big ham! Because of that, I call him my BIG LUG. Because he is so gentle, he makes the perfect Pet Therapy Dog. He goes to Egleston Childrens' Hospital and various assisted living facilities to visit. He is always well behaved and everyone loves to pet him, as his coat is so soft."

Where this boy's light shines brightest is being a loving companion & family member. Susan also adds, "What he does that is so cute: When the mood strikes him, he entertains the other greyhounds who are laying around, by doing zoomies in the living room (in a very, very small area), first going clockwise, then reversing to counter clockwise. You can tell by how happy it makes him that he knows exactly what he is doing, impressing the girls. Susan sums it up nicely when she writes, "Even though Sam is not the best "trained" Greyhound, he brings great joy to John and me and the other 7 hounds and anyone that has to pleasure to meet this sweet boy."

So who wouldn't want a wonderful dog like Sam? 
OK, except this. Ignore this part!
Just look at me & admit it. Deaf dogs are sexy.

Of course, more training can be added at any time. I have known Sam for several years and can assure you he is a very bright, trainable boy. He is also a great ambassadog for the joys of adopting a deaf dog.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Featured Hound - Cinderella Story

While not a Cinderella story in the usual sense, this is a a quick feature on a Greyhound named Huntington's Cinderella. To be even more precise, she is known at this time as CH Huntington's Cinderella CD SC. What do all those letters mean to those of us outside the dog show and competition world? It means that "Cinder" is proving herself quite versatile indeed. In addition to her conformation championship Cinder also has an obedience title "Companion Dog" and a lure coursing title "Senior Courser".  At three years old Cinder is just getting started. With looks, brains and athleticism, this girlie Grey is the whole package. Her owner and trainer, Laurel Drew, is no stranger to versatile Greyhounds. She enjoys showing folks exactly how versatile Greys can be. If we are lucky, Laurel may be a guest writer on the blog sometime in the future. Though they do not live and compete in our neck of the woods, I asked for and Laurel was kind enough grant permission for me to share her Labor Day Weekend report originally posted to a Greyhound email list.

Well, I guess I've finally come down to earth after a nifty weekend of obedience and rally.  I entered Cinder in 4 classes, two obed., and 2 rally, and she qualified in all four and earned placings in all four.  She got 3 seconds and a fourth with a 99 and a 100 out of a possible 100 in Rally.  She'd have had 1st place in Rally except for a tie and a goof on the stopwatch.  I had a choice to rerun for score and time, but I wasn't about to risk giving up a 100 so, I settled for 2nd.  Besides, the gal who took first was very deserving and really was thrilled.

I worked my tail off helping haul equipment back and forth from the Club training site to the trial site...and storing a huge amount of it in my big van for the week between our fun match and trials.  I think it's the first time my van has really been tested for hauling weight.  It was sinking a bit in the rear!

BTW, know anyone who needs a big van?  I just downsized to a Ford Transit Connect.  If you are just showing a couple hounds, look at one.  They have enough room for two big crates (4 feet) between the wheels, the first small van I've found with that space.  Economical too!  Well, enough of my customer relations gig.  Good luck to all at the Eastern.

She settled for 2nd? Well, I suppose a near perfect 99.5 average score will just have to do. lol  Big congrats go out to Laurel and Cinder. What I love most is that they had fun and still showed that Greyhounds can compete well with the more traditional obedience and rally-o breeds. I look forward to hearing more updates on their adventures in the future. Things like this are part of what this project is all about.  

See folks, just because competition scares the bejeepers out of me doesn't mean others do not find it a blast. Perhaps some day I will get my courage up to get back in the ring. Laurel's report is almost enough to make me want to give it a try. Maybe one of you will want to do the same? If you are already competing, please send me a note. We love when people share their adventures... or in my case, misadventures. (Later, later, folks. I'll get to that in a future post.) 

For the record, I left the part about the van in there because we just upsized to a Transit Connect and love it so far.

[Note: You can find out what AKC's alphabet soup of abbreviations means on their prefix page for championships and their suffix page for titles. Don't ask me more about this. My girl is just a blue collar, working stiff of a hound. She can retrieve a dropped security badge but would need a Dumbbells for Dummies book before she could earn a CD. OK, honesty forces me to admit she would also need a new trainer and handler as well.]

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sound habituation and dog wash

[Trust me, these two seemingly disparate topics are loosely related.]

Anyone in the Suwanee area may want to take advantage of an upcoming dog wash. The North Gwinnett High School Humane Society Club... yeah, try to write all that out on a t-shirt... is hosting a dog wash in a couple weekends. Wanted to mention it here because I believe it important to support youth efforts at humane education. While at the Suwanee Day Festival this weekend, some of the students stopped by our booth with some fliers. Here is the info :

When?  Saturday, October 2,  from Noon to 2:00 PM
Where?  Suwanee Animal Hospital, 85 Buford Hwy, Suwanee, GA
(Next to George Pierce Park)
Here is a map

Suwanee, Georgia is Northeast of Atlanta and was once a small town. In the last 20 years it has grown to be a large, suburban community. The Suwanee Day Festival this past Saturday is a growing and very well attended annual event there. It makes for a loud, active, at times quite crowded, venue to hold a Meet and Greet. And this year it happened to be really hot, as in temperature not just popularity. The Greyhounds never fail to impress people at these events. This may have been the most challenging we have attended, one that could exhaust even the well seasoned M&G Greyhound. Thankfully our M&G hosts, the Stricklands, had provided us a wonderful set up including two comfy, shaded xpens for any hounds needing a much deserved break. The tent was frequently crowded with people. Many, many children wanted to pet the dogs. We were set up right by the amphitheater which meant more traffic, a good thing, but also as the day went on the noise level kept increasing, not a good thing.  People were amazed at by how calm and wonderful the Greyhounds were especially when the live bands started and we had to yell just to try be heard. One person said, "I cannot believe how relaxed they look with all this noise. My dog would be freaking out." Numerous others expressed similar sentiments. They were correct and I know there are many Greyhounds who would not have handled it as well. Their loving owners wisely leave them out of these situations.

Then Sunday we went to the Fall RV show held at an expo center in a different Atlanta suburb. It is a much quieter, less hectic scene. As a bonus it is indoors with A/C. I love that!... um, for the hounds... yeah, that's it... just thinking of the hounds best interest...  Anyway, our booth was in a nice spot, near the back but right on the path to food vendors and the ever popular restrooms. No loud bands here, even the PA system was of reasonable volume. All relaxed, comfortable, pleasant visiting with people...  [cue the soothing orchestral music] ...but then... [the string section builds to suspense] ...BLAST comes the sound of a huge truck horn blaring right next to our ears. Someone had hit the horn of the RV parked next to us with its front end grill just 4 feet away. All the humans jumped or flinched. The hounds just blinked, one's skin twitched, my girl perked her ears and turned her head. The dogs appeared less startled than the humans.

This leads to the sound habituation observation I want to make. In this case I am using the habituation definition from Merriam-Webster Online, "decrease in responsiveness upon repeated exposure to a stimulus". So why are some Greyhounds nearly bomb proof with sounds while others startle reflex kicks into high gear? The same question could be asked of individual dogs of any breed but since the majority of Greyhounds are raised in fairly similar circumstances the variance in response seems more interesting. What is the correct answer? Sorry folks but I have no idea. Wish I could tell you. Maybe some wise, knowledgeable Greyhound person reading this will offer a response I can post. I suspect, with what limited knowledge & experience I have in these things, that the answer is both simple and complex, not necessarily just nature or nurture but the usual messy mix of both. Greyhounds are individuals born with a range of temperaments and innate tendencies. Various experiences and exposures to stimulus then get mixed with what nature originally provided and later we get to adopt the complex and wonderful, jambalaya like concoctions that are our beloved hounds' personalities. Still, it seems to me at this point fours years out from my indoctrination into the Greyhound cult that this breed in general adapts or habituates more quickly than the average pet dog. Well, that is at least when I am comparing adopting an adult Greyhound to the average adult dog from a local shelter.

My girl, Venus, is the Piglet sort. She would like to be brave and get involved in everything but it is such a big, surprising world for such timid creature. You can watch her body and know she is debating where to give something a try. She is the first Greyhound I adopted. At the adoption kennels she was friendly but not needy, played with balls but wasn't obsessed, confident not pushy, but most of all she was very, very polite. In short, she was little miss perfect. I loved that and chose her that first meeting. Venus was very trusting of the leash. From the moment of adoption she would go anywhere I lead her as long as the leash was on her. Her head was up. Her tail was relaxed. That gave me a false idea of her confidence level. If I had known more of canine body language and had more Greyhound experience I may not have been surprised to find out that she was actually feeling rather overwhelmed with everything, "Oh d-d-d-dear me," as she followed me with blind faith that it was all going to be alright because her leash was on, "Oh my. It's all going to be OK. We are going to be fine... right?"

So, whether because of inexperience, ignorance, lack of observation or some other reason, it caught me totally off guard the first time something out of the blue happened and she tried to bolt. This occurred on our second day together, July 2, on our first walk through the neighborhood. Someone set off some fire crackers and suddenly it felt like I had a young, terrified colt at the end of a lead rope. The event was to be repeated multiple times in our early months together and usually the trigger was loud or sudden noise. Interestingly, though she proved to be a much more timid dog than I thought I was adopting, with a stronger startle reflex than I would have expected, this girl has amazing bounce back. She is far from a spook. Each time she tried to bolt it was to a spot maybe ten feet away. At that point, she would stand still and again collect her composure. Then to my amazement we could simply continue on our way and shortly she acted as if nothing had happened. In time, bolting 10 feet away faded to a hop sideways or backwards and now she barely even bats an eyelash.

So what did I do to improve the situation, helping her to get to the where we are today? How did we go from terrified colt to could hardly care less? Um, well again I would love to give you an precise answer. The best I can say is habituation. I just tried to learn what startled her, minimize her exposure to it but still keep her active, taking her places that I thought she may be ready to handle. At times it pushed her limits a bit but if she startled or froze I learned to just let her stop and take it all in for a bit. Then I asked her to proceed. If she wouldn't I gave her a bit longer hoping to at least get her to take one step, move one inch more. At that point either she recovered and continued or we retreated and found another less intimidating route. Blessedly, I think we only had to reroute a couple times. As she had more and more experiences that proved to be safe she became more and more comfortable. She habituated. I guess at least one of us, her or me, did something right along the way.

If I were to do it over again, I would try to be more careful in some ways and more diligent in others, seeking out good opportunities to ease her into this big wide world, trying to strike an appropriate medium between over-sheltering her and pushing her over-threshold. One way or another, my little piglet dances a jig each time her leash comes out. She is thrilled to get out of the car and join me any time she is given the chance.

Habituation, it's a beautiful thing.