A true gentleman

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Imposter!

It’s Tuesday night and Zoomy has her obedience class with Mica, her 14 year old junior handler, coming up. I don’t hear the doorbell but do hear the pounding on the door. By the time I get to the door, find the leash and fumble with the key, the minivan is turning around to leave. I bang on the door, call “Zoomy” (who comes right away for a change), snap on the leash, open the door and let go of the happy girl who hops right into the kennel in the back of the minivan.

I finally sit down to relax and watch as Taiko and Ziva play (she’s on her back, he’s on top of her and they’re wrestling) I catch a glimpse of a purple collar — Zoomy has a new purple collar but Ziva is supposed to have a beige collar. I call Ziva's name and up pops Zoomy.

OH NO, I sent an imposter to class!

I hop in the truck with Zoomy and get to the class just as Mica’s mom is pulling out to come pick up the real Zoomy. She pulled back in and reported that Mica mentioned that “Zoomy” sailed into the crate - she usually sits there and takes her own sweet time before hopping in. But it wasn’t until they got inside that she realized she had the wrong girl.

Oh well, never let it be said that Ziva isn’t an opportunist!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Meet and Greet Committee (of one).

Having just moved my office into a new building, I didn't know anyone there. Whenever I went to work after hours, I would take Hunter with me to keep me company and stand guard. One day, I was working away when I noticed that Hunter was not laying by my desk. I got up to check on him and had one of those 'uhoh' moments . . . the door to the hall was open and Hunter was gone. I took off down the hall to find him and that's when I heard it . . . laughter!

I followed the laughter around a corner and found another open office door. I walked in, passed into an inner office and there he was, chowing down on a cheesburger that was laying on the corner of the desk.

"Hunter!" I gasped. He looked up at the sound of his name but he didn't budge from his cheeseburger. Two guys were sitting on the edge of another desk laughing at him. I rushed in, spewing apologies, and went to grab his collar, but they stopped me. "We told him he could have it" one of them said in his defense.

As the story goes, they had just come in with take-out from McDonald's. The boss set his burger down on the edge of his desk and stepped away for something. When he looked up, there was a "huge black dog" standing in the doorway. Nobody moved. The dog walked in and went strait to the cheeseburger. Then, he looked up at its owner with a meaningful look in his eyes as if to say "may I?". The guy told him it was ok, he could have it, at which point, Hunter began to eat it. They started laughing and that is when I came in.

We stood around and talked while Hunter finished eating and swapped names and small talk. Tammy, from the outer office came in to meet him and became Hunter's instant friend. He never came back to work with me that he didn't have to go visit Aunt Tammy. Maybe he was looking for cheeseburgers, but he always found her.

That first meeting could have gone either way. Luckily for Hunter and me, our office mates had a great sense of humor and probably relished the tale they got to go home and tell their kids . . . about the big black dog that appeared like magic and ate their cheeseburger!!!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sometimes It’s Good To Be Bad

Some years ago, on one of our hunting expeditions to the Beaver Pond, the infamous ‘secret spot’ whose location Dennis guarded closely (so don’t ask where it is), we found ourselves with a lot of time to kill between duck sightings.

We’d used up all of our conversation topics and Hunter, my Curly-Coated Retriever, had had his fill of being tended, so I decided to practice my duck calling. I had watched the Buck Gardner tapes, practiced calling, watched the tapes and practiced some more, but I still wasn’t very good. I thought I had a pretty good ‘feeding chuckle’ so I started my practice with that one. It was supposed to sound like happy ducks.

A few minutes into practice, Dennis directed my attention skyward to a pair of dark blips heading in our direction. I continued to chuckle. The blips were flying in tandem (chuckle, chuckle), in a slow, gentle rocking motion (chuckle, chuckle), side to side (chuckle, chuckle), as though swinging on the same invisible cord suspended from Heaven (chuckle, chuckle), and they were heading strait for us (chuckle, chuckle). As they neared, it became apparent that we were watching a pair of young, Bald Eagles making their way to our pond, possibly looking for the floundering duck they had heard there. I put my duck call down.

We sat silently, stone still as the pair flew to within 20 or so yards above us, directly over the center of our pond. Then with a breathtaking swiftness, the pair flew together, feet first and locked talons. And, while still gripping one another, began a maddening free fall towards the water. Talons still clutched and within inches of crashing into the water, the pair of Eagles pushed off of each other, flying in opposite directions, outward, mere inches above the water’s surface, then upwards in a graceful arc, rejoining one another at the top of the arc at their original point of contact. It was a Magnificent sight!

Then, side by side they lazily continued on their journey, gently ebbing and flowing on the wind until they were tiny specks on the horizon. Only then did we move, looking at each other, as though to make sure that we both saw what we thought we had seen. Hunter hadn't flinched the entire time, as though he knew the moment was unique.

The game warden later said that we had witnessed a rarely seen, mating ritual. It was the most special “hunting” moment I have ever had.

Now mind you, the Eagles may have come to our Beaver Pond on their own, with us just being in the right place at the right time. But I like to think that I "called" the Eagles to us with my special duck calling.

Yes, sometimes, it is good to be bad.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My dog can do that.

One evening, as my brother, Pete, and I stood under my carport looking at my Curly-Coated Retrievers playing in the back yard, I noticed that my wicked little puppy had turned the water bowl over, again, and had played with the empty plastic bucket until it was way back in the yard. Pete teased me about having to go out back to get the bucket to water the dogs - like it would be a big chore. But I laughed and told him there was no need, I could send Hunter for the bucket and let him water them from where I stood. Pete was sure that it couldn't be done and said as much so I decided to give it a try.

Sending Hunter for the bucket was fairly easy. He already took back casts and once I got him to the area and told him to fetch it up, there was only one object available to retrieve. A quick "good boy" as soon as he nosed the bucket told him that it was what I wanted and he picked it up and brought it to me.

Now the floor of the carport is several feet above the back yard with a wrought iron railing that makes up the top of the "fence" so Hunter had to prop up on the concrete wall as I leaned over the railing to take the bucket.

The next step was the tricky part. After I filled the bucket from the hose out front, I took it back and called Hunter. He hopped up again and I placed the handle near his mouth and said "take it". I had never taught him to deal with a bucket, especially one filled with water, but he obediently took the handle and hopped down again.

Unfortunately, none of his regular commands, 'drop' or 'leave it', meant anything when applied to releasing the bucket so he just stood there and held it. Things got funny when the other dogs realized that Hunter's bucket had water in it. They started trying to drink as he moved away to protect his bucket. They followed him and the whole thing ended up with a hilarious game of chase. . . Hunter running with his bucket, the other dogs following, trying to snatch a drink on the run. And Pete and I were laughing hysterically as they ran around the yard.

In the end, the bucket got knocked down, but Hunter was able to get a drink too.

And all I could say was "I told you my dog could do that".

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Soft Mouth; Can you train it?

"How do you train a soft mouth?" is the number one question that I hear from dog owners, especially from retriever owners. This is often rephrased in the question "How do you prevent a hard mouth?" Some folks believe that a dog is either born with a soft mouth, or not. Based upon what I've seen in the whelping box, I just don't agree with that as a blanket statement.

Starting as pups, dogs learn to communicate using their mouths. The Mama dog "speaks" to her pups by licking them, nuzzling them, and occasionally, when they ask for a correction, by nipping them. It is a natural part of rearing her pups.

When watching pups in a litter grow, they all mouth and bite each other as a part of learning communication skills, and more importantly, good manners. If you observe the litter, planning to pick the puppy with the "soft mouth", you'll probably be frustrated because all the pups mouth and nip in play.

From a retriever perspective, there isn't a separate protocol for training a soft mouth. You'll deal with that as a function of teaching your pup to 'take' an object, 'hold' the object properly and 'give' it to you on command. If your pup doesn't have solid performance in all three of these actions, DO NOT continue. This (moving on too soon) is where the dog learns that he has your permission to chomp it or keep it. Get your solid foundation before you try to build on it. And don't worry if everyone else keeps going, they are working with different dogs. The only dog you need to worry about is the one you are training. There is no room for 'one-upmanship' while training your dog.

The Golden Rule for training a soft mouth is "Start it, stick with it, and be consistent". Well actually, that is the Golden Rule for all training.

It would be a disservice for me to try to tell you in a paragraph "how to" teach your dog what most authors devote an entire chapter to. So, I recommend reading a few good texts before you start training. Read books that help you understand dog behavior (for novices, Mother Knows Best and Know Your Dog , among others, are in my lending library), then read about training in the venue you want to learn. As you tackle each step, go back and re-read the relevant chapter. You'll be surprised how much more it says than it did the first time you read it. If you read enough, you'll see very different philosophies emerge. You'll need to develop your own philosophy and stick with it to avoid confusing your dog.

Ultimately, results with your first dog will be your best teacher. If you have no experience training a dog, I highly recommend enrolling in an obedience class - you'll learn 'your' dog, which is the only dog you'll be training. Don't worry if it doesn't focus on the venue you want to train. The most important function of the class is to teach you what a dog is from the dog's perspective. Building your dog/handler team is the second most important function of the class. Teamwork spreads over all you and your dog do and makes each venue better. Read all you can, talk to many people as you can, work through obedience classes at least twice - once to learn and again to fine tune with lots of distractions - and train, remembering that several short sessions are better than one long session when teaching a pup new things.

And here's a few other things that people forget to tell you. 1. If you have a bad attitude today, don't train today. It will affect your long term results. 2. Positive reinforcement is best, especially for teaching new things. 3. Your dog wants to please you. 4. You will be very good at confusing your dog. 5. Several 10 minute sessions are better than one long session for teaching something new. 6. And to quote a world renowned, professional retriever trainer: "Even bad trainers can get good results if they stick with it long enough".

Ultimately, remember that you are the Alpha in your pack and it is your job to take care of your dog. Never let yourself be coerced into any training tactic that goes against your comfort level. You must learn how to filter through information. Take all you are given, then use what you need. Don't worry about saying "No". I've heard too many folks lament "ruining" their dogs with bad advice. I recall following bad advice once when I could tell instantly that I shouldn't have. The results were long term and I spent hours trying to undo the damage because I didn't think it through first. Now I have no trouble saying "No" when necessary. I'm sure I've done plenty more things wrong, but those had more subtle results.

For Deacon's 'soft mouth' tale, see "A Soft Mouth" on this blog dated May 8, 2008.

Q & A for the day

Is there a good reason for pups to stay in the litter longer?

YES, My pups never leave before they are 8 weeks old and I prefer to keep them a week or two longer. The pups learn most of their good manners from their mom and littermates. If you take them out too early, they miss a critical part of their education. Even though I've trained my own dogs for years, I don't speak "Dog" as well as the dogs do, so I'd rather let the dogs teach the major lessons. It just makes life easier.

I haven't seen statistics, but I would be willing to bet that a good number of dogs who have major "soft mouth" issues, are dogs that left the litter earlier than 8 weeks. (But this is just my guess with no statistics to back it up).

Friday, January 1, 2010

Reflections on the old year, Looking forward.

2009 was a bittersweet year for Windsong.

In January, we lost our beloved Deacon. He was just shy of his 14th birthday when he began to fade. Finally, he told me he was ready and we made that last trip to the Vet together. I would never leave him 'to go' alone. Saying goodbye is part of being a good dog owner, but it stinks.

In February, the long awaited Riley made a surprise appearance on Friday the 13th. She wasn't planned for a couple of weeks. She is a real beauty. Her older brothers and sister enjoy wagging her around so she should never lack for playmates.

In April, our dear, sweet Star went home. We enjoyed her while she was here and missed her terribly when she left us. We had hoped that a local friend was going to adopt her, but when we made the home visit, the friend had an allergy attack that lasted for days. She was allergic to the mold in her garden that Star played in. She was so upset, she had already told all her friends that she was getting Star. She wanted her so badly, but it just wasn't to be.

April was also specialty month and Destiny and I loaded everybody up and made the trip to St. Louis. We had a wonderful time and were thrilled when Taiko garnered a placement (4th) in the very competitive Bred-By-Exhibitor class. That was Sweet.

Spring and summer weekends were filled with field training, but the group we joined was so far ahead of us that often the terrain and tests they set up were too advanced for our level. With great frustration, we left the group and plan to start over in the spring. Hopefully, we can find some folks training new pups and start in with them, advancing as they do, laying the proper foundation. Better trainers may be able to train their pups on Master level training scenarios, but I need to start at a beginner level and grow the dog to more difficult levels as he learns.

We ended the show year in the fall with both Ziva and Taiko earning their first majors. We'll keep our eyes out for a show where other Curlies are going in 2010.

Throughout the year everyone took either obedience or rally classes and they all took agility classes. We wound those down in November due to my cough/cold. December is typically our month off because of erratic holiday scheduling.

We ended the year quietly, with everyone canine in great health.

The new year holds lots of training classes in obedience, rally and agility. And we hope to start tracking classes too. We'll worry about showing if the economy improves for us. We'll be very busy, and that is very good for us!