Sunday, July 25, 2010

Training tracking with your dog, raising the bar

Are you ready to raise the bar and start with some serious tracking? There are many things you can practice beyond the first track.

Lets start as an example with a video of Kenzo where I train dry weather conditions with him. Here in Denmark it is rarely hot and dry, so the weather from last week with 30C/90F gave an excellent opportunity to train this. Kenzo also doesn't like hot weather at all. Together with the fact there is not much scent on a dry track, it will ask the out most of Kenzo. The track you are about to see is a 300 step track, laid by a "strange" person, has one turn, and we use a lot of objects on the track he has to find:



Under normal weather conditions, this track would have been a piece of cake for Kenzo. But you can see how difficult he gets it by just changing one variable: the temperature. He wasn't eager to find the track, he passed some objects, and he lost the track once. Although loosing the track is not a problem at all. The important thing is that he keeps on working trying to re-find it, and he did just that.

When you are ready to raise the bar too, make sure to draw up a schedule or journal for each training exercise. Then you are sure only to raise the bar on one or two variables. Especially note the weather conditions, as they will usually change, you will need to adjust your schedule according to them. Don't move forward to soon, and redo some tracking scenario's to ensure practice and a successful outcome. Here are some variables you can start working with:

Track length
Add to the length of the track in 50-steps intervals. You can also lay separate tracks and run them as legs. Make sure to have water with you on tracks that are more then 500 steps. Have a water break not to exhaust your dog. Each training exercise should end in a success.

Track scent
Instead of laying the track yourself which has a very familiar scent for the dog, let him follow the scent of a person he is unfamiliar with. This is something you need to do regularly, so your dog doesn't think the meaning is to follow your scent only.

Find the track
With the first track we had the dog laying down in the start of the track. Let him find the track by taking some steps away from it and let him search for the track. If you always indicate the start of a tracking exercise with putting on the harness, he will know it is "tracking time" and will start to look for the track himself. Move away max 10 steps from the track.

Weather conditions
Make sure to train in different weather conditions. Extreme dry weather and extreme wet weather are difficult to track in, as these weather conditions don't hold the scent. In drougth, the lack of moisture needed by the bacteria to work and be part in producing scent is missing. They same is true with extreme wet weather, also here the bacteria are not doing their scent producing work.

Age of the track
Let the track age in 15 minute intervals. Dogs can still track even hours after the track has been laid. This is also important to train, as in the first hour of the track the human scent is prevalent. After this period, the human scent fades, and the scent of the crushed vegetation by our footsteps is all what is left. The dog has to learn also to follow these types of tracks.

Tracking surroundings
Lay a track in grasslands, areas with low vegetation, forests and rural areas. And also in this order. Grasslands are the easiest, rural areas are the most difficult. When tracking in a rural area, make sure to start tracking with 30 minutes old tracks again, as it is mostly the human scent the dog can follow. But also think about tracking in a valley, or on hills. Where the wind blows of the scent differently then it would on a plain field.

Turns
Make turns on the track in different angles. Make sure to mark an upcoming turn with a marker 5 steps before the turn. When turning left, put the marker to the right of the track and vice versa when turning right. When you use a lot of turns make sure you or your tracking partner draw a map of the track. You should always know exactly where the track is, if it would be needed to help the dog.

Distractions
Add distractions to the track like road crossings, change in vegetation, other persons laying tracks that cross yours, tracking along roads or farms with animals. You can use this to teach your dog to focus and not get distracted by external factors. When he does, make the stop and hold the leash until he re-finds the track. If you dog has forgot about the track, mark that with saying "No" as a correction, and put him back on the track again like if you would start the track. When crossing a road it is very likely he will loose the track. And you don't want your dog circling on a road trying to re-find it. Just move to the other side of the road and set him on the track again.


You are going to enjoy working with your dog! When you have practiced the above, you should take a moment and reflect on where you stand. You are already a pretty good tracker and very close to getting your TD certificate!

To help you draw a schedule for your training exercises, I can recommend you to read the book Tracking Dog: theory & methods, by Glenn R. Johnson. The book lays out a very balanced training schedule. And is also a very good book to learn tracking and help you troubleshoot along the way.

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Related posts:
How to: Going your first track
Preparing to move beyond the first track: studying body language
Tracking: training turns

Kenzo on a "wet" tracking day
Note: For everybody that was asking why on earth I was wearing long trousers on such a hot day. Good question ! The answer is ticks. After the track I removed 7 ticks from Kenzo and 2 from myself that were looking for a place to dig in. Kenzo is also well protected for ticks. But this is something you have to look out for when tracking.



 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Travelling by car with two Hovawarts

One of the challenges we faced with Viva joining the family as our second Hovawart was how to travel safely by car with two 90 lb dogs.

I did some research on blogs and resources on-line and also got some great advise from Rod Burket from GoPetFriendly.com, by commenting on his guest post Show Some (Car) Restraint! on Edie Jarolim's blog Will My Dog Hate Me?.

Rod advised in our case to go for the crate solution. Mainly because of the size of our dogs. And I agreed with Rod on that. But things turned out easier said then done.

You can't always get what you want

The crating solution gave us some short term challenges, as the crates we would need for our Hovawarts are the XX-large kind. And they don't fit into our current car. We went looking for a car that matches the size of the crates, but buying a bigger car in Denmark is not something you do lightly. Just a hint: you pay 180% tax on cars in Denmark. I will leave the rest to your imagination.

But something needed to be done. When we only had Kenzo we used a harness and seat belt system. Just putting Viva next to him in her own harness seat belt system made me worry that they could hurt each other by smashing into each other, would an accident occur. Like the big dogs they are, the chances of them hitting the side of the car or the front seats on impact seemed too high. The seat belts would protect us from them becoming a projectile in the car, but I felt their own safety was at risk.

Putting Kenzo restrained on the rear seats and Viva restrained in the back of the car would not leave enough room for much else. We tried that once and it didn't work.

Down to the car repair shop

What could we do to improve our current car while waiting (and saving) for the final solution? This is what we came up with:



We let the car repair shop rebuild the back of the car into a dog safe area. A steel safety grill has been set up between the back and the front of the car which will prevent them from becoming a projectile in the car. A steel compartment divider splits the back in two so they will not smash into each other with an accident. There a sun screens for all the windows protecting them from direct sunlight. And finally, a load compartment mat in plastic, resistant of any dirt their paws may bring in and a smooth surface like Hovawarts prefer. There is a harness for both dogs which we will attach with a long leash to a belt system in the back. The only function this will have is to prevent them from walking out in traffic, would an accident occur.

Test driving

Viva ready for a test drive
It might look like a lot of space on the picture but it is not for our Hovawarts. They are able to just turn around in each of their space. They can sit, stand up or lay down in reasonable comfort. When we make enough stops they should be alright. We are going to do some test drives to see if they can enjoy the ride and if there is enough space. One of the great things with this solution is that I can re-arrange the steel compartment divider in the middle to the left or right and create more space for one of the dogs. The other can then move to the rear seats in our good old harness and seat belt system. So we would still be able to do some fine tuning down the line.

Roof box

To create some more space and not to have all the luggage laying around in the rest of the car, we also bought a roof box. Which should be able to contain most of our luggage if we would travel light (hope my spouse is reading this too). Whats wrong with buying some new clothes and dining out a lot on your destination? We are on vacation!

For the moment this is as good as we can do, to travel safely with Kenzo and Viva. But we are looking forward to the crates, and the car that would fit them.

***

Here are some great resources with information on safe travelling by car:
GoPetFriendly.com
Dog Jaunt
Dog Cars, see also the car review section by make and model



 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blog the Change for Shiloh the Hovawart

Blog the Change

Today it is Blog the Change day. A wonderful initiative by Be the Change for Animals. So far I have been reading a lot of great and inspiring blogs. In particular the blog by @boulderdog Healing the Planet One Animal at a Time.

Looking in my heart I know what really would be the change for me. It is also healing the planet one animal at a time. And that one animal for me at this moment is Shiloh the Hovawart. For her to get healthy and live without pain. For Shiloh to find her forever home.

Shiloh has been in my sights now for more then half a year. She is only 2 years old. And all that time she has been cared for by the rescue project HALO (Helping Animals Live On). Me and my twitter pals have been tweeting almost daily for her and were able to raise enough donations for her to get a necessary 2nd hip operation.

But Shiloh is still in need of a family. It is now already more then half a year. If we could be the change for Shiloh, wouldn't that be a great change?

Update January 2012: Shiloh adopted after 2 years 





 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How BSL can bring a whole country into madness

In 1600, William Shakespeare wrote in his play Hamlet: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark". Today politicians in Denmark proved him right. A Danish political party, part of the coalition that governs the country, thinks it is alright for people to euthanize their dogs themselves. When their dogs are banned by Breed Specific Legislation (BSL).

How did this madness came about? I will try to give you an update on what has transpired in Denmark so far.

Bad press
After bad press where people where severely injured or even died after a number of dog attacks, the government installed a commission that should investigate how BSL could be installed in Denmark. Like it would in most countries, this let to a heated debate between the people in favor and against BSL. The final conclusion of the commission let to a new BSL, which was accepted by law on July 1, 2010.

What does the law say
The law bans 13 breeds. One of the banned breeds only has a dozen individuals present in Denmark, and one of these individuals is used as a service dog. How the commission came to the actual list, remains therefore vague at least.
The ban enforces people to muzzle their dog when outside. It is prohibited to breed, buy dogs or re-home them. The sanction for people not using the muzzle is a fine the first time, the second time the dog will be put down. For not wearing a muzzle.
The law also applies to crossings of the banned breeds. If the police is suspicious that a dog is a cross from one of the banned breeds, the owner is obliged to find prove to the contrary, otherwise the dog is euthanized. On a suspicion.

Shelters overrun
It took only one week to get the first signs of BSL not working. Shelters rapidly noticed a sharp increase of owners trying to hand over their banned dogs to the shelter. Dog owners tell the shelter they don't want the dog anymore, because wearing a muzzle gives them a feeling of being looked upon.
The law prohibits the shelters from re-homing the dogs. Their own policies keep them from euthanizing the dogs. The only thing they can do is refuse to take the dog in. The shelters feel powerless.

Vets refuse to euthanize banned dogs
The Danish Veterinarian Association was against the law in the first place. During the discussions they repeatedly pointed at it is not a problem of breed, but of irresponsible ownership. They advised their members not to euthanize banned dogs that are healthy and sound. A lot of vets are following this, and as one vet puts it: "I have not become a veterinarian to euthanize healthy and sound animals, just because politicians can't do their job". Vets are not obliged to euthanize and they can refuse if they want that. Kudos for the vets, but what follows now, is shocking.

Do it yourself
The Danish political party, "Danish people's party", stepped into the BSL farce. This is not your ordinary political party. They are part of the 3-party coalition governing Denmark. What they suggest is that, in light of the refusal of the vets to euthanize banned dogs, owners can euthanize their dog themselves. I was shocked and couldn't believe what I just heard. Their spokesperson added nicely "as long as it is done in a humane way". Wash your hands beforehand? We all know how people will do that "humanely": drawning and leaving the dog behind on a desert place are probably the preferred humane methods. This is an outrage, and downrigth animal cruelty. That a political party can call for this, makes it even worse. She is now saying she didn't mean it that way. Politician afraid of losing votes?

Madness
How the BSL is evolving in Denmark proves again it doesn't work. Again, yet another showcase. Will we ever learn? The dogs suffer. Irresponsible owners looking for ways to get rid of their banned dog and are on their way to destroy the next breed they lay their hands on. A political party supports them in getting rid of their dog in a cruel way, or at leasts creates a suggestion. Everything leads to the opposite of what the law was intended to achieve. Complete and utter madness, I have no other words for it.


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Links to newspaper articles describing the above, in Danish:
Shelters overrun
Vets refuse to euthanize banned dogs
Danish people's party in dog fight
Press release: Danish politician says she has been misunderstood



 

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