Dog trains man

Saturday, April 30, 2011

What a nose boot camp, dog shows, and neutering have in common

I am excited too!
During last week's tracking class, Kenzo did his worst track ever. You couldn't even call it a track. I picked up Kenzo and our tracking backpack right after work. I noticed the sight of the backpack didn't arouse him like it used to. When we started tracking, he showed no interest. He put his nose down because I asked him, but the nose was quickly up in the air again. Sniffing frantically for something I could only guess what was.

What to do?

I was worried. Did I train him too hard or too much, trying to achieve more focus on the track? What did I do wrong? And more important, did I spoil Kenzo's fun in tracking, and should we give up tracking and look for another sport he would like to do? The trainer observing Kenzo's failed track was stunned and didn't know what to say. She was as sad as I was. I remembered our trainer went to a training school every summer to brush up her nose work knowledge and asked her if they would accept mere mortals like Kenzo and me at this school. She was worrying too much about Kenzo to note my clumsy and rude attempt for a second opinion. She scribbled the name of the school on a piece of paper and said I should try to contact them, although she didn't give us much chance.

Boot camp!

That's what I did when I came home. I wrote a long mail to the school why I thought Kenzo would qualify to join their ranks and the waiting for an answer started. We maybe didn't had much to show for in achievements but hopefully the passion for tracking touched the person on the other end. After a couple of days I got the answer. We were accepted! Kenzo was shocked with my impression of a happy dance. I also received the 3-day program with a lot of tracking and scent discrimination trained by - among others - the Danish Champion in Search & Rescue. I am thrilled to take part in this.

It is not just the nose

But lets return to the evening after the track went sour. The next morning on our walk Kenzo continued to act differently and I started to realize what actually was wrong. It wasn't Kenzo that was walking, but it was the nose. Or should I say hormones. When we came home and I gave him his breakfast, he didn't eat it. That was the final clue. Someone was in heat and Kenzo knew who it was. Later in the afternoon the black German Shepherd dog - one of Kenzo's sweethearts - and her owner passed by our house and they confirmed what I suspected. Kenzo's bark was high-pitched and frantic when he noticed them. Kenzo is in love, once again.

One more project

Kenzo's neutering has been postponed for too long. Some Hovawart experts were impressed with Kenzo's mental state - ok, he looks good too - and urged me to consider breeding with him. To do that correctly, it involves a lot of health- and mental tests, and also earning prizes on dog shows. A project that will easily take 6 months up to a whole year and I have been postponing it ever since. So we will set this in motion too. It will either work out or not, but we will close it off with Kenzo enjoying his retirement from the dating scene having him neutered.

Maybe I am in denial, my wife says it is my lame male subconscious that makes me postpone. She is probably right. What else can a nose boot camp, dog shows and neutering have in common? I therefore officially and publicly pledge that this is my last and final postponement attempt.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

The 10 best pictures of Kenzo and Viva

If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook you know I almost daily upload new pictures of Kenzo and Viva to Twitpic. One of the fun things about Twitpic is that it shows how many times a picture is viewed. So which photo's did you like best? Here is a top 10 of the most viewed:

#1. Kenzo trying out his new Jesus shoes

#2. Kenzo: "Please?"

#3. Viva the Sofawart

#4. Kenzo the Wet Hovawart

#5. Viva: "What do you mean ... resource guarding?"

#6. Hovawart soccer world cup

#7. Kenzo Love

#8. Dancing with Hovawarts

#9. Kenzo the Dirty Hovawart

#10. Kenzo: "How do you mean ... outgrown?
Now if you like really original dog pictures, tune in to Karen Friesecke's Dog-a-Day project and subscribe to her blog. It will wake you up in the morning with a smile for the remainder of the year.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Embarrassment is not an option

Training class seems to be a gathering of people that all have embarrassing dogs.

Dogs that smell the opportunity to embarrass their owners and do so with every chance they get. Kenzo fits right in there, and does his out-most to make sure I get my weekly fix of embarrassment.

Our class mates discuss how embarrassing I must feel after the latest failure, and try to decide who has the most embarrassing dog. It is a harmless discussion fueled by a lot of humor, yet it shows the roots of a wrong mindset. Not everybody takes it well, some get embarrassed and never return. That is a waste.

Some dogs, like Viva, take it a lot further and embarrass us in daily life too. They lunge and bark, don't come on a recall, chase cyclists, and more. Do whatever needed to add further to the embarrassment. People send nasty looks, call each other names. Whisper among each other. The embarrassment can be overwhelming.

Embarrassment is just an emotional state we humans have imposed onto ourselves. It is not necessarily a bad thing. But when we overdo it, it prevents us to grow and learn. It blocks us from achieving things we might think could embarrass us. Embarrassment gets in between us and our dog's. Anticipating an embarrassing moment coming up will remove our focus from our dog to the moment itself. We are about to miss that valuable clue which is coming up. We send our feelings down the leash, making it difficult for our dog to judge a situation correctly. It prevents us from enjoying dog walks, or maybe even makes us drop walks as a whole. Embarrassment can put us in a vicious circle.

But I refuse to feel embarrassed. Dwelling in those kind of thoughts makes me miss out on what really transpired. Therefore I embrace them as little moments with valuable pieces of information. My dogs just showed me something I didn't anticipated. Something I didn't know about them. I just have got to know them a little better. Step by step. That makes me happy. Not embarrassed. As with many things, it is changing one's own perception of a situation which is the key.

If you are with me on this one, spread the word also in the real world. Getting rid of embarrassment is also not imposing it on others. Like the other day when a dog lunged at Viva. I send the owner a smile and said, "It could just as well have been my dog". Judging the expression on her face, it was not what she had expected me to say. Welcome to the club.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Scent Box

Kenzo impatiently waiting for his turn to track
Kenzo joined his first tracking class for this season. We used the time between classes to reflect. What have we achieved so far and where do we want to get better? This season will therefore be all about improving focus and concentration on the track, and a proper marking of the objects Kenzo finds on the track.

The situation we find ourselves in is not uncommon. It happens to many trackers. We all rush ahead and experiment with new elements on the track. Turns, distractions, different types of vegetation, etc. Any issues, like in our case Kenzo's ability to keep his focus, regularly come back and hunt us. Things that have been simmering under the surface from the start and only seem to get worse over time.

The track itself as reinforcer

Those problems could all have been avoided with a proper start. Correcting unwanted behavior later on in tracking is very difficult. We cannot help by instructing or showing the dog what to do. Or reward them for everything they do correct. They will loose their ability to problem-solve independently and when they encouter an issue on the track look up at you, asking "ok, what now?". We cannot correct, in the punishing sense of the word, either. As that will spoil their interest in tracking as a whole. Why do something that is no fun? All the reinforcement should come from the track, not you. Therefore it requires a lot of planning and creativity to work on a problem. How to let the track itself teach your dog to track? A good start can prevent all these problems.

Starting tracking by not tracking at all

The newbie trackers in class have started with something new and very interesting. Actually they start with tracking by not going tracking at all. The only thing they do is something called The Scent Box. Any issues the dog (or the handler) might have will turn up in the Scent Box. And they first start tracking when those issues are solved.

In short, the Scent Box is a small trampled area with a lot of treats. In the box is your scent. Outside there is none. The treats attract the dog to the box. They quickly learn scent discrimination. The treats are where the scent is. No treats where there is no scent. This way they build up the necessary understanding and confidence before they start actual tracking. Here is a short video introducing the concept of the Scent Box (starting 1 minute into the video):

The Scent Box is "invented" by Joanne Fleming-Plumb, a dog trainer with a long and impressive resume in tracking, obedience and defense training.

It was very interesting to see the newbies in class start with the Scent Box. You could already see the issues from each dog appear. Some were too eager, some unfocused. Some could already move on to their first track after a couple of Scent Box sessions, others are still in the box. One thing they all had in common. They made some staggering progress. Their issues were addressed, and maybe even solved, before they started with actual tracking. I am expecting some serious competition from the newcomers. This is going to be a fun season.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pet health care taken seriously

image with courtesy of KU
Copenhagen University recently opened a brand new academic animal hospital with a special department for pets. There was a whole lot of buzz around the opening, where Her Royal Highness Princess Marie was present at the opening ceremony. "So what?" many people might think.

The new hospital embodies the new way in which we care for our pets. And these times have now seriously come to Denmark. If you would have a pet in need of special treatment, you were on your own. The average vet is more your vaccine-spay-euthanize type of vet. It was difficult to refer to more specialized vets. Let alone find them. Treatment quickly became scattered between multiple vets and clinics, depending on their specialism. It became expensive too, very expensive.

In comes the new hospital, with everything under one roof. It gets even better, as they on average only ask half of the price of what a treatment would cost in other clinics. Making it more affordable for people to treat their pets in need of special care.

The new hospital is, by far, the most complete and well-equipped in the whole country. It has all the latest facilities for diagnosis, treatment and therapy. Think ultrasound, CT- and MRI scanners, water walkers, physiotherapy facilities, acupuncture. And the list goes on. The hospital will service people and their pets directly and also service referrals for special diagnosis and treatment. The extensive staff contains the nation's specialists in treatment of cancer, neurological, heart and skin diseases.

The hospital will be used as a place to educate a new generation of vets. New vets that have the opportunity to apply treatments like acupuncture and other integrative medicine in practice and move beyond the textbook. They will spread these new health care standards throughout the country and into the regular vet practices. Pet health care in Denmark is about to make a leap forward.
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