Dog trains man

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hovawart on the Hunt

Viva faced with the problem of choice. What would it be? Duck? Or stick? She couldn't make up her mind:

Kenzo - coming in from the right - steals the stick. What was a dilemma before, just became an easy choice. Duck vs. Kenzo-with-Stick is a no-brainer:

The stick is gaining more importance quickly, Viva goes into full pursuit mode:

And we have a winner, Kenzo returns to shore in retreat:

Some decisions are not so difficult after all for a - former? - resource guarder. But hey, those ducks are still there, maybe Viva could have it all?


Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Cat Behind The Dog Blog

This is the picture Kenzo met, when he first came to live with us as a pup. The masters of the house, Pjevs and Jule, were not amused by the sight of this new-comer.

What they lacked in size, they made up for in sheer attitude. Kenzo never knew it, but he lost the battle already before he passed through the door.

The duo dedicated a good deal of their time to give Kenzo some serious training in cat-etiquette. Positively reinforced by the cat-clicker - the possibility of getting your nose scratched - they educated Kenzo with all there is to know, before I could even teach him how to sit.

Before Kenzo - our first dog - we always had cats. Living in apartments in the big city with busy jobs made us reluctant of having a dog. For cats that never was a problem. They could thrive despite our life-style. I can remember every one of them and what made them special. Some passed away too quickly, some were only in foster and passing by. Pjevs - the black-and-white on the left in the picture - lived with us the longest, in the full 16 years of his life.

His mother was a feral cat that lived in the local plant center. The people working there took care of her litter and we took Pjevs home with us. He was then raised by his surrogate mother, Laban, the cat that was already living with us.

Pjevs teaching Kenzo the art of telepathic counter surfing
Pjevs witnessed a lot of changes. He moved with us from Holland to Denmark. He made the switch from appartement living to living in a more rural environment. He welcomed Jule, and later Kenzo. Pjevs literally couldn't hurt a fly. Even in his days living outdoors he never came home with a mouse or a bird. He never went far and we could just call his name and he came running home quickly. More than any other cat we knew, Pjevs always wanted his family close by.

When Pjevs passed away, we were devastated. To our own surprise as well. We loved all our cats equally we thought, but the bond with Pjevs had evolved beyond that. It was the love he gave in return so abundantly, that had given him a special place in our hearts.

I was asked before why I started blogging about dogs, but never did when we had cats. Partly there is a logical explanation to it. To me dogs are complicated, and cats are not. Needing help in how to raise and care for a dog made me reach out through social media. Another reason is, I always regretted never to have expressed how much Pjevs meant to me. And on Pjevs' first anniversary after his passing, I vowed to him I will do better for Kenzo. I started blogging a month later.


This post is answering to the call of Kristine from Rescued Insanity, Cats are dogs too:
"I am asking for submissions of photographs, stories, videos, drawings, letters, haikus, or whatever other creative mediums you can come up with that showcase the importance and value of the cat. I am hoping to collect as many as possible to share in July’s Blog the Change Event. If I get enough, I’ll share them in multiple posts. I’d love to make the celebration of the cat a regular feature. After all cats have endured, I think they deserve it. Don’t you? If you love cats and have something positive to share, please respond in the comments to Cats are dogs too or email Let’s show the world how worthy these beautiful animals are!"

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Open letter to Mette Gjerskov

Balder's Wake-Up Call

Denmark anno 2012. Balder, the 10-year old yellow lab, was executed at gun-point. His crime was trespassing. The shooter goes free, protected by a property law from 1872 that allows the shooting of trespassing pets.

The Balder incident sends Denmark into turmoil and overshadowed all other news for almost a week. When one article sparked a national cry of public outrage, every paper, TV-station, talk-show, etc., started featuring the story of Balder to feed their hungry public. To a point where even journalists who never spelled the word "dog" before, couldn't hide their obvious discomfort having to report on something so far away from what they considered important news.

I am sure the old law will be changed, and shooting a dog for merely trespassing becomes illegal. But there is more to this. I wondered. How can one dog spark such an outrage in a country where so many more dogs are euthanized just because of the breed they belong to, without drawing any attention? Did Denmak become concerned about animal welfare over night?

What Balder and the breed ban have in common, is fear. And how we in our modern societies deal with that fear. Fear sparked a rally behind Balder, as it could have been anybody's dog. But fear for "dangerous" dogs was also the driver behind the breed ban. Fear must work in strange ways, as it seems to make us want to save dogs with our left hand, and execute them with the right.

I decided to write an open letter to Mette Gjerskov, the Danish Minister of Agriculture and Animal Welfare:

Dear Mette Gjerskov,

I write to you in the aftermath of the Balder incident. Of course I am sad and it is wrong what happened to Balder, but that is not why I write this.

Now all the dust from the media around Balder has settled the question remains why we, the public, reacted so strongly about Balder's peril, yet seem not to care about dogs that suffer under the breed ban.

What makes Balder different is that he personified a dream in which there is only room for dogs that fit into a Disneyfied ideal we have crafted ourselves. In that dream a dog can be walked off leash and wouldn't harm a living soul. A humanized form of dog. A dog like Balder. Once a prey-driven carnivore, now the furry family pet that only uses its teeth to display the cutest of smiles. An ideal dog that frees us from our responsibilities as a dog owner.

Balder, as a harmless yellow lab, was an involuntary ambassador of that dream. He sadly became the national wake-up call. When Balder was shot we realized our dogs - as harmless as Balder - could become victims too. It was not safe inside the bubble after all. And that is why we screamed outrage. Not because of our concern for the welfare of all dogs, but because Balder made it personal and the welfare of our dog was threatened.

It was the same fear-based thinking that gave us the breed ban, as it allowed us to label a whole group as "bad". Even when statistics showed these dogs were not dangerous, we acted on stereotypes and emotions. Dogs belonging to the banned breeds are now sacrificed on our altar of fear, so we can live our dream in which our dog is safe. But our dog can never be safe if we don't start to take responsibilities for our actions.

Fear is the result of our own failures and the labels we give others. We have not a clue what it entails to care responsibly for a pet. Dogs do roam if not contained and entertained. Dogs do bite when provoked enough. The false safe-heaven created by our own expectations of how a dog should act and look like was exposed once more by Balder.

What will happen now? How will we use Balder's legacy? You have rallied to change the law. Again Denmark is on a cross-road. If you would only change the law so dogs like Balder can roam free, would that not re-establish the dream that will send us all asleep again until we wake up in fear once more?

Or do you launch an initiative that takes a broader perspective and have a look at what responsible ownership requires? Making Denmark a place where we take our own responsibilities more serious than our neighbor's and drive out fear. Balder leaves us with the opportunity once more, to do what is right.

I wish you a lot of wisdom.

Kind regards,
Leo Scheltinga


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Identifying articles on the track

After a long winter stop, the arrival of spring also announced the start of a new tracking season.

Kenzo was excited to be reuntied with his tracking buddies in tracking class. He tracked, sniffed for marihuana and searched like there was no tomorrow.

Nothing was forgotten or needed rehearsal. We picked up right were we left before winter. After two hours of tracking, I got a very tired and satisfied pup home with me.

After the new start we made last year, armed with all we learned on our nose work summer boot camp, I wanted to set some goals of what we would like to achieve. Kenzo's tracking style is now very good. His style is methodical and nose down, as it should be. He excels at finding the start of a track, is not distracted by turns and corners. If there is something "big" left wishing for, it is how he identifies the articles found on the track.

Kenzo does stop and quickly inspects any article he finds on the track, but now the track has become such a great reinforcer for him, he quickly resumes tracking again. What I would like him to do - like you see the tracking champs do - is to lay down when he finds an article, with the article in between his front paws, while he waits for me to come and pick it up.

Here is a short video on how you can train that:

Easy, right? This is how:
  1. Lay some treats on the article, Kenzo will stop to eat them
  2. Give a "down" command, while laying some new treats on the article
  3. Take away the article while laying some new treats, to keep Kenzo down
The idea is, after enough rehearsal, Kenzo will know the drill and starts to lay down himself for each article he finds. Enough rehearsal is the culprit here, and last year we trained it at least one-hundred times, I called the trainer in despair. She asked how many times we trained, "at least 100 tracks" I answered. "Try 200 tracks" was the reply. "and if that doesn't work, try 300 tracks". "Kenzo needs the time Kenzo needs".

And there is no shortcut. Some in class start training it separate from the track with a clicker. This made things worse because their dog is now identifying all articles by laying down. You only want them to identify by laying down when they are on the track.

We are past the 150 mark now, and I promise to show you a video of Kenzo identifying articles all by himself. Only Kenzo knows when that will be.
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