Dog trains man

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hovawarts and Temperament


Each breed has a "desired" mental profile, which is closely tied to the job the dog originally was bred to perform.
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Friday, February 3, 2012

The Fearful Dog Therapist Strikes Again

Do you notice the little figure in the middle of the photo? It is Kenzo on the beach we visited in Holland. He is looking at a path that leads down from the sand dunes onto the beach. From this path his pal Joska the Viszla - and my dad - usually appear.

But they were late for the beach that day. Kenzo decided to sit down in front of the path and waited, in his best imitation of HachikĊ. He sat down for 10 minutes, letting other dogs pass by, until they arrived.

They have not always been that happy to see each other. Joska is very competitive towards other males, but fearful of them at the same time. It is like his testosterone is pushing him to act in a way he doesn't feel confident about. When Joska and Kenzo first met two years ago, Joska was not amused and very nervous. He only allowed Kenzo to showcase a full display of every calming signal in the book.

Somehow, during some of those meetings in the past, Kenzo discovered Joska's soft spot. Joska and my dad love to play fetch above anything else. Even though Kenzo has a game of fetch low on his fav list, body-checking is still his uncontested number one, he recognized fetch as the key to forge a closer relationship with those two. And decided to favor the game's company over the game type.

At first Kenzo was calm. Trying to appear not interested, as not to annoy Joska. Nowadays he is a fully accepted member of the fetch team. It took Kenzo more than a year in the smallest steps possible to get there. Desensitization carried out in perfection.

To give you an idea of how they play today, in their own version of fetch, watch this short video:


Did you notice the mutual play bows - even my dad - and how they play with two balls in the game?

Watching the three of them greet when they reunite after a long period of living apart in different countries and see how they engage in their own private game is a joy. For Joska it is very special that he can bond with another male dog.

Kenzo does try to introduce the body-check into the game and he made a fine demo once. As soon as Joska was on his feet again he decided to avoid further demos, and give this new play concept some further thought.

Like before, Kenzo never ceases to amaze me how he can make any dog feel good. Even if it takes him more than a year to achieve it. But a year is a small prize to pay for obtaining a real friend, as I realized when I saw him sitting on the beach, waiting for his new BFF.

***

Related post: The Small Fearful Dog Therapist
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hovawart on the Job


Viva defending the company colors
Taking your dog with you to the office can be a lot of fun. Kenzo and Viva join me regularly. We all refer to them as the "Complaint Department".

Now they never read their job description, and a Hovawart will make a guarding job out of anything. Which makes it a little bit more challenging in our case.

Viva is the easiest. She loves people and showers the whole office with kisses. Not everybody in the office appreciates that, but it is hard to stop her when she is in love-mode. Viva needs me to be in eye sight due to her separation anxiety though, making sanitary stops quite a challenge.

Kenzo should have been even easier. He is raised as The Ultimate Office Dog: after all, he grew up in an office. We started our business at the same time we got Kenzo as a puppy. As with most businesses, we started in the garage. And when we were hiring, we couldn't pay a lot more than the wages. We cleared the 1st floor of our house and arranged it as an office space. People were walking in and out. The front door and the door bell were active all day long.

Kenzo was growing up in the middle of all the activity and I guessed myself lucky with some free and necessary socialization. He moved between the ground- and 1st floor as he pleased, and had a lot of fun with his self-appointed role as the doormen. Already that time he was suspicious of new faces, and he needed some hours to decide if my call that it was alright was indeed accurate. You cannot deny those Hovawart guarding genes, especially in a Hovawart male.

It could have ended here would I not have made some mistakes. I took Kenzo with me to basic "Schutzhund" training, just to see if it would be something he would like. He didn't, but he learned enough to pick up some skills he could use. Showing disinterest in training class to "arrest" (barking in front of a person) someone he "knew", didn't mean he didn't learn.

He just applied it in situations he himself deemed necessary. Which sometimes lead to hysterical situations, maybe you can remember his latest drugs bust - revealed in the comments section. Again a typical Hovawart, thinking independently and making his own decisions.

Viva joining the family has changed Kenzo in many ways. Being the man in the house, not neutered, and having "his" girl Viva, made him a lot more ambitious as well. I noticed it all too late, making it more difficult now to get him off the podium he created.

We all got a shock - after we moved to a real office - when a visitor came in and Kenzo decided it was time for his first office arrest. We straightened it out quickly and Kenzo and the visitor quickly became BFF, but I remembered looking in his eyes, this has been a great reinforcer for him. He gloated.

The worst I could do is to not take him to the office anymore. Socializing never stops, especially with a Hovawart. We keep some precautions and Kenzo is on leash all the time. When somebody he doesn't know comes up to me I have to be vigilant and step forward myself. Relieving him of taking a decision on what to do. He is constantly aware, and so should I. This is enough to prevent any "unpleasant" situations from happening.

We all had a laugh last time, when Kenzo decided to take a good nap and stop looking at the door closing and opening all the time. He lost seeing the point I guess, as he knew all those people coming in and out anyway. Yet there was a new person coming in without speaking - he would have picked up a new voice - and sat down in a waiting area.

I thought Kenzo knew - he always knows - and took him with me to go for a walk. Still half a sleep he looked at the person while we passed by but still nothing. I said hello, and as soon as the person responded, we all could see the confusion on Kenzo's face, he missed that one! Even his bark sounded disappointed. To make it worse I rewarded him, now he really was confused.

This post is for all my awesome co-workers. A big thank you for putting up with us!
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Look at That, Not at Me

No time to look at you, I am looking at that
Dogs learn from each other and copy behaviors of each other.

For Viva I hoped she could benefit from Kenzo, observing how he interacted with other dogs, and how he handles situations that would otherwise impose fear on her.

The exact opposite happened. Viva is making good progress – thanks to BAT (Behavioral Adjustment Training) – but Kenzo is going in the opposite direction. They are copying alright. But it is Kenzo that is doing the copying, not Viva.

Looking back, Kenzo’s change in behavior already started to develop ever since our very first encounter with an off-leash dog together with Viva. Viva snared at her, and the other dog snared back. Kenzo stepped in between the two ladies before it could escalate any further. He did not snare or growled, just moved in between them while making himself as large as possible. The other dog left. I thought it was just Kenzo being his diplomatic self, like he has done so many times before.

This scenario repeated itself with other dogs. And then one day Kenzo decided to act in a preventive way, and moved in between before the other dog could reach Viva at all. And in small increments, he became a little more persuasive as well. Without me noticing it - I was glad for the help while in the background trying to somehow keep Viva from going berserk -, he was learning a lesson I did not want him to learn. Aggression can pay off.

In the mean time Viva became a lot more relaxed due to the progress we made with her BAT training. She became so much more relaxed that I could start doing some “Look At Me” with her on our walks. When another dog approaches, I can use it to have her focus on me. She can still respond to a “Look at Me” only meters away from another dog.

Kenzo gave “Look at Me” a different meaning. For him it was a signal another dog was approaching – which in itself was correct - and he made himself ready to scare them off for Viva. Instead of looking at me, he would scout the surroundings for any dogs and locked in on them as a guided missile system. No matter how much I tried training it with Kenzo separately, on a walk together with Viva, Kenzo mistook it for a warning that danger is approaching.

Now I found myself in a situation where Viva was improving, but Kenzo was clearly in a downward spiral. Not something I would have expected, to say the least. And I needed to fix it fast.

I discussed it a lot with my Twitter pals, and while I chatted about it with @kimhalligan1 and @positivelydog, I got some great advice. According to @positivelydog  Kenzo was an info-seeking dog and with them “Look at That” (LAT) works better. That meant I actually had to reward him for looking at the other dog, instead of trying to have him to look at me. She sent me this LAT video from Leslie McDevitt – author of “Control Unleashed” - and off we went to try it out.

It was easy to train, as I can reward Kenzo for what is natural for him. When we are on a walk these days, we are just asking for a “Look...”. Viva looks at me, and is rewarded. Kenzo scouts the horizon, finds the dog, I praise and he looks at me for a reward. Jackpot!

It is such a small thing when you think of it, but it makes a huge difference. Having regained focus of both Kenzo & Viva once more we can move forward again as a team. The negative downward spiral Kenzo was in has been stopped. 
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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Grooming a Lioness

Before - After
We started treating Viva for her Cushing's disease more than half a year ago, and soon we were confronted with a harmless side effect.

Viva's hair growth was exploding. Cushing's had been suppressing her natural hair growth so far. And now it was rapidly returning to it's normal state.

In Viva's case, that meant a lot of hair. She quickly developed a "Lion collar", any Hovawart male would have been jealous of. It couldn't be comfortable for her having that much fur. And it wasn't very lady-like.

When I read on Pamela's blog how Honey grew "Muppet feet" and how Pamela executed some do-it-yourself grooming with great results, I went to arms. Viva needed some wellness.

Thankfully I started on the area below the chest, a little out of sight. My few existing grooming skills, if any, seemed to have gone with the wind. I had to give that up and I frantically started to search for an alternative, while Viva's "Muppet feet" where developing into "Muppet flippers".

Armed with a list of test questions on how to groom a reactive dog, I called around to local groomers but was left empty-handed. Nobody seemed to be able to refer us. Not in the dog training club, not the vet. Finally, we got a tip from Viva's water-walker therapist. She gave me the contact details of a groomer that she knew could handle reactive dogs. When I called for an appointment, we got a time two months away.

When the day finally came I told all there was to know about Viva and her reactiveness to our newly appointed grooming-lady, Jannie. She nodded politely through my whole monologue, and reached for the leash to take Viva in. I didn't expect her to do that, as she was physically absolutely no match for Viva and assumed she would need my help getting Viva crated in the bathing area in the back. But Jannie, nodding politely again, said it will be alright and off she went with 90lbs of highly-explosive Hovawart.

The longest 3 hours in my life started. I think I phoned Jannie at least twice. "yes, everything is alright", and "no, Viva is not ready yet".

When I could finally pick Viva up, I rushed into the shop. One groomer was busy with a Corgi mix and Jannie was grooming a Poodle on her table. When I started to approach Jannie and said hello, I noticed a blondish shadow was rising from below the grooming table the Poodle was standing on.

It was Viva, and she was off-leash. I panicked, expecting Viva to lash out to the Poodle. I reached for her, in what felt like being in one of those movies where you see the hero flying through the room in slow-motion while shouting "noooooo...", equally in slow-motion. She was too far away for me to reach. The only thing I could do was to hold my breath in a feeling of helplessness and accept the laws of gravity.

But the Lioness didn't roar. Viva rushed passed both dogs and made a whole spectacle out of greeting me, and the remaining dogs in the shop happily joined in for the concert. Viva had been taking a nap at Jannie's feet while she continued grooming other dogs. My jaw-bone must have reached the floor on the very moment I realized that.

I was so baffled and relieved, I was not capable of having any kind of intelligent conversation about it. Jannie did not give a lot of detail either that could explain Viva's exemplary behavior: "She was nice". Most important, Viva was B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L as well. Her fur was soft from the bath and her trimmed coat had the highest cuddle factor. The Lion's collar was gone as well.

Here are some pictures of Viva new style, and Kenzo seems to approve it too:

Nice trim Viva !
Kenzo takes a sniff on arrival at home

It's OK, Kenzo sends a look of approval :)
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Guarding Dog In Action: Hovawart Intruder Alert

1. "Who's that?". Here Viva and Kenzo notice a person at the end of the drive way and start to focus. Viva is on the left. Kenzo on the right.


2. "That's far enough". The person is approaching. Very clear body language of the lips in this one.


3. "Alert!". The person moved over the threshold. Kenzo sounds the alert.


The Hovawart is a guarding dog. They are wired to act suspicious towards anything new and unfamiliar that approaches their domain. If I would have opened the door and greet the person while telling them it is alright, Viva would cover the person in kisses right away. Kenzo would still be suspicious though. He will accept the situation, but will not loose the person out of his sight. First after a while or with a second meet, he will be able to relax more.

Anything the person would do during their first meeting to approach him, he would reject with a loud bark. How differently Kenzo behaves when we our out. Just yesterday in training class a person he didn't know came up to him, bend over (!), gave him a hug, and looked right into his eyes. Kenzo is maybe not thrilled when that happens, but he allows it.

I took these pictures when I caught Kenzo and Viva doing what a guarding dog does, and posted them on Facebook. They were so popular I thought you would like it if we shared them on our blog as well.
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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.
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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Viva's long road to rehabilitation: reactive behavior

that is close enough, please!
When we adopted Viva, the local shelter warned us for her aggressive behavior. As we soon were to find out, she would lung and growl at any dog in sight.

How it was possible her first meeting with Kenzo went well remained a mystery for us in a long time. But more about that later in this story.

As you might remember, Behavioral Adjustment Training (BAT) was brought to our attention by dog trainer Irith Bloom and blogger/author Edie Jarolim and we started making some progress. So where do we stand now?

I'm cool when you are cool

Training different BAT setups enhanced Viva's vocabulary of calming signals. She also feels confident enough to use them in a lot of situations. We can pass any other calm dog on a distance of around 5 meters (15 feet) and her normal response would be to look away and ignore the other dog. She has no wish to come up and greet. But that is also not necessary. Just that she chooses to tackle the situation with these calming signals instead of agression, is wonderful.

One of the good things with BAT in Viva's case was that it took the edge off of things. Which allows us to use other techniques like counter conditioning and desensitizing - see Debbie Jacob's explanation of this training jargon. Something that had no effect on Viva at all before BAT.

Some of the calm and well-socialized dogs she has gotten to know in the neighborhood are allowed to come and greet. In Viva's world that means the exchange of a sniff. That will do for Viva. Thereafter it is all turning away and ignoring. Again a good display of Viva using her newly adopted social skills.

Unusual setups

We still have a lot of progress to make trying to approach a more "excited" dog. From a distance Viva will try some lip licking as calming signals, but she still will not feel comfortable to approach closer than a distance of 10 meters (30 feet). Although she will not lung or bark at them anymore if we come closer, she is clearly outside her comfort-zone. I always make sure never to go over her threshold, praise her for the lip licking, and turn around.

To help Viva further we found a great BAT setup with Kenzo's friend the Yorkshire terrier "watchdog". Because he knows me from all the walks me and Kenzo did past his property, he barks excited, and runs up to the fence, ready to meet us and receive his treats. I watch this with Viva on a safe distance and we have made it into our 5 meter barrier where we even were able to do "look at me". I throw some treats at the Yorkie too.

Play bow

Our biggest concern are off-leash dogs. We have become quite savvy in avoiding other dogs, also when they are off-leash. But unevitably some come up and meet. The good thing is that she doesn't lung at them anymore head-on. When the other dog ignores her after the sniff she allows them to leave in the best of health.

Amazingly, the best the other dog could do is to make a play-bow. That calms her down tremendously and she will fully accept the dog. I had to rub my eyes the first couple of times that happened. She will do some tail wags and grins to the other dog. Suddenly we realized, it was also the key Kenzo used in their first meeting together, and explained why she accepted him from day one. Just luck? or another display of Kenzo outsmarting me once again on the social dog front?

Too much

Anything else than ignoring after the sniff or play-bows clearly sends her in distress and she will start focusing on trying to convince the other dog to leave. She will take a more confrontational stand, and will snap them in the neck or back if they keep on coming back. Those meetings send her stress levels sky-rocketing. She is clearly very unhappy the rest of the day, and can start with a heavy panting that goes on for hours, like some kind of constant state of hyperventilation. After such an encounter we usually take it calm for the next couple of days. Make some short walks and ensure there is not even another dog in sight.

Our biggest challenge is of course other reactive or aggressive dogs. I think I am now able to spot them from a great distance and the tactic is simple: get the hell out of Dodge! We are absolutely not ready for a meeting, on any distance, with one of her equals.

***

"Viva's long road to rehabilitation" is a series of updates how Viva is doing almost one year after her adoption:
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

The fearful dog owner

this new policy doesn't seem to work
Despite Kenzo's excellent reputation with small fearful dogs, he does not have that same therapeutic effect on some fearful dog owners.

There is one person and his dog, we call them "Big and Little Kurt", and both are terrified of Kenzo. Big Kurt was already afraid of Kenzo before he got Little Kurt. He send killer looks our way when we met on a walk. Polite greetings were not returned. I never thought that to be a problem, as not all people like dogs and even more people do not like big dogs like Hovawarts. So I just made sure to be polite and didn't give Kenzo the opportunity to greet him.

To my surprise Big Kurt was a dog person after all. I met him on a walk where he just got "Little Kurt". The cutest puppy, a terrier mix. With Kenzo on leash and approaching with a smile to break the ice, Big Kurt was not happy at all to see us. Big Kurt took Little Kurt up in his arms and walked right passed us with the usual killer look. He repeated this a couple of times, I tried to stop for a conversation, but Big Kurt would just mumble something in response and continued on his path, with Little Kurt in his arms.

What if...

I started avoiding them because this couldn't end well. What would Little Kurt think of us? We must be something horrible when my dad doesn't let me meet them? When Little Kurt grew up to adolescence the local dog drums already talked about him as not very well socialized. Especially with larger dogs. This didn't surprise me, but what really did surprise me was that Big Kurt now had decided to always walk Little Kurt off-leash.

Our first meeting with Little Kurt off-leash was a disaster. I don't blame him, he was setup to fail. We were on a narrow path and approaching the next corner when Little Kurt appeared. I made a quick turn with Kenzo. Also Big Kurt appeared around the corner. But he didn't put Little Kurt on a leash. I was stunned he continued walking towards us with Little Kurt ahead of him. After a few more moments Little Kurt decided to close the remaining gap and launched at Kenzo. Barking, hysterical, snapping at his face and legs.

Normally my reaction is to drop the leash, but my instinct didn't let me do that in this case. Kenzo could break Little Kurt in half with one bite. Using the leash to keep Kenzo's head away from Little Kurt I thereby sealed their faith forever as mortal enemies. And in addition it was the start of Kenzo's uncomfortable relationship with the leash. I should have dropped the leash and let Kenzo defuse the situation, but Little Kurt's fierceness made me choose otherwise.

Big Kurt was chasing Little Kurt in a circle around us. And finally stopped the spectacle by kicking Little Kurt so hard the little fellow squealed in pain while he was launched in the air and fell down a couple of feet away. Now I have had it with Big Kurt and to put it short we finally had our first conversation. Just not the intelligent kind.

Locked in battle

We still regularly meet, I always make a turn and recall Kenzo when he is off-leash. Big Kurt never makes any attempt trying to avoid us and keeps on coming head-on with Little Kurt off-leash. I don't know what he is thinking, but he is not helping. Kenzo is bracing himself for an incoming attack, he has no calming signals for Little Kurt as he would have for other small fearful dogs. Neither does Big Kurt seem to pick that up.

I am so worried. This will end wrong. We are heading towards the next confrontation. Even worse, I also had Viva with me on some of the walks where we meet, and she will show no mercy. Little Kurt doesn't stand a chance and I don't want him to get hurt. Neither do I want Kenzo and Viva to end in dog fight with all the consequences for their behavior towards other dogs. When something would happen to Little Kurt all fingers will point at us, fed by prejudice around larger dogs and Hovawarts in particular. With the current razzia-like situation in Denmark against dog bites and trigger happy authorities I worry for Kenzo and Viva's safety too.

What can I do? Nobody seems to know where the Kurt's live. As it turns out, nobody actually talks with them that could pass the word. I started to make small walks by myself trying to find both Kurt's and have a talk. At least we should be able to establish some common rules, like stop coming towards us and always put Little Kurt on leash as soon as they see us coming. So far I have not met them yet. It is such a shame all of this happened, Kenzo would have been an excellent therapist for both Kurt's.

I hope some owners of smaller dogs read this that are afraid of larger dogs. I understand how you must feel meeting larger dogs that can possibly harm your dog. Please leave a comment if you read this and tell me what we, as larger dog owners, can do to help Big and Little Kurt.
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Thursday, January 6, 2011

He came, he saw ... and did not whisper

The Dog Whisperer supporting the message against shock- and prong collars. How did that came about ?

Cesar Milan came to Denmark today, invited by the Danish national television. During the whole week up to the show the TV station couldn't keep a lit on their excitement about having this celebrity on their show. Commercials and teasers reminded us daily about this upcoming event, inviting people to take their dog and come meet the "Dog Whisperer". And not just any dog, dogs with issues please.

But something changed during the week. A lot of people wrote to the TV station expressing their concerns. Not only conveying their second thoughts about the use of harsh methods like yours truly, but also about Cesar's earlier shows on National Geographic where shock collars, prong collars, etc. where used. As it happens, these collars are illegal in Denmark.

The TV channel did it's research with a legal department working overtime, and changed the show at the last moment. No "Dog Whisperer magic" was shown and the whole thing was cut down into a 8 minute clip: After addressing the many concerns the station had received during the week, Cesar was interviewed about the use of shock- and prong collars. The host closed the interview by shortly stating - clearly directed to the viewers - that these type of collars are illegal in Denmark. Only one dog was invited in to meet Cesar for leash pulling issues. Cesar's session with the dog was not aired and the host only commented that "during the session we did not witness the use of harsh or illegal methods." Cesar's fans must have been really disappointed.

No promotion of "dominance" and "pack leader" methods, but focus on the harm done by shock- and prong collars. What a wonderful outcome.



Update January 7:
You can find a video of the clip here: "Doglovers angry on "Good evening Denmark". Cesar is interviewed in English. Unfortunately the initial introduction and close is in Danish and not subtitled.

Update January 8:
The discussion still continues in Denmark. Most major newspapers wrote about the story and the sentiment is the same. One newspaper, B.T., made a clip with their interview of Cesar. Note how the press officer in the end breaks off the interview: Accused of animal abuse. The Danish Kennel Club criticized Cesar's training methods "officialy" in one of their press release's on their website.
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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hovawart weather

Winter came early this year. It started snowing last week and we already have a nice white cover of 12 inches (30 cms) deep. As soon as the first snow is falling, Kenzo and Viva are excited like little children to come out and play. Hovawarts are playful by nature, and snow is the ultimate on their fun scale.


Their thick coat makes them oblivious of the sharp cold, and they seem to enjoy a temperature of 23F (-5C) as if it is wearing-your-shorts-for-the-first-time-weather. How different in the summer. Where temperatures above 77F (25C) sends them into some kind of summer hibernation. The less you move, the better, is their motto then.
All the excitement makes them forget how to heel and to go without pulling the leash. I indulge them and set up my own pace instead. People are laughing at us when they see us pass by. Two Hovawarts plowing through the snow dragging me along. But the fun outweighs the embarrassment by far.

Kenzo and Viva also seem to think that the snow is especially laid down by the squirrel and rodent God himself, and continuously dive into the snow when they pick up a scent. Could they be hiding here? Or here!
During winter they salt the roads a lot in Denmark, which is not good for their paws. Therefore all our walks in the winter are out in forests and the country side, adding to the fun.

Would the snow last until March like last year? Kenzo and Viva definitely hope so.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

The small fearful dog therapist

Kenzo doesn't cease to amaze me when we encounter small fearful dogs. He likes to interact with them in what seems to be an attempt to comfort and protect them.

When we were out with our tracking class the other day on one of our tracking locations, Kenzo did it again. Along this particular tracking location, there is a small fenced-in area where dogs are allowed off leash. After tracking we go there to let the dogs play a little. After a little while, a couple came in with a small dachshund. The dachshund definitely thought that it was not a good idea to walk in an area with 9 large dogs and protested. I usually leave when I see other people approach as I am weary of meetings in dog parks, but knowing Kenzo's reputation with smaller dogs I decided to stay.

Capable of empathy?

The owners walked towards us dragging the dachshund behind them on a leash in obvious discomfort. Kenzo positioned himself between the group and the dachshund. Cautiously, in a calm and relaxed way, he moved up to the dachshund. Not imposing a greet, but inviting nonetheless. As the dachshund was sizing Kenzo up, she finally became relaxed enough to take a little sniff up in the air. And a few moments later both her and Kenzo exchanged a little sniff. After that Kenzo kept a small distance, but remained all the time between the dachshund and the group.

I was just awed. What did I just witnessed? That Kenzo is nice with smaller fearful dogs I know. But what puzzles me is that none of the other dogs approached. They probably all have seen that this was a fearful dog, but I would have expect them to join after Kenzo's greet. But somehow they didn't. Maybe he didn't let them? Could Kenzo be able of empathy? Some research show dogs can indeed be capable of empathy. My twitter pal @dancingdogblog, an animal welfare advocate and author of the Dancing Dog Blog, mentioned she has experienced this behavior before with puppy mill dogs. Where dogs would gather around a fearful individual, trying to protect, and comfort the fearful dog.

The therapist

One of our dog trainers picked up on this special capability of Kenzo already in his adolescence. She had one small dog in her class that was fearful of larger dogs. It had been attacked by a larger dog and sustained severe injuries. He allowed no larger dog to approach him.

When she noticed to what lengths Kenzo sometimes went to comfort a small dog when greeting, even laying down to make himself smaller and not a threat, she asked us if we would like to help her with the fearful dog. We did some setups in which we let them meet, first on a distance, and closer by when the little dog showed interest. After a couple of sessions, they were able to meet and the little fellow was not afraid of Kenzo anymore. I hope it helped him in getting over his fear.

What could have shaped this?

Kenzo's special relationship with smaller dogs already started very young.

During puppy hood we let him meet small dogs just like we would with any other dog. Already as a pup he was larger then most small breeds, and we made sure he didn't attempt to bully them. When I try to rewind the movie of his puppy hood and adolescence to find a clue what could have influenced him with smaller dogs, I cannot come up with anything out of the ordinary except one thing.

On our evening walk we once walked by a garden surrounded by a thick, high hedge. Behind the hedge a fierce watch dog was ready to protect his property and we didn't noticed him until we were only a couple of feet away. When the dog started to bark we got a scare at first, surprised by the bark that suddenly was coming from close by. My second reaction was one of relief and made me laugh. Judging the volume this wasn't your typical watch dog. When we continued along the hedge, the watch dog followed, barking on the other side. I could see there was a fence at the corner of the garden. As I was curious what kind of dog it was I took a quick peek in the garden through the fence and looked into the face of one very angry Yorkshire terrier. There is something about these brave small creatures that touches me, and I threw in a treat and called him "good boy!". Also Kenzo got a treat so he wouldn't be jealous.

When we went on our evening walk the next day, I thought it would be fun to see if the yorkie would still be there and we took the same route again. And he was there again. From then on, we made it a tradition to walk by our new buddy. The whole scenario would repeat itself. And both the yorkie and Kenzo got a treat when we reached the fence at the corner. After a while his bark and anxiety changed into a greet, and he ran to the fence to meet us, tail wagging and ready for his treat.

At the time I thought it just was a fun thing to do, but could Kenzo have learned something from this. Could this explain his special relationship with small fearful dogs? Could he have understood that they are not to fear and behind all the barking there could be a new friend? I think it did.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Are you prepared for a dog fight?

Remember your very first pup and the plans you had for both of you? Your pup will  have outstanding manners. Nice to people and other dogs. Come when you call. No problems whatsoever, just enjoying doggy life. It is a nice dream isn't it.

Somewhere down the road we find out that even if we have the nicest and most obedient of pups, we still need two to tango. Not everybody we meet is as nice and well-behaved as we would like them to be. Even dogs that seem to have great personalities, might just not get along. Like people.

Owning a dog means you have to be prepared for a dog fight. Unfortunately but inevitable. Even if your pup is not reactive, you will meet one that is.

You will be too late

Don't fool yourself you are able to distinguish a dog fight from a skirmish. Dogs just read each other quicker, and they decide quicker. You don't have a chance. When you are still contemplating about if what you are seeing is a dog fight or an impolite exchange of macho dog talk, things are already enfolding. Acting on a fight which is not is just as dangerous. Shouting and intervening will only add the stress that can trigger an actual fight.

Avoid

Ninety percent of the solution is to avoid. Tune in to the body language of the approaching dog and your own dog beforehand. Is your dog avoiding the dog that is coming, or showing stiffness? Be alert. With stiffness, walk in the other direction immediately. When your pup starts to move in a different direction and sniffing casually, follow them and don't force them to meet or walk by the other dog. Support them in their actions and walk past in a circle. Handlers of search-and-rescue dogs have a great principle to live by: "Trust your dog". This is one of those times. Giving your dog this trust will strengthen your teamwork and your dog's confidence.

If possible, avoid places where dogs can be off-leash, like dog parks, when you don't know all the other dogs and dog owners. Only have an off-leash walk or dog park visit with people and dogs you know and can trust.

Approaching dog

When you are good at avoiding you could still walk into an off-leash dog or a stray that might turn aggressive. That's why you should always carry a citronella spray with you. Or at least a water-bottle, even better pepper-spray when that is legal in your state/country. When you are unsure about the dog's intentions try shouting to make him think twice about coming any closer. Use the spray if that doesn't help. Don't wait until it is too late. Once there is a fight, the spray will have little effect. Think about before hand on what exact distance you would like to use both, this will make you act quicker in the situation itself, when there is hardly time to think. When nothing helps to stop the dog from approaching drop the leash of your dog. This might seem strange, but dropping the leash removes tension from your dog and might enable them to send the correct message to the unwanted visitor. On her blog, Laurie Luck tells how it helped her to avoid a dog fight.

In a fight

I am sure instinct will take over now, despite of what I will write. But please stay with me on this one. When you are in a fight, drop the leash of your dog to give him a better chance to defend  himself if you didn't already.

The last thing you should do is trying to step in and grab either dog by its collar, spark or kick. The chances for a dog bite are high and you can get severely injured. If the other owner is around you should both try to grab a dog by its hind legs or tail and trying to pull them away from each other. Usually there is no time to explain, just start pulling on their dog so they get the picture. Although this is also with risk, and can also provoke a bite. On her blog, Karen Friesecke wrote some other options down that might also work.

Everybody is different, and I do respect when you are that kind of fearless person that in a split-second jumps in the middle of a fight to protect your dog. But beware the consequences. My dad is such a person, and he has been in a dog-fight three times during the last year in which he got bitten each time. The last time it was that bad that they had to do surgery on his hand twice, and we feared he would loose the function of his hand. Do not underestimate the force of a dog bite. And when you get severely injured, what does that mean for the life of your dog?

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Welcome to the world of scent

One of the things that have always fascinated me is a dog's scenting capabilities. When a search-and-rescue party is on the news, or a drug smuggler is arrested at the airport by a K9 unit, I find myself wanting to know more about the dogs involved and how they did it. Next to the actual story itself.


It takes just a sniff

Everything a dog does has to do with scent. They live in a world of scent. Take a dog walk. You have probably noticed you can pass by another dog when it is out of sight and going downwind. But if you were going upwind it is like your dog's nose from one moment to the other is catched by a virtual fish hook. They don't see the world, they smell it.

What an interesting world that must be. I could go to my favorite restaurant, sniff a little, and know which of my friends or foes have been there before me. And from the people I have not met before, I quickly find out their age, gender, and general state of health.

Trust your dog

It is the dog that can step into that world of scent, we are merely outsiders and have no clue on what they "see". That's why handlers of search-and-rescue dogs always say "Trust your dog". But thankfully our dogs love to tell us in their own language what they are scenting so we can engage in their world. With a little imagination we can paint a picture of what they are really experiencing in daily life. Make a habit out of observing your dog on your daily walk and wonder why they stop at certain places. Let them to go off the path and indulge them. They don't have to "heel" all the time. Let them be dogs and prepare to be awed.

It is difficult to imagine how it would feel if we could distinguish as many scents like a dog. On top of that it depends on wind directions, humidity, going up- or downhill, and a lot more factors. When you have already been going to nose work classes or have done some first tracking with your dog you are probably wondering about what you have been observing and which factors played a role in your last "search".

Scent and the scenting dog

Fortunately, there is an excellent book about scent, "Scent and the scenting dog" by William G. Syrotuck. If you want to know more about the world of scent this is definitely the book to read. It is obligatory material on police K9 training schools. It is not so much a training manual, but more a thorough description of what scent is all about, and what your dog can do with it. After you have read this book, even a routine dog walk will never be the same. Welcome to the world of scent !

I hope this book can bring you closer to your dog and maybe also inspires to engage in nose work. What could be better then to let your dog explore his own "dogginess"? It is one of the most rewarding activities you can do together. To quote Randy Hare: "Anything a dog can learn on his own is more effective and better understood than what humans can force on the dog".

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Viva into BAT

We were warned by the local shelter about Viva. She doesn't "like" other dogs. Reason unknown. We let Viva meet Kenzo, our other Hovawart, under supervision of a dog trainer of the shelter. This turned out very well, so how bad could it be?

Viva watching dogs in distance on beach

During the first time we spent together with Viva, she told me which dogs she didn't like. Any dog that is not immediately sending her calming or playing signals, is met with reactive behavior. She did well with dogs that had great social skills, explaining why she accepted Kenzo. We were able to make some more friends that way. But overall she launched at them, growling and showing her bare teeth.

Way over my head

I must admit this was going way over my dog skills. I started getting advice and read a lot of blogs and books what to do in such a case. This quickly got us started with a counter conditioning and desensitizing approach. Exposing Viva to low levels of fear (other dogs far, far away) and giving her treats, learning her a positive association: dog means treat.

Good timing is of the essence her. Maybe it was just too difficult for me, but I was only allowed to do this on very long distances to other dogs. Over the period of at least two months we couldn't come an inch closer. The last thing that had Viva's interest when a dog appeared at the horizon, was a treat. She could only stand stiff, stare at the dog, and when it came over the threshold, she launched. We had to find another approach.

BAT to the rescue

I did hear about Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) before but it never became clear to me what it entailed, until Edie Jarolim started a series about BAT on her blog Will my dog hate me? together with Irith Bloom, a BAT expert and owner of The Sophisticated Dog, a pet training company.

What would Viva really want when she sees another dog but still well within her comfort zone? A treat? Or walk away? She would definitely want to walk away. BAT addresses this and let the reward be what the dog wants in the first place. Doing BAT in Viva's case would mean as soon as I see her displaying calming signals, the reward is to walk away, not a treat.

Our first BAT setup

Inspired by the notion that in theory this could work for Viva we did a BAT training setup the next week, while we were on vacation. Just along our summer rental, only a few feet away, there was a path that lead to a small center inside the park/resort. A lot of people and dogs came by on this path. Every time a dog emerged, I marked it, took Viva inside, and gave her a treat. We closed some curtains so she could not see the dogs at all anymore. I repeated this for two days. On day two she was clearly more relaxed and even lied down (although her facial expression was still slightly tensed when looking at the path, see photo below). From the second day I even noticed her making some lip licking calming signals when she saw a dog approaching on the path.


New setup needed

We repeated this training after we came home in different types of setups. And I was starting to see more stable behavior of Viva with calming signals. Along the road she started to change her behavior again. With some dogs approaching, she started to lay down, and didn't want to move away but meet the other dog! I had to find a new setup now, as I couldn't let her drag me towards the dog on a tight leash. But me pulling the leash trying to come away could also give her a backlash.

The new setup we choose was doing BAT on the beach. Here I would have ample opportunity to see other dogs coming. We could retreat behind a beachclub if necessary. And I put Viva on a long line instead of a normal leash. That way I prevent leash pulling but could control her if she would want to get to close. We did our BAT training. When she was lying down, I let her have her way and come closer to the other dog. She did great. Never went all the way to greet, but moved up to a distance of around 30-40 meters. When she stopped I made a recall and she came back, happy and excited. I never had to grab the long line. I played with her and praised her, getting her focus away of the other dog. Which was then allowed to pass. On a safe distance.

BAT continues

Viva is clearly improving her social skills. My guess is it will still be some time before we can relax on our walks, and I am speculating on what our next step in BAT will be. I guess Viva will show me. Thats also so great about BAT, you just have to do what your dog would really want at the moment, basically. Also other people in our dog training school are interested in BAT hearing Viva's story. It would be great if somebody could join us in making proper BAT setups.

Don't worry ! Kenzo (left) and Viva (right) playing, not fighting

If you think BAT is something for you and your dog, please follow the advice in the links below. With BAT, setup is key, and the above examples of Viva are far from ideal BAT training. It is just what I was able to do with the opportunities at hand. Here are some great resources on BAT and other methods on working with fearful dogs:

Ahisma dog training, by Grisha Stewart, founder of BAT
The Sophisticated Dog
Series on BAT, by Edie Jarolim
Fearful dogs

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Kenzo stopped visiting the dog park

We have never been a fan of the dog park. A dog park in Denmark is a larger park, usually fenced in, where dogs are allowed.

After not visiting the dog park for a long while, I started to pick it up again, but this time for another reason then just let Kenzo meet other dogs.

Study body language

Viva is a reactive dog. To help her, I needed to brush of my knowledge on dog body language and get better in recognizing the signals in other dogs that set her off. I made some visits to the dog park on my own and study dogs and how they react to each other. Next I would try with Kenzo again. As Kenzo is very well socialized, he usually tells me what the other dog is about. So the idea was to double check my observations of the other dogs with Kenzo's behaviour.

Let the games begin

So today, after a long time, I went to the dog park again with Kenzo. We first went to tracking class, so Kenzo had a chance to get rid of most of his excitement. There was a group of around 6 dogs right at the entrance. Kenzo did his thing not coming in right away and sniffing a little bit around on the other side of the fence so the other dogs could get used to him. Then we went in and he could start greeting the other dogs.

Shortly after a man comes in with his dog, walks into the middle of the group, took the leash off, went out of the dog park again, and sat down in his car. Let the games begin? I didn't stay around to see what would happen and moved away from the group with Kenzo. Just a gut feeling. And also the trouble started shortly after. The new dog started growling to one of the other dogs, which had 2 of the other dogs react with an equal growling threat. I don't blame the dog, it maybe was very uncomfortable for him also to be "dumped" in the middle of a group of other dogs. Luckily one of the owners could stop it by yelling high, and others started to get the group dispersed. Looking over my shoulder, the man was still in his car, looking like not to care at all what would happen with his dog, and the other dogs for that matter.

In a dog fight

Walking down the path we quickly met other owners with dogs, and after a while the group had swollen to around 6 dogs again. One was a little insecure and I also noticed Kenzo doing his best display of calming signals he had available for this dog in particular. Two seemed very self-assured and they had to check Kenzo out to see if this big male would behave nicely around their presence. It was a nice group of dogs, no bullies, and all behaving nicely. We walked like in a long line, so the dogs enjoyed running back and forth along that line.

A new dog was coming up ahead of the group, slowly and with stiff body language. Kenzo and some of the other dogs pretended not to notice him and with good reason. You can probably already guess it, he went up to meet the insecure dog. They stopped about one meter of each other and the eyes met, and almost instantly he attacked the insecure dog. Two more dogs followed in the blink of an eye. Owners where jumping in to get their dogs. Kenzo was on his way in, but he came on my recall (yes!). In all that confusion one person was not saying anything and didn't make an effort to stop the fighting. It was the owner of the dog that had chosen to attack. The insecure dog was bitten in the hind leg and whined very loud. Her owner then tried to step in between the dogs. She screamed to the man to get his dog, but he was doing nothing. Then she also got bitten in the arm. And finally, that made him get his dog by the collar. His only comment was that it was her own fault she should have let the dogs find out of it themselves.

What was I thinking

I will spare you the human aftermath. Just want you to know Kenzo and me left the dog park and will never return. My thoughts were with the insecure dog, and that his owner should not have taken him into the dog park. Same story with the owner of the attacking dog, he should also have taken his responsibility as a dog owner. But in god's name, what have I been doing there in the first place. Stupid. I put Kenzo in harms way and that's my own fault. No more dog parks now, final.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A word on Hovawarts and dominance

The Hovawart is labeled as a dominant dog. Let me share Kenzo's story with you to see how dominant they can be. Or not be.

Kenzo, the Alpha wannabee puppy?

The pack leader
When we got him as puppy, now more then 2½ years ago, little did I know about the breed. Trying to be prepared I read some books recommended to me and talked to other Hovawart owners. It was clear to me that this cute little fellow soon will try to challenge my position as the pack-leader. Especially with Hovawarts this was supposed to be the case, as the self-assured dogs they are. So I started from the start with being a pack leader. You know. Move through the door first. Eat before the dog eats. Dog cannot be above (couch, stairs) you. Etc.

See, he wants to dominate
We went to our first dog training class just before the start of his adolescence. The trainers knew and heard about the Hovawart breed and pointed out to me I had to become more of a leader otherwise ... They wanted Kenzo to do what I said he should do, no matter what. Not following a command would first trigger the "No" word in increasing levels of volume, and eventually a leash correction. Well that definitely didn't work. Actually I could see Kenzo's contact now starting to focus away from me. The "breakthrough" came when one of the trainers jumped in to help me and show how to do it. Kenzo didn't move. "See, he wants to dominate" the trainer said. She tried again. Kenzo didn't move. Then she called upon the other trainer "Come and help, we have a real alpha over here". Basically I didn't know what was right or wrong, but based on Kenzo's obvious discomfort, I decided that enough is enough and we called it a day.

You cannot rule a Hovawart
Coming home and thinking things over I remembered some advice I got from our Hovawart breeder which first now started to make sense to me. You cannot rule a Hovawart. I started to follow up on that because why can Kenzo and me work together when training on a daily basis for fun. And not in training class. Fun is the difference here. Kenzo works based on some kind of partnership with a mutual form of respect which we both enjoy. Not on an alpha ruled relationship. The solution was obvious, find a training class with a trainer that works based on these principals. I found out there were a lot of those out there. Kenzo and me are now working happily together without one of us trying to dominate the other. Just because we both think it is fun. I also stopped all those Eat-before-the-dog-eat rules, and it has made absolutely no difference at all.

The pack hierarchy
Another thing that puzzled me was the theory of the hierarchy in the pack. To establish the hierarchy my wife also had to enforce the pack leader rules. I was a little worried, as she is laid back and didn't enforced any of those rules for very long. OK, she doesn't want Kenzo on the couch or in the bed but that's for other reasons. This was kind of worrying me, what if Kenzo didn't see her as pack leader? Since the pack hierarchy theory is something based on Wolfe behaviour with a strict line-of-command, it made me wonder if Kenzo would try to move up the ladder. But he didn't.

Then there are the dogs he played with, came over to visit, and also other family dogs that went with us on family vacations. I couldn't see any sort of hierarchy exist. Sure one dog has resource guarding issues, the other has not. But when thinking of moving through the door opening, they seem to do that in random order. The resource guarding dog was labeled as dominant btw by his owner. Nice excuse not to do anything about it I guess.

So, are Hovawarts dominant?
I was discussing this with another Hovawart owner which had the opinion that Kenzo just not is a dominant dog and his dog is. Happy to have made some kind of point, because in that case we can at least agree that not all Hovawarts are dominant, I also asked him what he did with his Hovie. He did not do any working dog or obedience training other then one obedience class in the start, kept him a lot outside during the day, but did made long dog walks with him. I couldn't convince him but you are probably guessing what I am getting at. The lack of a job just made an unhappy dog, not a dominant one. The other owner needs some kind of harshness to keep his not so happy dog from rebelling.

I still doubt that Hovawarts should be labelled as dominant. They are just working dogs that need a job to be happy. They can get a job by attending tracking, search & rescue, "Schutzhund", etc. training classes. We use the dominant word as an excuse not to give our dogs what they need and covering up issues they might have. But I still doubt because I am neither a professional dog trainer or a behaviorist. You will have to make up your own mind when you own a Hovawart. But what I hope you will do is think twice before labelling your Hovie as dominant, and see if there is not something that he needs which you should provide, or if he has an issue that needs to be solved. The correct diagnosis is half the work.

***
P.S.
Just for the record, the trainers didn't do anything harsh to Kenzo and the other dogs involving real punishment or alpha-rolls. And I learned a lot of them on other areas. I still have a lot to thank them for.

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