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!"

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.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Why the Hovawart Must Never Become Popular

The Hovawart is not a popular breed at all. Which really is a blessing in disguise, as popularity is something a purebred dog can't afford.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kenzo Neutered: Did it Help?

When I noticed Kenzo’s additional sniff of Viva’s private parts, I knew it. Viva was soon to come in season again. The first time after Kenzo’s neutering, now almost four months ago.

Would it work out? Or would Kenzo still stop eating and sleeping? Would he whine and cry during the weeks that lay ahead? The vet gave no guarantees, a lot of dogs display no change in behavior after being neutered and it could solve Kenzo’s anxiety. Or it could not.

With Kenzo’s extra sniff four months of worrying and feeling guilt also ended. Almost daily I wondered if we did the right thing. At the end of our wits and desperate because of the ill effect on Kenzo’s health we decided it was the only thing left we could do – with the emphasis on in our case, as spaying Viva is not an option due to her general health condition and neutering is not a decision taken lightly. And with Viva in season again, we would get the long awaited answer.

We anxiously watched how their interactions unfolded and in particular how it affected Kenzo. It went even better than we could have hoped for. It was such a relief. He never whined or cried. He slept fine, and most important, he kept eating the meals as he is used to. True, he was excited. He had not forgotten how to parade like a peacock and did his best to court Viva with every opportunity.

We are in the last week of Viva’s season period now and we drove to Holland yesterday with both dogs in the car. Something that before Kenzo’s neutering would have been virtually impossible. Kenzo would have started to hyperventilate and eat his way through the crate to reach Viva. With only one more week to go I am ready to exhale my biggest sigh of relief ever. And I am so happy for Kenzo.

His behavior towards other dogs hasn’t changed in any way – which was one of my main objections now proofed to be unfounded. He has taken on some more pounds, probably also because he finally is eating well. We can manage that so far with more exercise, as there is no sign he is slowing down.

I wonder why it took Viva four months to come in season. So far she managed to repeat it every two months. Maybe the vet was right that it was a response from her body. As she said Viva’s improving health made her blossom and with that handsome guy around, nature called out “it is now or never”. If that would be the case, Kenzo’s neutering will help Viva as well, as she will move to a more natural cycle, and she stops wearing her fragile body down.

I hate the expression, but have to admit that I truly am in the middle of a “win-win” situation. There, I said it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

There Is a Time to Think and a Time to Act

In the previous installment about Hovawarts and Temperament I mentioned how responsible Hovawart breeders have the temperament of their puppies tested. What did this test reveal about Kenzo? And did the test help us understand Kenzo better?

When we visited Kenzo's breeder for the first time, we met both Kenzo and one more Hovawart puppy, his brother "Izak". At 12 weeks old, they were the litter left-overs. The families they were destined to join had regretted their decision.

While Kenzo's brother continued to interact with us, growling, biting my shoe-laces and jumping up, Kenzo had retreated to the garden after a first greet. There he laid down, leaning on a fence, and enjoyed the view he had over the fields. Still playing with his brother, I asked the breeder which one he would recommend, considering we would become first-time Hovawart owners. He nodded over to Kenzo, "That one", he said, and added, "He is more mellow". Would it be my newbie decision, I would have chosen Izak, but I followed the breeder's advice.

When we took Kenzo home, we also got a copy of his temperament test report. Over time I became fascinated by it, as the test confirmed some of the things we started to observe with Kenzo.


In short, Kenzo missed most of the "desired" behaviors in the test that would qualify him as a working Hovawart. He remained cautious in his contact towards the tester during the contact tests. He was interested in the ball used for the prey drive test, but sniffed it before grabbing it. In the fight drive test he cautiously took hold of the object but quickly released again. Overall, his drive was low in these areas. No need to say, that his brother Izak scored high values.

In the social- and stress tests he did very well. He was an active, calm and balanced participant and used most of the time for the test to engage and showed no signs of stress. In the defense tests Kenzo displayed a high drive, he made no flight attempts neither did he respond with aggression. There was a little defender already present in that small puppy.


We soon experienced, like the test predicted, that Kenzo is a little reserved and craves some encouragement. He needs time to think things over. He remains cautious towards people he doesn't know, even if they would come with his favorite toy. When he gets a new bone or treat, he first takes a short sniff, before he gently takes it. Any new thing we bring in the house, from coffee-machine to doormat, has to be investigated thoroughly.

He chases squirrels but has never hurt one despite ample opportunity. Even when he catches one, he quickly releases. Kenzo doesn't value resources. His favorite toy, or place to sleep, is happily shared with Viva, and before her, with any dog that visited.

In our "Shutzhund" class it also became very obvious. When Kenzo was presented with the "guy with the arm" he grabbed it cautiously and quickly released again. It took a couple of additional sessions for him to understand that this was a game and getting hold of the arm was fun. The day we got a replacement trainer, he didn't bite, as he had to think over this new situation.

In all types of training we did in the past or still do today, like obedience and tracking, Kenzo needs encouragement and some time to solve a problem. I learned not to try to help him, as he will only look up at me for guidance and I want him to do the problem-solving himself. He is quickly labeled as "shy, not confident" but that is not true. He just needs some encouragement and a little more time, and maybe allow him a second or third try. One of our trainers who knows Kenzo since puppy hood takes pride in always giving Kenzo a new puzzle to solve. We both enjoy seeing him go through his elaborate thinking process.


The test also predicted a little defender. And indeed, Kenzo does not need a lot of thinking when we have an unexpected visitor on an unexpected place. On the contrary, he is as fast as lightning. Kenzo has by now made a number of "arrests" - he stops a person and keeps them on the same spot until I arrive -  in which he judged a person as a threat. Maybe you remember his drugs-bust, but we also witnessed arrests where people would come on our property, or when a "suspicious" person would approach us or other people he knows very well, outdoors.

When we were involved in an outdoors search exercise, the trainer I mentioned before was present in the search area. A Ranger suddenly appeared from behind a mud wall and walked straight to the trainer. She looked at the man while the expression on her face changed, probably wondering what the man wanted. Kenzo was the first of the group to notice this change in her expression. While I looked up to see what got his attention, he was already on his way to make his arrest.

Although the trainer was very flattered and touched when Kenzo jumped in to "protect" her, Kenzo's high defense drive is something which is difficult to manage properly. When I am outside I am always aware of the surroundings, to prevent him from making any further arrests.

If anything or anybody strikes me as odd, it is guaranteed Kenzo will be next to notice. It took a while, but when I let him know it is alright or recall him he listens fine and relaxes. It means a lot to him knowing I am aware of any "threat". The problem is when he notices something before I did and I therefore act too late, and he makes his own decision. Although I am certain he will not bite, people might understandably mistake it for getting attacked, maybe hit or kick him, and things could go wrong from there.

The odd thing is that we also trained arrests on "Schutzhund" training, but on that stage he always refused to arrest any new person he did not know. Clearly he distinguishes between the two and only acts this way when he perceives something as a threat, as that is how he is wired.

I am still grateful for the breeder, giving the advice for Kenzo as he did. For a first-time Hovawart owner, one drive is more than enough to manage.

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.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Siberian Winter

We have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of some snow. Could last year's snow fun repeat itself over here in Denmark? There is nothing like watching Kenzo & Viva catching the snow zoomies. I would sure hate to miss out on that.

When a high-pressure over Siberia had temperatures plummeting all over Europe, our anxiety levels went equally on the rise, but snow continued to avoid this part of Denmark. Until last week, when we finally woke up to the sight of a landscape covered in white. Just a little, enough to cover a Hovawart paw, but snow nonetheless.

We all rushed outside, only to stop abruptly as Viva came running back to us with a bleeding paw. One of her nails was hanging on a thread. We rushed to the emergency vet, who patched her up and gave us some antobiotics to prevent infection. The nail could be safed, Viva was lucky!

On return, Viva went right back to play some more. Although slippery due to the plastic bag wrapped around her brand new red sock.

We have been lucky before this winter. I found out we had run out of fuel and there was no heat. When we got the tank filled up again, the heaters refused to start and we had to call a repair-man. It took a little week before the heat was restored while the temperature outside was well below -20C/-4F.

But we have one of those traditional Scandinavian Masonry Heaters that runs on wood, and the whole family camped around it for a couple of days, enjoying the warmth and the company. We pretended to have our own little winter adventure, sipping on some Glögg and with two Hovawarts on guard to keep the trolls at bay.

It seems we have everything winter could bring covered now. We are ready for spring to arrive!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wizard Astrid and her Hovawarts, Ayda and Zerline

I am very excited to introduce you to a very versatile Hovawart Wizard, Astrid!

I first met Astrid on Twitter and have always been amazed by her energy and the diversity of the activities she undertakes with her Hovawarts. From any kind of training to Search-and-Rescue (SAR) work, and everything in between. You name it: Astrid, Ayda and Zerline do it.

Thank you for participating in the Hovawart School of Witchcraft & Wizardry!

Ayda, Astrid and Zerline
Hovawart Wizard: My name is Astrid Reijerkerk and I live together with my partner René Berendse and our two at home living kids, daughter Caitlin ( 22) and son Brendan (14). We live in Purmerend, a village near Amsterdam, Holland. I have a website, and we are on Facebook and Twitter as well. Recently I also started my own dog training school: "De Spoorlijn" (in English: "the tracking line")! I didn't thrived anymore on the local school where I was giving classes and it was always one of my dreams to have my own dog training school.

Hovawarts: We have 3 dogs, a female mixed dog from 16 years old and our two female Hovawarts, 10 year old Ayda, "Ajonja von der Tegelkuhle", and 3½ year old Zerline, "Dratini’s Bayleef". I got both as a puppy from a breeder. Ayda comes from a breeder in Germany and Zerline from a breeder in Norway. Ayda and Zerline are related to each other, Zerline's father is Ayda's half-brother.

Zerline discovering "Treibball"
Ayda is spayed but Zerline is not. One of my other big wishes was to let one of my dogs to have a litter. We therefore got Zerline checked for hip-dysplasia (HD), had her eyes tested, passed a mental-test, a Canine Good Citizen Test+, and showed her. This is all required by the Dutch Hovawart Club. Finally, in March last year, Zerline became the mother of 8 puppy’s! We are still in touch with all the families and have regular "family reunions".

The daily life of my dogs starts with a walk in the morning before I go to my job and in the afternoon we walk again. During the week we train with them as well, I train obedience and my daughter trains agility. Every Sunday we have SAR training and sometimes we have to search for missing people. We have even been on missions abroad in Spain and Norway.

Ayda and Astrid (right) on a SAR mission in Norway,
courtesy of
Both dogs are trained SAR dogs and we volunteer for the biggest rescue organization in Holland. Unfortunately Ayda cannot join me anymore because her vocal cords had to be surgically removed. But Zerline is still with me on missions. Like last week, when we had to search for a missing person, together with other rescue groups. The dogs seem to know when it is for training and when it is for real. We always start by letting the dogs take the scent of all the people in the group so they know their scents can be discarded. The missing lady was found very quickly though by another group, and we let the dogs find one of the handlers instead. Zerline deemed this to be very odd and tried to convince me this was a real search and she was certain this person was part of the group before!

Both dogs are kind with other people. Where Ayda only really cares for the people she already knows, Zerline just likes everybody. Zerline likes other dogs as well and always wants to play with them. Ayda needs her space: she barks at other dogs and she doesn't want to interact with them.

Ayda on tracking training
I love the breed because they enjoy doing things with me. We have developed such a deep bond together during the years of rescue work. It is difficult for me to describe in words what they have come to mean to me.

Especially Ayda. She really is my best buddy, we share such a strong and deep bond. In a way I think it was Ayda that picked us instead of the other way around. When we couldn't find a puppy in Holland, and drove to the breeder in Germany - a 10 hour car trip - to "just have a look", we decided to stay and played with the puppies the entire weekend. During that weekend Ayda just picked us, and she was the one to drive home with us.

My message to future Hovawart owners would be that with a Hovawart respect is key. But it doesn't come for free, you have to show respect for your Hovawart before you can receive their respect in return. This means to stand side by side, and not above, your Hovawart. To be consistent yet always fair and gentle. To never shout but to reward good behavior. Preferably with a lot of treats, the love of a Hovawart goes through it's stomach!


Hovawart Wizards, like Astrid, try to provide real life information for Muggles - those not yet touched by the Hovawart's magic - to learn more about Hovawarts in the Hovawart School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. A place where Muggles can read how we play, what kind of training and activities we undertake. What makes Hovawarts special to us, and how they made us into Wizards. The role they came to play in our lives. And the hard times we shared. Helping Muggles to make the best choice possible if a Hovawart could be the Magical Creature for them, or at least what to expect.

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 Hachikō. 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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