Saturday, September 26, 2009

DNA Test

An old friend I had the pleasure to work with at the Cochrane Humane Society in Alberta sent me an e-mail the other day to tell me that she has sent her dogs' DNA in to find out what kind of mutts they are. She had it done through a Canadian company, who AARCS, which stands for Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society, teamed up with as part of their fund raising.
That got me all excited, cause getting my girls DNA tested is on my mind since a couple of years. I am really curious to know what components Will is made out of, but I'll also get one done for Davie. She was sold as a purebred Aussie, but we always suspected a tad of border collie in her, and Mike and I teasingly call her the perfect Bossie.
What kept me so far from taking action is that each test is around a hundred bucks US, cause the only dog DNA testing company I knew about is in the States.
The Canadian company,, is considerably cheaper and they support rescue, so there are no more excuses.

I wonder if any of the NS rescue people could team up with the company also? I think it's a great idea. The Cochrane Humane Society, while I volunteered there, was connected with a pet identification company. It was mandatory for people who adopted a dog or cat to also purchase a tag that fits around the collar and a portion of the money was donated back to the society. I didn't like it, cause many adopters argued, rightfully so, that their indoor cats wouldn't wear a collar, or their dog would be microchipped, and were miffed that they had to dish out extra money for something they'd likely never use.
But I can see that many dog parents would get a test done to find out their dog's heritage. Then all our mutts could walk around with their own little designer dog label, now reserved only for the expensive and intentionally bred crosses. We'd have a Shusky, a Shlab or a Sheeler, a Labam or Catlab, or a Bossie or Borlab or Rolab or Berv.

I wonder if affordable and mainstreamed DNA testing might also open the door for lawsuits owners could file when their dog gets the legislative boot out of a province or county just because he has a square head and bulky body. Shouldn't the onus be on the lawmakers to DNA-proof that a dog indeed has pit bull genes, before they seize and euthanize? Not that I'm in favor of banning any breed, but it baffles me that "the law" gets away with going by looks only. Discriminating for looks instead of behavior is such a prejudice and racist thing to do and so typically human.

DNA testing is affordable, easy and supports rescue and I'll contact the company next week for two test kits. I'll let you all know if Will is indeed a "Border"line Nervy Tervy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mindful Leadership Google Group

I have created a Mindful Leadership google group: Voice 4 Dogs.
It was planned for quite some time - I wanted a place where all my clients can go to discuss their dog(s), get advice, have questions answered, connect to and communicate with other dog owners who want the best relationship they can have with their dog.
We purely positive and mindful dog people are still a minority, and some might feel they need to defend how they relate and train their dog(s), so the group could also be somewhat of a support group, especially for confused by all the conflicting training info members.

The reason why it took so long between planning and action is because I am really busy, but also because I was divided between running it as an open group for everyone interested, or a closed one reserved only for people who attended one of my seminars or group classes, bought my book, or had a private consultation.

To open the door for anybody was really tempting, cause it might have influenced a few correction owners to quit punitive methods. But then I thought the opposite might happen: Millan and Koehler followers trying to convince us that our dogs will surely becomes the alpha if we don't punish "bad behavior" and "dominance". Not that I am trying to avoid such discussions in general. Hubby Mike can attest that I am always in the mood for a heated debate. But I'll reserve that for future blogs that might attract opposing voices. For the group I wanted a different purpose - one that adds value to my clients - and me, cause we all learn from one another. And the best teachers when it comes to dog behavior are our dogs.

Reserving membership to dog owners and trainers who connected with me in one of the above ways also allows us to begin discussions at a certain level, cause you all have already an idea what Mindful Leadership is all about - and you are already very caring dog owners.

I have sent a bunch of personal invitations out, but I don't have everyone's e-mail address. Partly my fault cause I am not all that organized when it comes to secretarial stuff. Partly because I never had your e-mail address. If you are a client and have not received an invitation and would like to join the group, please e-mail me at Let me know which seminar you attended, or where you purchased my book Dump Dog, and I will e-mail you an invitation.

I am looking forward to some great discussions in the future.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Over-Arousal and Fear Anxiety

Hubby Mike and I took a couple of days off and went on a short road trip to explore a part of Nova Scotia, the Eastern Shore, we haven't been yet. Of course Will and Davie came along.
As seasoned travelers, both dipped their paws in the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean and left pee-mail in each and every province except Newfoundland/Labrador, they were perfect. I think their highlights were when we shared our smoked eel we bought at Krauch's in Tangier - it was the best smoked eel I had in some 20 years or so - and the couple of hours we spent hiking in Taylor Head Provincial Park - one of the nicest parks and beaches we found yet.

Whenever we travel, we print a list of dog friendly accommodations that are along our route. And typically we discover a place where we really want to stay - and it's usually not on our list. That never stops us from asking anyway if we can get a room with our two dogs, and more often than not the answer is yes, especially at the end of the season. We stayed at a nice place in Quebec, a wonderful Bed and Breakfast in Lunenburg, and were lucky again this time. Mike and I fell head over heels in love with Sherbrook and were able to book a room at the St. Mary Lodge, located just a couple of blocks from the Historic Village, which is a dog friendly museum, by the way. That was our highlight of the trip.

Unfortunately, Davie wasn't as thrilled. In fact, she was downright panicked and all she wanted to do was to leave the room as soon as we entered it. She hyperventilated and broke her down-stay a couple of times to stand in front of the closed door, staring at it.

Many of my clients dog's problem behaviors are rooted in stress due to fear and/or over- arousal. Dogs that freak out are not responding to known commands, lose owner attention, won't take treats and appear inconsolable. The dog is "out-of-her-mind" and the logical solution is to guide her back into it. And the only way to do that is to calm her. Not the calm-submissive state Cesar Millan talks about; the artificial one he coerces with correction and intimidation, but an authentic state of offered and worry-free, tranquil relaxation. My way to guide a dog into it is to have her lie down, and then sit beside her, having a hand on her body, or softly stroke, or touch her in a way she finds familiar and relaxing. Anything else, in my opinion, increases the arousal or anxiety and is thereby counterproductive.
I can only guess why Davie was so unnerved. But she was able to lie on request. Instead of commanding a stay and walking away again, I followed my own advice and she relaxed quickly and feel asleep, and was able to manage the room after that.

Davie's panic was momentary, but many of the dogs I meet are in a chronic state of hyper-arousal. One of the reasons is too much daily activity and not enough rest. Again, I am not suggesting a dog always has to be calm-submissive. There is nothing wrong with excited, goofy and exuberant happiness at times, but it is harmful to be permanently stressed.

Milan Kundera writes: "To sit with a dog on a hillside... is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace."
We humans always have to do something; be active and productive and we drag our dogs into the same lifestyle - with the same results that they are restless and fidgety and unable to relax on a hillside, commute with nature and calmly observe in a naturally relaxed state of mind.
When the dog is too charged up, owners either try to redirect into calm behaviors by practicing tricks or structured sniffing, or they correct into submission.
I find both methods not very effective. With the former the dog is still stimulated - even low key stimulation is stimulation; the latter does not lead to authentic relaxation. Anything forced is never real and healthy.

The stressed dog, regardless if it is temporarily and chronically, due to too much exercise and activities or too much exposure to environmental triggers, has to be given plenty opportunities to rest and do nothing. In some cases, that has to be guided by the owner in the beginning, in the same way I guided Davie back into feeling safe.
Intersperse walking, training and activities with sitting on the hillside with your dog, or on the beach, or on the carpet in your home, and do nothing but enjoy each other's company. If your dog is too antsy to do that, so much more the reason to practice it. Make it a daily training exercise and use yummy rewards (at first) when your dog settles beside you and relaxes. Reward the emotion, not the action.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Red Flags that Indicate that the Breeder Might Not be a Good One.

Typically, places where people look for their next canine companion is on-line, pet stores, newspapers and bargain finders, humane societies, rescue groups, dog magazines and dog shows.

I won't discuss rescue dogs here - that's a topic for another post another time.

And I'm not going to talk about dogs sold in pet-stores, or advertised in newspapers and bargain finders, because NOBODY should get a dog through those venues - ever. Period! And that also includes dogs advertised on Kijiji. With the rare exception of a responsible owner forced by circumstances to find a new home for the pooch. But most dogs advertised and sold there come from irresponsible back yard breeders, or are mass produced and brokered and, in my ideal world, that would be against the law.

Getting a pup from a conscientious breeder pays off, cause mistakes made during the pup's crucial imprinting and impressionable period has to be made up by the owner. That can be costly, time consuming, frustrating and sometimes heart breaking. Many people believe that purchasing a CKC or AKC registered puppy is a guaranty that he/she was carefully bred and raised. That is not so, and it can be difficult for laypeople to tell the difference between good and bad breeders.
Here are red flags I found browsing through dog magazine ads, googling websites and visiting breeders, that might point to a large-scale, uncaring and breeding-for-money operation.

Has several breeds, or switches between breeds depending which one is most popular at the time.

Most colors and patterns available; Year round puppies; All sizes.
Looking for that special pet = selling pitch - all dogs are special.
Good with kids = selling pitch - great family dogs are not born. Some breeds are genetically more predisposed to love people, including young ones, but the most important aspects are proper imprinting, gentle socializing and teaching pups and kids to be respectful and comfortable with one another. Good breeders know that.

Red Flag kennel names: for bully breeds, anything that has Bad, Raging, Gang, or alike in it. Good breeders of "bullies" do everything they can to avoid adding to the negative perception the media and public already have regarding pit bull type dogs.

Kennel names and ads that contain the words smallest, tiniest, largest or giant. Good breeders breed for temperament, not size. Trends and a certain look feed an attention seeking society; people who own a dog to show off with him/her. Not the type of person I would want for my pup, were I a breeder.

Champion Blood Lines. That is not a red flag, but also not a guaranty that the pooch is sound and healthy. It simply means that the breeder showed in conformation and enough judges decided that the pooch represented the breed standard (looks, gait and other superficial stuff) more than the other dogs competing.

Working stock; field dogs; excellent protectors of house and home and any indication that the dogs are bred for purpose other than companionship. That is also not a red flag, except when the breeder sells these driven dogs as pet companions to anyone who opens his/her wallet. For the average family who is looking for a balanced, middle-of-the-road dog, the ones bred to work are often too much to handle. It's the dog who suffers the most.

Popularity of a breed always has unscrupulous people jumping on the band wagon.
A rare breed often comes with a bunch of health problems due to a small gene pool.

CHEAP and REASONABLE PRICED. It costs money to breed and raise a dog the proper way. Good breeders don't sell their pups at bargain prices or on a payment plan.
Sadly, even some savvy and wealthy people are reluctant to spend more money for a dog when they feel they can get the same breed cheaper elsewhere. Our Australian Shepherd Davie was sold for $100.00 as a purebred, without tattoo or chip, no papers and delivered to a city 300 km away. I'd say that Davie's first owners are above average intelligent, highly successful people, yet they thought they could get a purebred dog from a good breeder delivered for 100 bucks.

If I were to shop for a pup I'd:
Shop local or travel to see the kennel in person;
Meet the pup's parents;
Get a breeder's contract with a warranty on health and temperament;
Be prepared to be on a waiting list;
Be prepared to be interrogated by the breeder;
In turn, want all my questions to be answered;
Am willing to spend money.

Good breeders:
Demand that their offspring is returned to them if the owner can't care for him/her any longer;
Some are involved in pure breed rescue, or have a couple of rescued dog themselves;
Can provide references - and ask for them;
Never sell to pet stores or through Kijiji;
Socialize gently without over-stimulating the pups and keep them long enough to learn valuable lessons from litter mates and older dogs. The ideal age for a pup to join a new home and family is, in my opinion, at 10-12 weeks of age.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Impressions from the Halifax Dog Show

I attended the Halifax Kennel Club Dog Show the Labour Day weekend and had a great time - largely due to the fact that I was surrounded by wonderful people. My friend Joan already blogged about the show and also added a bunch of great photos you can check out.
I didn't take any pics and don't want to repeat what Joan said, but want to share what I reflected on each day on my hour-long drive home.

On Saturday, three perfect specimen of my favorite breed, Australian shepherds, were a couple of tables away from us and I was happy for the eye candy. Although the dogs were part of the event and competed in Rally O', they needed to move. Someone (stupid) complained cause there were a couple of food vendors in close proximity. I wonder what the person who had an issue with it expected to find at a dog show? The next day the Aussies were out of my sight and I had to do with all the other dogs that walked up and down the aisles and passed the food vendors. It ended up not being too bad because one was a huge drooly, hairy Newf and the owner/handler was nice enough to stop for a bit so I could get my cuddles in.

I was busy selling my book and mittens, but thanks to Ann and Heather who did a great job manning my table, I was able to watch some of the events. One was part of an obedience trial and I watched a German shepherd, a Labrador and a Sheltie compete. The Sheltie was fantastic and I thought to myself that somehow, to make things fair for all other breeds, there should be a handicap applied whenever they compete. Both the Lab and shepherd ran enthusiastically away to get the dumbbell and got slower and slower as they got closer to the owner/handler on the way back. If one of my dogs would do that, I'd look myself in the mirror and ask why she hesitates to return to me.

I also watched some Rally O', the much kinder way of obedience, and again a Sheltie excelled, but also a miniature schnauzer and that was great cause many people do not train their schnauzers to that level. And he or she, like the Sheltie, was really focused, happy and upbeat in the ring. No hesitation to be near their person with these two.

At my table, and close to it, there were great conversations with breeders, dog owners and people looking for a dog - or not looking for one, like one young lady who loves dogs but chooses to live without one because of the lifestyle she enjoys. I wish everyone would give that much thought before they get a canine companion. A family who stopped by was just as conscientious. Even though their son, who appeared very mature and well behaved, really, really wants a dog, they aren't rushing in it but invest a lot of time researching the right dog and breed for them.

We talked to wonderful breeders who have a small number of dogs, keep the puppies until they are 12-weeks old and have a thorough questionnaire potential buyers have to fill out.
We also talked to ones who have so many dogs and litters that they pee in the house and on dog beds and I wonder if they tell their buyers that a dog who learns to pee and poop in the house is more difficult to train to go outside.
One other breeder was proud of the fact that the outside runs she keeps her dogs in are in the shade. I get it. Breeders of large dogs can't have all of them in the house, but I do hope that her criteria for choosing her puppies' new family is a little higher than a dog run out of the sun.

Throughout the three days I periodically played with the idea what kind of dog I would get were I interested in a dog right now, which I am not. My friend Joan wants a black standard Poodle. I always came back to the gorgeous Saluki I saw several times. And the Saluki pup was just as wonderful. The Salukis were my favorites - and the most beautiful Chinese Crested I ever saw. She wasn't hairless or a powderpuff, but had hair half of her body, which I didn't know existed. I'm glad I learned something new at the dog show.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Intonation Matters

Intonation Matters

Autistic author and animal advocate Temple Grandin explains in her book “Animals in Translation”, that as a child she was only able to pick up the tone of a spoken word to understand its meaning. She, and many others, believes that our dogs, too, are more receptive to how we say something than what we say.
Behaviorist, ethologist and author Dr. Patricia McConnell extensively researched that subject with a variety of mammals and elaborates on it in her book “The Other End of the Leash”. In it she explains that fast, high-pitched sounds, convey motion, excitement and stress, while drawn out, lower sounds signal calm and stationary.

Many of clients ask me how much intonation affects behavior. In my opinion and experience it can be very influential, but using the right tone can be a bit of an art, because it always depends on dog and situation.

A high-pitched and fast sound signals excitement, stress but also play arousal. Used with a come command, it can entice a dog to return faster cause he thinks there is a party going on where you’re at. That really worked for our confident Newf Baywolf, who was always keen to be where the action is. The same approach sent easily aroused Davie over the top; she started to bark and yip and jump. Davie never needs to be cheered on; a grounded, normal tone works best for her. Non-trusting and fearful feral-born Will, who perceived the excited recall as me being stressed, became even more suspicious and increased the distance to me. Instead of coming, she avoided me. For Will, the soft-spoken words instill the safety she needs to approach.

Think intonation when your dog runs away and chases something. The last thing you want is to use is a panicky and repetitive come, or stay, or stop, or NO, cause then you’re egging your pooch on to run faster still – away from you.

Lower toned and drawn out sounds signal calm and stationary. I use that intonation when I want my dogs to hold a position. Lower and sharp sounds I use if I want them to “knock it off”. It conveys that I mean it – that I tell them, rather than ask them.

Sometimes I encounter owners who use a regimental command tone all the time, for every request and for every dog, even the fearful and sensitive one, the one who gives clear appeasement and submissive signals.
Nowhere in nature is a regimental tone the way social members communicate with one another. Even in the military it is used only at work. Privately the communication is casual and strict rituals are not observed. So, lose that tone of voice with your dog, and especially if you invite him to join you for a walk, or you ask him to come. Your dog won’t want to be with you if you sound intimidating. You can use a regimental tone when you want to stop him in his tracks, but as soon as he shifts his focus back to you be your sweet and encouragingly self, so your dog can tell the difference when you are happy with him, and when you’re not.

Intonation is one of the reasons why many dogs respond better to a lower male voice, than a higher female voice. Another one is, by the way, because males maneuver space more confidently.
A dog who responds better to the male owner than he female is either afraid, or feels safer with the man. Which one it is becomes clear when one observes if the dog chooses voluntarily, without leash and choke collar, to be near the person, or if he’d avoid the person if he could.

I use my voice intentionally; let my dogs know when I am really happy with them, when they should move faster, or stay still, or knock it off. Usually I talk to them in a normal calm, grounded and neutral tone – the one I use with members of my own species. Understanding intonation can be a great asset to add clarity and help a dog succeed in training and every day life. Inadvertent mistakes can add an extra hurdle and make problem behaviors worse, or delay training success.