Thursday, December 24, 2015

Seppel's Christmas Eve















Merry Christmas Eve! My friend got Seppel a bunch of boxes to shred for Christmas, he couldn't be happier!


Monday, December 7, 2015

Picking a good IPO Club

I was writing a post on a forum I mostly lurk on and I decided I should probably write a blog post to update my and Seppel's current situation.

I titled this post "Picking a good IPO Club" because I would like to share my own experience and give some tips on finding a good club.

After this last trial in October I was feeling really down. We had a really bad training experience prior to the trial and then the trial itself was just an absolute mess. The judge barely passed us, I think he passed us because he knew that we were new and wanted to support us. I appreciate that but I don't feel like we earned our title at all.

I have been in an IPO club for a year. I waited three years training only in protection to join this club. The reason I wanted to join this particular club is that I know the people who run it and I thought it was going to be a really good opportunity. I did not know how the club was run. I do have experience with IPO clubs, I have worked with two in the past.

My general thoughts on how an IPO club is run based off of my prior experience:
  • Tracking: everyone lays a track. If you are new a trainer or club member will help you lay your track. Depending on the dogs the tracks will age and then each member will track their dog one at a time, the rest of the club can watch from a distance but most club members choose to follow the person tracking because you can learn a lot watching other dogs track/watching how other people handle their dogs.
  • Obedience: Everyone works their dog one at a time. One dog goes on a long down while another dog works OB, the training director of the club helps with OB, or another member of the club helps with OB. You work on whatever you need to work on.
  • Protection: Everyone works their dog one at a time, there may or may not be a training director helping with protection - depends on the experience level of the helper.

So given the above you can understand what I was expecting from the club I was joining. Unfortunately the club I joined had no organization whatsoever. Everyone lays their track, lets it age, and tracks their dog with or without other people watching and then they leave! In obedience, one dog went on a down, another dog worked. There was no trainer available for help. Every week I watched people do the same thing - heeling patterns ending with retrieves. I myself even did the same thing because I was just doing what everyone else was doing. As the year progressed one member did stand up to try to help the rest of us out. She is not a dog trainer but she has an IPO 3 dog and was willing to watch [those of us who wanted her to] us track and even helped some on our obedience. We did not do protection most of the year because our helper was unreliable. The helper thing is a major party foul but I was okay with it because we were getting private protection lessons so it didn't really effect us.

Anyway, when we had this really awful training experience before our trial I was wanting to completely give up. I talked to a few friends who meant well, but they said that maybe my dog was only a club trial/at home field dog, that maybe that is just what we would have to do. I get that, I was starting to believe that myself, but that is not what I want. That isn't the kind of dog I want to have. I am not unrealistic about my dog. I know we aren't going to show at regional/national/championship level, I am fine with that. However, I am not okay with only being able to trial at home because that is where my dog is most comfortable. When I talked this over with a fellow IPO friend who was in another club she offered me so much more than "I guess you'll have to settle." Instead, my friend told me that maybe we just needed more experience, she told me that my dog would likely improve as he gained more experience and that he might not be perfect but that in our club we were not getting the experience that we needed. Another friend weighed in pointing out that another club would have either a.) told me right away my dog wasn't cut out for this or b.) would likely have helped to give us more experience so my dog would be better prepared. I liked these answers a lot better than "I guess you just have to deal."

So, that being said, I made an executive decision and quit the IPO club I was in. It was a hard thing to do because I didn't want anyone to take it personally. I have nothing against anyone in the club but the club is just not a helpful or educational environment to be in.

I thought I would share some things to think about and look for when choosing an IPO club, obviously I did not really know what I was signing up for when I joined the first club. I think these things can be applied to any sort of dog club or group training situation, hopefully this is helpful.

  • Is the club competitive? Initially I thought I did not want to be in a very competitive club because I didn't want to be pressured, but if no one in the club is striving towards bettering themselves then you can expect you probably will not be receiving much help. 
  • Is there an active training director? Again, in the beginning it was nice not having someone on the training field telling me everything I was doing wrong. Unfortunately, without someone watching us we cannot grow and improve.
  • What sort of training methods does the club use? I think this is a very important one for IPO. There are some very heavy handed people in this sport and if you are looking for PR only training it can be really hard to find. It's a good idea to feel out the training director and other members to see if they train in a way you would be okay training.
  • Do the other club members appear to be successful? It's important to look at the people who will be your fellow club members, do they look like they are having a good time? Do they have goals? Are they actively trying to train their dogs?
  • Does the club have meetings? Does the club vote things in? If you are actually joining a club it is important to learn how it runs as a club. The first club I joined never had a single meeting and because of it we missed out on hosting a fall trial. They also made a big deal about membership, "you are here because we want you here" and then they[the powers that be?] randomly allowed new people to join without asking for input. Which wouldn't be such a big deal if the club had an active training director.
  • Ask to come to training a few times. This allows you to see how the club is run every week and allows you to see how the members interact and train. Most clubs should allow you to do this before joining, in fact, they should encourage it to see if they even want you joining their club.
Those are some of the main things I would look for when checking out a new club. Since I quit my previous club I have joined a club that my friend is in. I trained with them a few times before committing to joining. This club was 100x different than my own club! They had multiple people shadowing folks on the training field, they had a white board that they wrote dog names down on so that we had an order to go in. The training director and a few other knowledgeable members were around to help anyone who wanted help training. It was refreshing to have an order and a purpose. I started to feel like maybe Seppel and I had some hope, that we could fix his heeling and fix some of the other problems we were having. Everyone in this new club usually has good suggestions on things to try and everyone wants to be helpful. Everyone is really friendly and outgoing. Another thing as well is that this club does not feel cliquey. No doubt some people in the club are better friends with each other than others, but I have not felt like I am an outsider. It's important to feel comfortable and feel like people want to interact with you, that you aren't just a burden.

I am very anxious and hopeful to see where things go with Seppel and I. I hope to take him as far as he can go in the sport and I feel very fortunate that if I get another dog [not any time soon!] this club will be great support in helping me raise my first bred-for-the-sport IPO dog.



Monday, November 23, 2015

I shaved my double coated dog!!!!

In July I shaved my dog LiLo. I gave her a lion cut because I thought it would be cute and I also wanted to see what her hair would grow back like.

There is a lot of talk surrounding whether or not you should shave a double coated dog. The information being shared here is based off of my own personal experience. I am not recommending that anyone shave their double coated dog if it isn't necessary, just sharing the information I gathered.

I shaved my double coated dog LiLo in July of this year - here she is before clipping:


Here she is after clipping in July:

 I used an 8.5 blade so it wasn't super close to the skin, but it completely exposed her undercoat. Even at this length what was left of the undercoat protected her skin and when I bathed her it tried to repel the water.

It has taken 5mos for LiLo's hair coat to return to almost normal, this picture was taken earlier this month:

 LiLo is 10 years old and has no health issues other than hip dysplasia.

It will be 5mos in December since I clipped my double coated dog. Her hair coat [although it is hard to see in the pictures] is not completely grown in. I shared pictures of LiLo in a group on facebook and had multiple groomers tell me that every time they shaved a double coated dog, the hair never grew back correctly or was fuzzy. Most people who actually have their dogs shaved regularly will bring them in every 8-12 weeks, that is NOT enough time for the hair coat to recover, so of course the groomer will see a fuzzy coat.

Here is a picture of LiLo mid hair growth in August:


And here she is in September:


So you can see, if a person was on a regular grooming schedule, if they brought the dog back within an 8-12 week period the hair coat would be in a weird state of growth.

Hormones also play a huge role when it comes to the hair coat. Here are pictures of a Samoyed before and after her spay. I wish I could give credit to the dog's owner, I saw these pictures in an ovary sparing spay group, but if you google "samoyed before and after spay" these pictures come up on reddit:


If a groomer has long time clients - from puppy to adult, they might see these kinds of hair coat changes and it may have nothing to do with being shaved, it may be the difference between the dog being spayed or neutered.

Shaving the hair coat closely and often, with something like a 40 blade can damage the hair follicles which would cause the hair to not regrow, however I don't know many people who shave their dogs with a 40 blade.

That being said, a 40 or 50 blade is used to prep dogs for surgery, and I know many double coated dogs who have had knees surgeries, the whole leg has to be shaved and while it takes time [6mos+] the hair always grows back. Unless a dog has a health issue, like a thyroid problem, the hair should grow back.

I have heard a lot of stories about ruining the double coat by shaving but I have yet to see a scientific study or any true research that is not a personal account or opinion. This post is not a scientific study, as I mentioned above this is simply to share my experience. I shaved my dog because I wanted to see if it would grow back okay, and I also thought clipping her like a lion would be cute. I don't recommend shaving your dog for no reason, but I wouldn't condemn a person in a hot climate wanting to help cool their dog, or if you own a dog who will not let you actually brush the under coat out - a shaved dog is better than a matted one. If you do not take care of the under coat by brushing it out, your dog's coat will be completely ineffective in any temperature, it is also impossible to bathe your dog properly without first brushing out the loose undercoat. If you do not maintain the undercoat through regular brushing the hair will mat and be painful to remove, it will also make it impossible for you to get the hair coat fully clean.

Anyway, in closing, I think if a double coated dog is healthy, you can shave it and the hair coat should recover, but it needs at least 6 months to a year to go back to completely normal.


Monday, October 26, 2015

New title, passing of time, experience gained.


This past weekend Seppel finally earned his IPO-VO title!! Our scores are not brag worthy - 71, 71, 79 but this trial was so much more than the title.

The day started with tracking. Seppel did kind of what he did at the last trial, he got off track and kind of started running around. I thought for sure we would just have to call it. However, since I was not competing against anyone for my title [I was the only VO] the judge offered up some help. Basically he had me use a lot of handler help and even though I lost a lot of points, it was better than losing the entire exercise. Seppel's failure with the track was 90% handler error. I am still really green when it comes to tracking and I did not keep the line taught enough, and I wasn't sure how much I could help him without losing the whole thing. The judge also told us the morning of tracking that in order to be successful, we have to fail and that if you are afraid of failing you won't be able to win. Everyone fails at some point and it is nothing to be afraid of. The morning started off really well for me with that sage advice because it was so true.

The second stage of our title was obedience:

To a lot of people we probably look like a train wreck, but I am really happy with how Seppel performed considering. We went up two days before the trial to get acquainted with the field and also to work on Seppel's gunfire problem. The issue we are having is that Seppel is not afraid of the gun, when he hears it go off he thinks it's go time for protection. When we went for practice the guy firing the gun is someone Seppel doesn't like and he did it in front of us - so we were heeling towards the gun fire. In every trial the person shooting the gun is off to the side or kind of behind. The shots are heard as we are heeling away. I didn't realize that when we were practicing, and Seppel was horrible.  I have tried EVERYTHING to try to work on this problem. I've used positive reinforcement and I have used punishment. Corrections make it worse, in fact they actually make him more amped up/crazy. Positive reinforcement [allowing him to run around after the shots are fired] at this point just made things worse also. When he bolts for the off-leash heeling that is a direct result of us letting him run around the night before. When we walked onto the field he was already on edge, again, I feel as a direct result of the horrible training session we had prior. Even though his obedience performance was far from perfect I thought his heeling [when he wasn't being a jerk] was spot on, his flat retrieve was perfect, AND he didn't break his down when the gun shots were fired while the other guy was working! He sat up, but he didn't leave! I didn't have to return to him which would have taken all of the points.

As far as tackling the gun problem, while I know it will take a lot of time and repetition, I think I do need to let him "break" after our two shots as long as he is fairly under control while heeling. It is very obvious to me that using punishment/corrections will get us no where and only make things worse, my hope is that in time when I release him he won't actually find the gun holder interesting. I know it can only get better, he was already improved from the horrible night he had so I think it is within our reach.

The third portion of our trial was protection:

I left part of the critique on the video [I was in a hurry.]. I don't completely agree with the judge, when Seppel was growling it was primarily when I grabbed his collar. He is well beyond VO protection and if I had been able to heel him away instead of grab him he would not have been growling. I feel that grabbing his collar created some conflict as well as just amped him up even more [like a correction]. I do think he is more of a defensive dog and there is a part of him that would like to flee if things got too intense, however like the judge said, even if we work in strictly in prey we will be losing points. I am hoping in time Seppel will become braver working with other helpers and working in the trial environment. He is kind of weird about new places and change and it's just something I have to accept. I still felt like he did wonderful and his outs were fabulous.

Overall the trial experience was a great one. I now have more experience under my belt for trialing and the information that the judge shared was so helpful. Like he said as well, not that many people actually go to trial, people sometimes wait years and the sport is reliant on those of us willing to participate. He wasn't suggesting you trial a dog who isn't ready, but he was basically saying kudos to those of us getting out there and gaining experience. He said it doesn't matter how much you practice or how many mock trials you go to, nothing can replace the nerves of the real experience.

If Seppel is not ready for his IPO I in the spring we will go for a VO again, in hopes of improving our scores.

Another thing that happened last week is that Seppel has been here for FOUR years!!!! When I chose to take in Seppel, I had no idea what we would be doing. He has changed my life in so many ways. Because of him I am a much better dog owner than I used to be. With lower drive dogs the need for exercise is a lot less great[Not really, but they let me be lazy!], since I got him I exercise my dogs daily and their fitness has become so much more important to me. He has taught me a lot in terms of teaching obedience and teaching different exercises and behaviors. He has also taught me to just laugh at myself or laugh at him when he does something random or weird. I can really appreciate his antics sometimes because I know he's not a herding dog and I know it's just how he is. We still train and I still try to teach him impulse control and reliability, but I know he's not a border collie. I feel so lucky to have him and so lucky that because I have him we can compete in a sport that we both enjoy. I would not have the opportunities I have had if it were not for him. It blows my mind four years have already gone by, it seems like only yesterday I told my parents I was only going to "foster" him until I could "find him a home."

I look forward to our future together and hope that we can still continue to train and trial and have a good time in the process.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Clicker training: I don't have time for that!

I was going to wait to write this once I have taught my dog Seth to pick up the bite sleeve [that he's afraid of] but I can't wait!

I've said multiple times on this blog, I am not a PR only trainer! I do use a clicker and food and generally speaking try to use motivation to get my dogs to do things, but I am not afraid to use properly timed and effective corrections when I feel the situation calls for it. Those situations are few and far between.

Earlier this year I talked to someone who told me they had a dog struggling with the retrieve. The dog would get the dumbbell but would not bring it back. This person was under the impression the dog had been taught a forced retrieve. For anyone reading who has no idea, a forced retrieve is where you cause the dog pain [typically an ear pinch] and once the dog is vocalizing you shove the item to be retrieved into their mouth. Eventually the dog somehow gets the idea that if it does what you want in the correct sequence it will avoid pain. I get it, it will eventually work A lot of people use this technique. I am NOT judging. To each their own. Do what you gotta do/do what you know. Anyway back to the story, I suggested that this person use a clicker after explaining that I had a dog who was afraid of the dumbbell and through the use of the clicker I was able to help him get over his fear.

What did she say to me?

"Oh, I don't have time for that!"

I honestly don't know how I kept my eyes from rolling back up into my head. All I can wonder is, does this woman really want the dog to bring her the dumbbell or not? If she does, does she want the dog to be happy about it?

It really took me by surprise because I am not pure positive in my training methods and I thought she was looking at me like I was one of "those people". Not that that is a bad thing! But I was thinking, it's not like I am a purely positive trainer waving my PR flag throwing cookies at everything. I thought I was legitimately helping her out because the clicker worked GREAT for me! I feel like Seth is proof that clicker training is effective and that it works! I know I have shared his dumbbell videos before, but here is Seth when we first started trying to get over his fear of the dumbbell:


As you can see, he's very unsure and nervous about putting the dumbbell in his mouth. He does it, but he's not exactly excited about it.

Here he is just a few days ago:

And here he is today! We still need to work on perfecting the jump portion, but I never imagined he would retrieve over the jump!




He's like a completely different dog!

I think it is important as dog owners to have a large "tool box". No two dogs are the same, so when one training approach is not working you might need to try another one.

I really enjoy using the clicker because I feel like it makes marking a behavior very easy. You can also say "yes!" but I feel like my finger is faster than my mouth and the clicker is a very unique noise - so I feel like dogs pick up on what it means right away. I have also seen a lot of people overuse "Yes" and it becomes more meaningless. Unless you repeatedly click the clicker over and over, you can't really overuse it and it is really easy to capture a certain action or behavior.

I am really pleased with Seth's progress and extremely happy with my results in using some positive reinforcement and clicker training. I don't think this kind of result could have been achieved any other way, I do not think he would be where he is at if I forced him into the retrieve.





Monday, August 31, 2015

Dock Diving/Stability

Saturday I took Seth to the Oregon State Fair to try Dock Diving! It was a very interesting and fun experience. X-treme Air Dogs is hosting the event at the fair and they have it set up so people can bring their dogs to give it a try. It's $15 and you can try multiple times between waves [their competitions] throughout the day. There is a trainer there to help you and help your dog. Seth thought the pool and the ramp were really weird. I didn't think about it being 'odd' to him, but I think it is a little more daunting for them transitioning from open water to a pool because they know they are "stuck" in the pool. The first time in Seth immediately wanted to try to exit the pool via one of the sides. He has a good recall so we got him back up the ramp. Speaking of the ramp, that was also weird for him. I think he was having a hard time gauging where the ramp ended. He jumped off of the dock once but I think it surprised him/I don't think he was prepared for the jump. After that he did not want to jump off of the dock. He would go off of the ramp no problem, but the dock was a no-go. I tried twice with him and the trainer even got into the pool but he just wasn't going to jump in. Unfortunately I had some other things I needed to do that day so I decided to walk some of the fair and head home. I think eventually he will figure it out, but we definitely need more time to work on it. There is supposed to be a pool opening up nearby in September specifically for dog swimming and dock dogs - so I am really hoping to be able to take him there so we can work on this!

Overall even though he only jumped in once, it was a great experience. It was also good "trial" experience because we had all kinds of people watching us as we fruitlessly tried to encourage Seth to get his ball from the pool.

Dock diving aside I also wanted to talk about how stable Seth is, and how much I really appreciate it.

It's been a long time since I have taken one of my dogs to a public event setting like the fair grounds. Generally speaking if I am going to a Saturday market or something I don't bring a dog simply because I don't trust other people with their dogs, and if I intend to buy things it's easier to not have a dog tagging along.

Seth had to hang out a lot while waiting our turn to try dock diving. We had several people and several kids ask to pet him. Seth was happy to get some attention and was very happy to interact with people and with children. I only had maybe two children who did not ask touch him, but it was quick and in passing. All of the other children and people we encountered were very polite and asked to pet him. Seth was super relaxed while we waited in line for our turn, he even was lying down on his side a few times while waiting, sniffing the ground and just hanging out. People walking all around us didn't seem to bother him at all. It brings me back to the day he got his CGC. We were in a room with probably 30 other dogs while we waited our turn and here he is lying on his back pawing at my friend Lynna's dog, like he didn't notice any of the commotion at all.

Saturday just really made me appreciate Seth's stable, easy going temperament. He was in his element with all of those people. He was happy to interact with folks who wanted to interact with him, he never once seemed worried or stressed out. It was just nice. It also made me really happy to give adults and several children a very positive experience with a dog. It made me feel good that the folks interacting with him felt good. Kids really aren't my cup of tea but I was glad to be a part of their 'good dog experiences'.



Thursday, August 20, 2015

Oh, to be the squirrel!

This is my 200th post on my blog and I thought I would share an epiphany I had.

Our friends at ZoePhee mentioned "being more fun than the squirrel" on facebook and it really got me thinking!

I've been told in the past by a trainer before to be "more fun than the squirrel."

The truth is, if you own a head strong, independent dog with high prey drive - you will never be more fun than the squirrel. I'm not saying that you should just throw in the towel and not try to be. But what I am saying is that I have accepted that my dog, no matter what I do, is not always going to choose me instead of the "squirrel". Of course, the "squirrel" can be anything in life. This is kind of a metaphor for being the most fun thing ever, to be more fun than the thing your dog really wants! For your dog to choose YOU and NOT the THING!

What I like about IPO is that while I will never be as awesome as the bite sleeve/helper, my dog is willing to do the things I ask - in order to bite the sleeve. Because of this kind of training [if you heel you can bite, if you sit you can bite etc.] it has definitely helped with his impulse control and there has been a 100% improvement from the dog he used to be. By breed and genetics Seppel is an impulsive dog. He will always be one to act first and think later, but because of the training that we do he has gotten a lot better.

I think impulse control games and really any kind of training that involves allowing the dog the thing it wants in exchange for a task, etc, is awesome. I think they work in helping teach our impulsive dogs to think about their choices. However, as I said above, I have fully accepted my dog for who he is. He is not a working breed, he is not a herder, his brain does not always immediately go to me. I see it daily in the choices he makes. Like today, when running the blinds he insisted on "checking" the hot blind, he KNOWS what he should be doing, he could hear me calling him fruitlessly, but he still did what he wanted to do. I'm not trying to make excuses for him, but it's like with some things he just can't help himself, his self control is extremely limited. It's just the kind of dog he is and I am totally okay with it.

On the flip side, I have been learning how to do helper/decoy work from our trainer. Thinking about it today I realized, when I am wearing the sleeve, I get to be the squirrel! I get to be the squirrel for my dog and for other dogs, and that is awesome! It's a wonderful feeling to be the thing that they want most! I am really excited to continue to learn helper work. I don't know if I will ever be great at it, but I hope I can help my club out and be good enough to work their dogs even on a basic level. If anything I am enjoying learning to new things and adding to my training tool box. It's pretty freaking fun to "be the squirrel" :D