My goal with this blog is for you to enjoy your time here. Most of the posts talk about my experiences raising my two yellow Labrador Retrievers, some are just for fun, and others share the best dog related information and products I have found.

Use the tabs above for quick navigation. I have imbedded links for as much as possible so that you can find the resources easily from this blog. The links in the side bar are for websites that have been helpful to me. I hope that you find them useful for you and your canine "family member"

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"The Dog Whisper" - A Word of Caution

Have you fallen under the spell of Ceaser Millan. Have you watched in complete fascination as he calms the "raging beasts" restoring them once again to "man's best friend".

Don't be fooled - what you are watching is TV. A nicely produced package all wrapped up to appeal to our ego as dog owners. But dig deeper and you'll find that their is nothing positive for the dogs in his approach. There is no room for the loving affectionate relationship that inspired us to embrace a dog as a family member in the first place.

For an eye opening perspective on "The Dog Whisper" check out this New York Times Op-Ed Piece:

"Cesar Milan - Pack of Lies"
Remember one thing if you remember nothing else you've read about how to raise a perfect dog. "Check your ego at the door - there's simply no room for it when you decide to raise a dog you want be your friend for life."
"Money will buy you a pretty good dog,
but it won't buy the wag of his tail."
-- Henry Wheeler Shaw

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Working on "calm"

Since reading Suzanne Clothier's book on teaching your dog "Self Control" I've really been working on reinforcing a "calm" state with the dogs. I was about to say especially - Shelby, but realized that was not fair. In being more observant lately I have noticed that although Nutmeg does not whine or show her general state so obviously she is often just as wound or agitated. She'll play the submissive card overly easy, or she'll sit perfectly still but her muscles will be twitching hard from her shoulders to her back legs. Although more subtle this still represents a more "reactive" state.

To redirect them or help to calm them I have been using "the ignore" a lot. This morning though it didn't seem to help so I sent them outside and played fetch with them. We then came inside and tried again.

I suppose I should mention what we were trying to do in the first place. It was breakfast time, as always they had run to their bed in the kitchen and dropped into "down stays" waiting for me to serve up their food and "release" them to eat. Now some of you may be thinking - well of course they're excited and anxious, it's time to eat. My thought was this. If I want to foster "calm" than rewarding their over reactive state, with something as huge as breakfast, would not have been ideal.

My efforts payed off! It was dog class today and the ride over had far less whining to suffer through. There class went much better than last week. Shelby was completely focused on my husband and Nutmeg was completely keyed into my commands as well.

It's amazing how perceptive dogs are!! I've also become more aware of subtle changes in them and this has proved invaluable. To those of you with "reactive dogs" my challenge to you - that I challenge myself with every day - is to see them more as "highly perceptive dogs" and realize that they are only mirroring you!!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Escape artist dogs

Is your dog an escape artist?

Maybe you should set up a video camers like these people did.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How to Hug a Baby

Click on the image for large view.

This collection of pictures was sent to me in an E-mail and I had to turn it into a JPEG and post it here. If anyone knows anything about these pictures, particularly who I can credit for sharing such joy, I'd really like to give them the credit!!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

It's not all about dogs

Here's a must see "dog & cat" video clip from Google Video's archive.

Hope you enjoy!!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Choosing the right command: "Drop" vs. "Give"

When it comes to teaching your dog the command words you will live with every day it's important to consider the situations that you will use the words for.

As many of you have experienced, puppy's go through an "orally fixated phase" just like children only it's called the "chewing phase". Everything goes in their mouth during this time and rarely comes out the same it entered. In the case of personal belongings this can be quite distressing. There was a time when every other word out of my mouth was "DROP IT!!" "Drop it" often required at first my immediately following it up with prying open their mouth to dig out the item I had no intention of them consuming. When we FINALLY! moved past this stage, and started really playing games especially fetch and retrieve games, "drop it" didn't keep the mood playful.

I soon realized we needed another word, one that fit the context of play time, not one that had a more corrective over tone to it. That's when "give" became part of their vocabulary, it was a request that meant I want to keep playing with you so you need to let go so I can throw your toy again. The benefit has been noticeable. "Give" lights a gleam in their eyes as they quickly drop the ball and make a head start dash for the next throw. When I say "drop it" Shelby will actively work on spitting out what is in his mouth. I just love it when I see him honoring my request so directly.

Dogs are amazing! They really teach you the value of saying exactly what you mean. Don't think a dog will just read your mind. Although they may seem telepathic at times, they will love and honor your requests all the more if you are clear and direct in your communications. Avoiding confusion with the commands we give our dogs will very likely save their lives if a situation - God Forbid - should ever occur that requires precise immediate obedience. Especailly when there is no time for them to be second guessing, "what do they really mean"?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Teaching your dog "Wait" vs. "Stay"

One of the most valuable things I have learned in the past 16 months in raising two Labradors is the importance of teaching my dogs self control.

Suzanne Clothier has a great short booklet on the subject called: "Understanding & Teaching Self Control". The training tips and advice in this booklet are a great resource and well worth the read. She sums up the importance simply:

"self control . . . leaves more of his mind available for learning and thinking instead of just reacting."
© Copyright 1996 Suzanne Clothier
One of the things I have found is that teaching both a "wait" and a "stay" as separate distinct commands helps with every day routines. As you can imagine with my Labradors, when the water hose comes out they get excited, Shelby in particular. This spring and summer with more free time I began expanding my garden so the hose was out a lot more. Teaching Shelby a solid "leave it", then a "wait" was well worth it. If all went well and I didn't have to drag him inside he got his reward at the end and the fun began. They both love to jump at the water as I play keep away. When it's hot I let him run right at it and chomp and mouth at the rushing stream. In their excitement they tear around the yard and than back to the water again. It's a great "life reward" and their ability to wait has gotten much better. The command "wait" lets us remote open the gate and drive the car into the driveway. They are eager to great us and I don't want to discourage that, but I also do not want them to rush at the car. "Wait" lets them know that they can come out but remain close to the house until we stop the car and close the gate. Then with a cheerful"release" they rush to the car door eager for us to get out. It is amazing to see how the skills carry over from situation to situation. They just seem to get it!! Proof again that a little time and solid training will go a long way to make life with dogs a real joy.

"Stay" on the other hand has allowed me to progress them to being off leash at our local park. I specifically choose quite and empty park times, or right at dusk when we gather with other dogs, to let them play off leash. In the mid morning when the field is clear I know that if another dog is walking the perimeter with it's owner I can put my dogs in a "down stay" and they know they can not move till I say so. This has especially been beneficial if a young child has wanted to come say "hi" to the dogs. I know that a "down stay" will hold my dogs allowing the child to approach without being intimidated as well as allowing the child to have a positive experience. "Stay" also has allowed me to anchor my dogs and leave them to approach someone who does not care to be close to dogs. It gives me the ability to respect others and be a responsible dog owning member of the community. It also gives me freedom to go places with my dogs because there are rules and they know what those rules are.

Great training tips:
When I started with basic obedience I figured we'd do an Obedience I & II and that was it; that I wouldn't need anything else. How hard could it be? They were dogs, weren't all dogs basically "good" dogs naturally? The answer is, "yes they are", but 6 months ago we both needed to learn how to communicate and understand each other better. My dogs needed to know where the boundaries were in their world. They didn't teach to this depth in the first class I enrolled in. But now, 6 months the wiser with our new trainer the answer is, "yes of course with the proper training, dogs will always be "good" seemingly naturally."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A new book for my journey

With written permission I am excited to share the following excerpt:

"Bones Would Rain from the sky"
"My only mistake was licking her knee. Until that moment, they had been quite tolerant of me panting quietly under the dining room table, a good place to lie on a warm summer's evening. I was a smart dog. I knew I might have been cooler lying on the slick tile in the bathroom or even outside, shaded by the bushes along the foundation. But I would have missed being with my family. Seen from beneath the table, framed by a tablecloth, my family appeared as a collection of limbs and clothing: plump knees, scabby knees, tired-looking ankles rising pale and thin from sensible white socks, pleasantly grubby feet idly rubbing the rungs of a chair, a flip-flop dangling from a swinging toe.
I shifted to lean against a women's knee, eyes closed as I breathed in the sweetly familiar perfume that rose from a hollow on her ankle. Absently, she reached down to pat my head, and grateful for the attention, I licked her knee. With my aunt's startled cry, my blissful moments as the family dog came to an end. It was not fair, I thought resentfully as I was hauled out from under the table and placed unceremoniously in a chair with the command, " Sit here and eat like a human being!" All I wanted was a dog. If I couldn't have a dog, the least my family could do was allow me to be a dog. And everyone knows that dogs lick the people they like."
Copyright © 2002 by Suzanne Clothier
Excerpt from: If a Dog's Prayers were Answered . . . "Bones Would Rain from the Sky": Deepening Our Relationship with Dogs
And so starts another great book from a true dog lover. Suzanne Clothier is a dog trainer, lecturer, and award-winning author. An excerpt from the book's jacket notes that...
"As in no other "dog book" or training manual, in Bones Would Rain Form The Sky an extraordinary woman shows us how to find a deep connection with another being and to receive an incomparable gift: a profound, lifelong relationship with the dog you love."
Copyright © 2002

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Bark Busters" - BUSTED!!

This was my personal experience . . .

When I first realized I was headed down the wrong path as the dogs entered adolescence I started to look for another trainer. Someone who understood specifically what we were going through and had real solutions. Our holistic vet recommended a "Bark Busters" trainer. I'm sure the trainer had been doing the rounds and left brochures at the office. The vet asked me to let him know how things went. The first referral he had made had gone well but he wanted to know how things went for us. So I gave the trainer a call.

I had to leave a message as no one answered, but my call was returned that very evening. The trainer was very understanding and took the time to ask what I felt were very relevant questions. He was empathetic and compassionate. Then we discussed the details. He said that he started with at least a 2 hour session where he primarily educates his clients on the psychology of dog behavior and what motivates dogs to do what they do. He than said he does (to my best recollection) ~5 sessions with the dogs. For this he charges $500 per dog, but since we had two dogs he was only going to charge us $800. Oh, but wait, there was a life time guarantee!!

All my relief in finding a trainer that understood went out the window. Was he insane!! I understood that we needed to change our approach, that our dogs needed to practice new behaviours, that we needed to practice better handling skills. How was that going to happen in the limited time he was saying he would actually be working with us? I felt caught between a rock and a hard place, I love my dogs and wanted things to change, this guy had taken the time to talk to me, he was saying he could help. But, huge gulp, how much was it worth to me?

My intuition said keep looking, get over your guilt, buck up and find something that rings true for you. Feeling guilty is not a good place to start any commitment!!.

That's when we found Trish. So far we have spent $600 in classes. But here's the difference, $600 payed for two separate 6 week long classes; 12 - 1 hour classes for both dogs or 24 hours between the two. It also included another 6 week long class just for Shelby; 6 hours. In all, that is 30 hours that have included other dogs, and distractions, not to mention the ongoing support of Trish over the course of the past 5 months. This actually will take us through the end of October. That's 7 months of support and training progression through some of the more challenging developmental stages in raising a dog, especially Labradors.

The price may still seam high in some of your estimation, but it's been more than worth it. Trish rarely has more than 10 dogs in each class, the last two have been more around 7. The activities we do build on the basic obedience we already had but with a fun and games twist, all the while learning important skills. Like I've said before you need to observe a trainer conducting a class before you decide to work with that trainer. It has to be right for you. I didn't know any better when we started in a class of 20. Perhaps for most dogs this is the perfect set up and they will do fine, unfortunately this was not the case for us. Perhaps paying $500 for a week with a "Bark Busters" trainer is more to your liking. Personally it feels like a real sham to me when faced with the reality that shaping a dogs behavior takes time. Their are no quick fixes, no free lunch, and anyone who says that they have the quick Magic Pill should be - BUSTED!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


We took a wonderful vacation in June and found Mendocino uncharacteristicly gorgeous. No "June Gloom" here!

My husband and the dogs at the Botanical Gardens

I love the whole "a man & his dogs" thing this picture has going for it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

More Reactive Dog Resources

Here's a great online article that is written with compassion and true experience by a trainer who specializes in reactive dogs.

"Of Knuckleheads and Buttheads: The Reactive Dog", Author Moc Klinkam is Training Director at NorthWest K9
Another good online article and other resources:
"Great Companions: Learn to be your dog's reward", by Ali Brown
"Scaredy Dog! Understanding and rehabilitating your reactive dog", by Ali Brown
"Scaredy Dog! SEMINAR DVD", by Ali Brown
A great article from MySmartPuppy.com
"Helping the Reactive Dog", by Sarah Wilson
A general article on reinforcing calm behaviors for any and all dogs.
"Wild Behavior: How to Help Your Dog Settle Down", by Kathy Diamond Davis

Sunday, September 10, 2006

"Do you remember when?"

Sometimes it's nice to take a walk down memory lane to "Do you remember when?" and remind yourself just how lucky you've been. If you have brought a puppy home at 8 weeks old you understand. Here's a few pictures from our "puppy collection". Click on each picture to view larger.

Nutmeg at 11 weeks

Shelby at 12 weeks

The charming pair at 14 weeks

Saturday, September 09, 2006

My "Reactive Dog"

If you are asking yourself, "what is a reactive dog?", realize that you are not alone. I had no idea what a "reactive dog" temperament was. If only I had realized sooner that my Shelby is a "reactive dog". So, what is a reactive dog? Here's the best description out there.

The following is an excerpt from the book: "Good Owners, Great Dogs", by Brian Kilcommnos & Sarah Wilson. With written permission I'm thrilled to share an excerpt. [pg 216]

The Reactive Dog
When you restrain him, he gets more frenzied. When you yell at him, he gets more wild. When you correct him hard, he gets worse. You have a reactive dog. The good news is that he is 100% trainable. Reactive dogs have a hard time calming themselves down.They tend to take every emotion you send their way and magnify it. You are upset, they get more upset. With these animals it is mandatory that you be calm, dead calm. If you are calm, they become calm. There are no tricks, no shortcuts. Commands are neutral; correction unemotional, direct and over with. Concentrate on timing and structure rather than force. If you try force, they will get anxious and active. Praise is warm, kind and not too excited.
My personal experience is that the reactive dog is mentally sensitive, eager to please and intelligent. When approached as stupid, stubborn, difficult or untrainable, he becomes those things. With your proper handling and patience, he will become a responsive pet.
Copyright © 1992, 1999 by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson
A message from Sarah Wilson:
"My Smart Puppy" - our newest book with a new way of thinking about training - is out October (2006) - and folks can find us (and our message boards) through www.mysmartpuppy.com.

Anyway - happy to help out.

Best -
Take a minute to visit their website. The book: "Good Owners, Great Dogs" is a great reference in that it covers all the basics. Great suggestions and advice are presented is a nice easy to access way. Personal stories from years of experience make the book a fun read instead of the usual dry, traditional dog advice books out there. Although it is not specifically a training program book, for the novice dog owner it is a must have - before you get your dog - book. Personally I just wish I hadn't put the book down before getting to page 216. It wasn't until just a month ago that I picked up the book again and said, "I get it, I have a 'reactive dog' ."

Their are great resources out there for those of you like me living with a reactive dog. As I compile them I will share them here. I know I'll be learning in the process too.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Good Books for your Library

In some of my previous posts I have listed some of the books I have in my library. Here are several others I feel are worth sharing.

And for a very fascinating insight as to how animals perceive the world around them:
I hope you enjoy!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Need a good laugh?

My husband sent me this link and I had to post it for all to enjoy.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Do you have an "Emergency Recall" Cue?

Over the last year I have often said that many of the things I did right were by sheer "dumb luck". For instance, we never allowed the dogs out the walk through gate unless they had a leash on. No real reason behind it we just never did it. Even if we were doing yard work and in the driveway. Now we can leave the gate open or open the large automatic driveway gate and they won't run out. I've noticed lately from simply telling them to "wait" while we drive in past the gait that they wait inside the house now until they hear the gait begin to close before coming out to great us. Of course teaching a "wait" vs. a "stay" has also helped and I've learned has it's value in many other situations. (Perhaps another post)

Then there was about 2 months ago when we met two 5mo old Golder Retriever puppies and their owners at the lake. We were swapping puppy stories and talking about training, how much I had done over the last year, etc. Then one of the women said something that lit up a big light bulb in my head. She said, "yeah, and we're working on the 'emergency recall' and that's coming along real well." I knew exactly what she was referring to and immediately also realized that I had never made a point of training an emergency recall with my dogs. I'd worked very hard on just training a recall and keeping the word "come" or "their name" positive with good rewards for consistent responses from them. Consistency definitely has been an issue in the recent months especially with adolescence. Even now at 16 months and the tail end of adolescence still quite evident, recalls often have something left to be desired especially with my boy "Shelby".

The next week while in Hallmark I saw a small whistle that could sit on a chain around my neck and bought it with the "emergency recall" training in mind. That week we started what last night I learned first hand will save your dogs life.

The evening was going as usual. We were enjoying play time at our park at dusk. We were headed back to the car. An owner and their dog were entering the park and were still by the entrance. Another dog was near by. The owners were talking so the little dog was unleashed to play. The little dog was a yapper and soon had the attention of our dogs and three other dogs. Overwhelmed by the much larger dogs and the enthusiastic interest they were paying it the dog squealed and charged out of the park and into the street. I panicked at first and yelled my dogs names then reached for my neck and blew quick sharp chirps from our "emergency recall" whistle. To my absolute relief just as they hit the exit they turned around and headed back. My heart slowly returned to normal from the adrenaline rush. It took awhile because just as my dogs turned around I watched 4 other dogs from our group run out into traffic after the little dog. I said a quick prayer as I watched owners running while yelling and screaming after them. The good news is that no one was hurt and everyone was leashed and back with their owners within a few minutes. But who needs that kind of stress at the end of the day.

Like I started saying, "dumb luck"! who would have known that an owner would bring a 4mo old little dog who had barely gotten out of indoor puppy class, a class that had only included dogs it's size, to a park. Then with no recall of his own, take the dog off leash. All I can say is if you do not have a well trained "emergency recall" with your dog don't wait another day. I had mine in place just at the right time, literally it has been just the last month. Who knew?!

Magic Emergency Recall Cue: A personal perspective

"Really Reliable Recall" Training DVD
From Dogwise.com

Publisher: Healthy Dog Productions
Edition: 2004 DVD
Price: $29.95
Summary: From well-known trainer Leslie Nelson! Easy to follow steps to train your dog to come when it really counts, in an emergency. Extra chapters for difficult to train breeds and training class instructors.

© Healthy Dog Productions 2004

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cool Memory Foam dog bed

Every dog loves a comfortable bed and that especially goes for Labradors and other large dogs. Check out the one below from www.petsnap.com, talk about comfy and functional.

"Memory Bed & Scent Stopper"
www.petsnap.com, - $80.00
Size: 30" x 40" x 3" High

Monday, September 04, 2006

What to feed a Labrador Retriever

On my journey to learn all that I could about what was best for my dogs one web site stood out among the rest. William D. Cusick, The Animal Advocate has put together an awesome website that specifically addresses the nutritional needs of different breeds of dogs. With permission I am thrilled to share the following exerpt.

Each breed of dog has its own unique
set of nutritional requirements.


"The Labrador Retriever is also only one of the few breeds known to produce an oil through the pores of the skin. It will develop a very dry and brittle coat in a very short period of time when the entire Linoleic acid group is not present in its daily diet." William D. Cusick, The Animal Advocate
Posted by permission from the author, 9/04/2006

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"Family Member" or "Home Accessory"

Have you really stopped to think about how much energy you have put towards the well being of your pets. Whether you have dog(s) or cat(s), or even perhaps both consider the following for a second. When it comes to our well being we pay very close attention to some or all of the following: what we eat - organic perhaps, only the best restaurants, no processed foods, maybe no hydrogenated oils; our hair - the style, products to care for it, the people we pay to cut it; our comfort - top of the line mattress, nice comfy arm chair for the end of the day; our personal recreation - golfing, working out at home or the gym, going to a movie, going out to dinner with friends, romantic evenings with a spouse. Now stop and consider that all these things are also of vital importance to the most selfless often overlooked members of our family - our pets.

That's why I feed my dogs Flint River Ranch dog food. No, it's not the only premium, human grade quality meat, no filler, all stage food out there. But for my Labradors, who need the omega 3 oils more than most dogs, and absolutely do not need the cheep hard to digest grain fillers, they have a great trout and sweet potato formula called "Fish & Chips". My dogs love it and I can even use it as a training treat reward. I also feed them fruits and veggies especially when I'm in the in the kitchen preparing a meal and there are extra cuttings or special cuttings just for them. Some people have told me that they don't want there dogs begging in the kitchen. My answer is simple, there is no free lunch in my house, my dogs have to work for any and all treats. It's a fun training opportunity that they love. Most of the time I send them to their bed before they get the treat. This has taught them the ideal place to be when we're in the kitchen together and I'm cooking. This beats tripping over them when they quietly lay down behind me, or stepping on a stray tail in my rush to get to the pot that's boiling. Of course they in turn get great fresh wholesome vitamins and minerals. It's why we eat these things, right?

Next on my list of favorites are the grooming products by Cloud Star - Buddy Wash. They also have great dog treats that my dogs have loved over the past year. Because Buddy Wash is (what is called) soap free it can be used as often as once a week even on puppies and does not remove such things as Front-line or Advantage. They smell great and if you cuddle with your dog(s) like we do then you'll love the feel of their coat and the clean smell as well. They also have an after bath or between bath coat conditioner that is really nice. One use in a pinch is for those times you have company coming and haven't had a chance to bathe the dogs and they need it. Although not it's intended use it sure does the trick nicely.

We have a soft place for them to lie down in every room where we spend time in our house. Shelby sometimes chooses the floor instead of the bed but Nutmeg heads for the bed right away. There are many good reasons for them to have their own place in the room. If you need them out from under foot you have a place to send them. It also saves the carpet. Now if they have a bone they are working on and we're in the carpeted office they take it right to there bed and all that extra drool can be washed in the next load of laundry.

Dogs need their exercise and to learn good socialization skills not just with other humans but with other sizes and breeds of dogs. Learn more with this article: "The Puppy and the Young Dog - About Growing Up" by Turid Rugaas. Every breed of dog has their own twist on "dog talk" (Calming Signals - The Art of Survival) and even dogs in the same breed can communicate differently. Our dogs need to understand this early in their life and throughout their life. Then there's just the simple fact that I picked dogs that need to run. Retrieving is their life and the bond it creates between me and my dogs is worth every minute I give to them. In our house that means every day we're out at least once doing hard running at the park. Sometimes we out there alone sometimes we're out there with 4 - 8 other neighborhood dogs. It's really neat to see the dogs "talking", figuring out how to play well together. Can you tell when your dog is "laughing"?

Hopefully I've made you think about things a little differently. What ever your choices are in the care of your dogs, just be sure you've given them as much thought as you've given to yourself. You can own "home accessories" or have a rich life with "family members".

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Because a picture is worth a thousand words

May 5th they turned a year old and I took these pictures to celebrate making it through the first year.



Now 4 months later we are all wiser about a lot of things.

Why positive reinforcement works

Trust me when I say I've made my fair share of mistakes. The biggest one I made as the puppies hit adolescence was thinking for a second that negative reinforcement would get me anywhere. Now in hindsight it seems almost absurd to think that getting a negative from me could ever compete with the reward they were getting from what they chose to do.

Dogs are driven by their senses and from 5 months to at least 11 months their curiosity seems to be on hyper-drive. If I had just realized one simple thing sooner I could have avoided a lot of needless frustration. I had to offer them something that was of an equal or greater reward if I wanted them to do what I wanted. If that didn't work then the world needed to come to a complete stop until they refocused back on me. That may mean coming to a complete stop and ignoring a excited barking fit set off by a squirrel or bird, stepping on a leash to prevent jumping and giving them no eye or face contact until they stopped. The key then is to immediately reward when they refocus. Sometimes the "life reward" of just continuing the walk is enough. Luckily there are very few labs that are not food driven so a favorite treat was the perfect reward when I finally got my act together.

There was a period there that I felt that all the birds and squirrels had gotten together and conspired against me just to test my patience. Shelby could just go into fits. Of course it didn't help that I thought at first that a yank on the collar was going to teach him to ignore it. It was like adding fuel to the fire and each time it was worse. The more I yanked the more intense his excitement was. Looking back now I can't believe I didn't get it sooner. I had to let go of trying to control him and switch to only rewarding the behavior I wanted. I didn't realize that although yanking on his collar was a negative it was a reaction and he learned to cause chaos almost over night. It took just over a month of this stupidity on my part before I knew there had to be a better way. I absolutely knew that I didn't have the answers. Thank God for Trish (see previous post)!! Everything we did in her class had a bigger everyday life application. Every skill learned in her class had a more valuable purpose out of class.

Why does positive reinforcement work . . . ? because negative doesn't!!!

These last two weeks I have received the sweetest gift of a reward for all my reformed efforts. I can now walk with both dogs at my side (or at least within a 3 foot radius) out to the middle of the park to the group of dogs we meet with every night. And the kicker is that I can do this all off leash on voice command. With a steady reminder that they must stay with me until they are "released" we make it 100'-150'. This sure beats being dragged by two dogs on leash with my hand turning blue under the strain. No, all our walks are not perfect and walks around the neighborhood still have a lot of work to be done, but it has still been a huge reward for me.

Then there's my sweet girl Nutmeg who has helped me keep the faith. She and I can walk the neighborhood where ever I want to go completely off leash and purely on voice command. She can run errands with me to the neighbors and will hold a perfect down stay at the steps to the front porch while she waits for me. Trust me she could throw a fit as good as her brother, sometimes even better. Whether it's just that she's a "girl" and just gets it quicker or just has a different temperament than her brother, she has always been easier all around. The ironic things is that over the last couple months Shelby and I have established a tighter bond in that he anchors well to me when we're at the park even with other dogs around. He has taught me a lot, not only about training dogs but about myself and life in general. That is always a good thing!!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Our progression through collars

Our dogs like all big dogs grew very fast in the first year. Buying collars was a progressive journey. We started with the 1/4" nylon and quickly moved on to the 1/2" nylon collars. It wasn't long before we were done with the last of the vaccinations and ready to explore the world beyond the back yard.

We tried the Gentle Leader and, although many dog owners swear by it, my dogs were completely depressed by even the sight of it after only 1 week. They absolutely hated it!! If I brought it out they hung their heads. All the suggestions to leave it on and let them eat, sleep, and acclimate to it were impossible with having two dogs. The way they wrestled and played and chewed on each other made leaving it on them a safety risk. I tried everything, the slow progression to wearing it, to using treats for accepting it, even special treat for just when they wore it. After a week I was done with my dogs hanging their heads when we got ready for a walk.

By 4 1/2 months despite my initial hesitation we had moved on to the small link Prong collar. The most important thing with the Prong collar is to make sure you link through both rings so the collar won't cinch up on the neck. Also stick with the small links and just add links as they grow as the small links don't hurt or pinch as much. The quick release designs are the safest. Always have a backup 1/4" nylon cord choke style collar that is at least 24" - 26" long as the smaller prongs can on a rare occasion unhook from each other. The backup collar should in no way cinch up it is simply there as a backup

Because we were consistent with their training and daily walks by 9mo I was looking for a nice Martingale collar. I hated the idea if Choke collars and knew that would not be an option especially with my physically insensitive dogs. ( The Lab Through a Lover's Eyes) I still needed a mild sensation reminder component in the collar, but was looking to get away from the prongs as my only collar option. If I could have had my preference I would have skipped the Prong and moved to the Martingale from the Nylon buckle collars, but with two dogs and having to split my training time the Prong collar helped tremendously. When I started looking for Martingale collars my search found me on greyhound and greyhound type dog sites. Most of the collar styles were at least two inches wide and that wouldn't work at all for me. The nylon only Martingales were not going to stand up to my 70+ pound dogs, and looked like they could eventually loosen and easily slip at the adjustable buckle. I still needed a bit of "adjustability" as the puppies were still growing and I wasn't going to sacrifice on safety. It was also hard to find 1 inch thick collars at the length I needed for my dogs. I wanted the wider collar to avoid injury or stress on their neck if they were excited and pulling at the leash. I finally found an awesome Martingale collar made with a Labrador in mind. They are made by a company called Silverfoot. The adjustable buckle has small teeth that hold well. The cloth designs that are stitched on top of the nylon not only offer great choices but help with the buckles ability to hold its position. And I bought mine at DogGoneGood.com.

So far we have had them for seven months. Although my dogs can occasionally loosen them if they are wrestling and chewing on each others necks I have yet to see the collars cinch up tight accidentally during play.

I realize that many of you out there will have your own reasons for choosing the collars you do. Everything from fashion, to function, to training philosophies. This journey through collars was simply my trial and error process not an assertion that is the best progression.

10/12/06 Update:

I just noticed that the metal used in the collar pictured above is plated not solid stainless steel. I have since found better collars. Here's a picture. For the full details click here.

11/17/06 Update:
Here's a great article "Training With The Prong Collar" by Suzanne Clothier, on the proper use of prong collars and when they are appropriate from her web site Flying Dog Press.

Another great find

Finally a design that can work for big and small dogs.

Walk-N-Water Pet Canteen
DogToys.com Price: $13.99
• Bottle holds 1 liter of water (33.8 ounces).
• Includes 52" carry strap with an easy-open clasp.
• Bowl snaps over canteen for convenient carrying.
• Features attractive design and durable construction

Check this out!!

If you have ever traveled with your dog(s) this product sells it self by the pictures alone. What a great product.

Store-N-Feed To Go Portable Feeder
DogToys.com Price: $47.99

Evaluating your dog's weight

How skinny is "pretty skinny"? How heavy is "not as thin as he should be"?
  1. EMACIATED: Ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones and all bony prominences evident form a distance. No discernable body fat. Obvious loss of muscle mass.
  2. VERY THIN: Ribs, lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones easily visible. No palpable fat. Some evidence of other bony prominence. Minimal loss of muscle mass
  3. THIN: Ribs easily palpated and may be visible with no palpable fat. Tops of lumbar vertebrae visible. Pelvic bones becoming prominent. Obvious waist and abdominal tuck
  4. UNDERWEIGHT: Ribs easily palpable, with minimal fat covering. Waist easily noted, viewed form above. Abdominal tuck evident.
  5. IDEAL: Ribs palpable without excess fat covering. Waist observed behind ribs when viewed from above. Abdomen tucked when viewed from the side.
  6. OVERWEIGHT: Ribs palpable with slight excess fat covering. Waist is discernable viewed from above but is not prominent. Abdominal tuck apparent.
  7. HEAVY: Ribs palpable with difficulty, heavy fat cover. Noticeable fat deposits over lumbar area and base of tail. Waist absent or barely visible. Abdominal tuck may be absent.
  8. OBESE: Ribs not palpable under heavy fat cover, or palpable only with significant pressure. Heavy fat deposits over lumbar area and base of tail.
  9. GROSSLY OBESE: Waist absent. No abdominal tuck. Obvious abdominal distension may be present.

Another web link " Canine Health Body Condition System" of the same information with nice clear pictures.