Monthly Archives: July 2014

Our Vienna Adventure

After visiting the vet at Vienna Veterinary Faculty Java’s wrist remains a bit of a mystery. We went to do the ultrasound and as soon as the vet saw Java’s wrist she said it would be a waste of money to do it because her wrist isn’t swollen (not even a little). She did say that from X-rays I brought her it looks like it could be a tendinopathy on the flexor of the 1st toe. If there would be a persistent lameness a part would have to be severed surgically and that would solve the lameness. She would be able to run and do agility afterwards. But she isn’t lame and the only time she was limping was right after running into the ditch.

But there is also good news: I let Java run free in the park and also did some agility with her and her wrist was just fine πŸ™‚ I guess it’s also possible that it’s healed by now (it’s been four months), but I will try to keep her from sprinting for a while.

The One Mind Dogs seminar was awesome! It was information overload for me, but I didn’t mind, as long as something stays in my memory I’m happy πŸ™‚ I tried to write down as much as possible, but of course there are many things that slipped by me. I learned that Slovenian English accent is easily recognizable because so many people know Silvia Trkman’s English and apparently mine is the same (well duh – we’re from the same city). Someone even asked me if I was related to Silvia and didn’t look entirely convinced when I told him I wasn’t πŸ˜€ Though in Slovenia we sometimes joke that everyone is related to everyone else because the country is so small, so I guess in a way he was right. I just wish those genes would show up in my handling πŸ˜›

Java relaxing while other dogs run agility

Java relaxing while other dogs run agility

I loved Janita’s and Jaakko’s style of teaching. It seemed really logical and well thought through. No two people think exactly the same, so it was also interesting to listen to one and the other explain course choices and focus on slightly different things. While those who had working spots were running the course I was alternately listening in and going back to Java to keep her quiet for longer and longer periods of time. She wanted in on the action, and when she wants something she can be really loud, but with occasional treat she did really well (I used differential reinforcement of other behavior to stop her from barking and whining). The day was very hot and I didn’t want to leave her in the car even with door open, so I kept her in a shade by the course. Luckily there was water for dogs to cool in so I took her there periodically. The first time she was a little skeptic about jumping in, but afterwards she started pulling there as soon as she realized we’re heading for the water πŸ™‚

By the end of the second day Java was really fed up with just hanging around. When the official training was over I warmed her up, lowered the bars to 20cm and did short obstacle sequences on Jaakko’s course. It was very challenging for us, but apparently it’s possible to learn something by watching, because we did things we could never do before πŸ™‚ Java was barking like crazy and flying through the course. I even asked Jaakko to handle her for a sequence, and he did! He had a hard time keeping up with her because she didn’t send to obstacles as well for him as she does for me and those little 20cm jumps were not slowing her down much. That was fun to watch πŸ™‚

In short, Vienna was great. We met wonderful people, made new friends, learned a lot, my health held up, Java’s wrist was great, and we did some agility after a long time. Perfect four days!

Time for bed now. I will write more about the seminar in the next blog post.

Java calmly watching ducks at the park! Success :)

Java calmly watching ducks at the park! Success πŸ™‚

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How Much Will My Dog Remember?

A friend asked me how much do dogs remember if they only train something once per week. The reference was to our weekly agility trainings. The answer, as Facebook would say, is complicated.

First, I would like to point out the 2011 study The effect of frequency and duration of training sessions on acquisition and long-term memory in dogs. While the study was focused on how would different training schedules impact how long the dogs would retain the knowledge afterwards (the answer: once behavior was learned all groups retained it for four weeks regardless of training schedule used), the interesting point for our discussion is that not only have those Beagles that trained only once or twice per week remembered their training, they learned faster than those who trained every day.

Whoa! What are you saying here? Should I just train my dog once per week for fast learning?

Well, it depends on how you define ‘fast’ and I think it also depends on what you’re training. In the study all groups trained the same behavior. Would results differ if the behavior trained was more complex? Who knows.

BeagleRetentionStudyHere’s the graph showing how quickly each group progressed through stages of learning the task of jumping in a basket. One session = 6 repetitions.
W1 – trained once or twice weekly for 6 reps
W3 – trained once or twice weekly for 18 reps
D1 – trained daily for 6 reps
D3 – trained daily for 18 reps

Dogs that trained once or twice weekly for only 6 repetitions (W1) reached training level 7 in 10 sessions (60 repetitions) while those that trained daily for 6 repetitions (D1) reached the same level in 18 sessions (108 repetitions). Obviously the group that was only trained once or twice per week had no problems remembering their training sessions. They even learned faster! However, for group W1 those 10 sessions took 7 weeks while for group D1 their 18 sessions took less than 4 weeks. If talking about treats delivered, group W1 learned faster. If talking about how long it took, group D1 learned faster.

Another interesting tidbit from the study’s discussion: “Results of Maslovat et al. (2004) suggest that interference of an extra task might be as beneficial to acquisition in humans as extra practice on the initial task, which suggests an important effect of the intervening interval.” If this is also true for dogs it seems that we could safely practice other things during the week and they would not interfere with learning in our once-weekly sessions.

From this study it seems that if I had a dog that could eat only a handful of treats per day (or would only be interested in a few treats or whatever) and I wanted to teach him several behaviors it would be best to practice those behaviors once per week. Even if the dog would only get 6 treats per day I could train 7 behaviors simultaneously. Each behavior would take a little longer to complete, but I would maximize the number of behaviors learned over a month or two.

I would like to note one thing though: those Beagles were only learning one behavior and they were always brought to the same room with the same equipment. Dogs are very sensitive to the environment in which we teach behaviors, so for my above scenario to work I would have to practice each behavior in a different location and/or with different props.

Now back to our original question on training agility and to my very unscientific observations of what is going on. This was a laboratory experiment and the environment in which our dogs train agility is very different, so we need to take this into account. The Beagle study made sure that the experiment room looked the same during each session and there were no distractions that could interfere with learning. This is crucial when teaching a dog new things: there must either be very weak distractions present or the dog must have learned to cope with those and stay focused on the task regardless. Our agility environment is quite a bit different: we train outside, there are other dogs present, new smells each week and other distractions.

The behavior we were discussing with my friend was sending the dog through a tunnel which is in a way similar to the behavior the Beagles were training. They both work by building the value for an object – a basket in Beagle’s case or tunnel in our case. The more value the object has, the more our dog is going to gravitate toward that object. The value is built as we feed the dog on the object or reward looking at, walking toward, touching and walking on/through object. Running through a tunnel is not an intellectually difficult task (at least not until the dog needs to find an entrance from weird angles). It could be scary or uncomfortable for some dogs, so it could be emotionally difficult, but once the dog has run through the tunnel a couple of times, there is nothing intellectually difficult about it. It’s all a question of whether the dog finds it worth his while. Is running through the tunnel worth more than sniffing or visiting the classmate? That is the real question.

Wheeee!

Wheeee!

Value building is an interesting thing to observe. If your dog is one of those who is usually slow(ish), try to teach your dog to go to a mat and lie down using his dinner kibble. Observe the speed with which he moves. Better yet, record a video. Next day use very very good treats – dinner leftovers (lots of dogs think that people food is the best), baked liver treats, chicken gizzards cooked with asparagus (Ruby loves those), cheese – whatever your dog loves above all else. Of course the dog will already know how to go on a mat, but watch the speed. Any difference? I’m betting he was faster this time! Now this doesn’t conclusively prove anything because he could be faster simply because he already knew the behavior, but in my experience this isn’t the case. I was actually working on this exact task a few years ago using kibble for several sessions and Ruby was going through the motions, but without much enthusiasm… And then I used really good treats the next time. Wow! I wasn’t expecting such big speed difference!

Caution: do not try using better treats in the middle of a session if your dog is slow – you would only be teaching him that moping around will make you produce better treats. Instead, end the session and wait at least 10 minutes before you go and get those better treats. You don’t want the dog to learn I’m slow -> she cuts up better treats -> then we train using better treats! Score! Being slow pays off.

In the example above you can determine how much value you have built for the mat by how fast the dog approaches it. Another way to see the value is to take the mat into another room: is he still just as keen? How about if I take it outside? Now we’re testing the value of the mat against the distractions of the outside world. What is hard is not the intellectual knowing that he’s supposed to go lie on the mat (though for dogs with poorly developed generalization skills the ‘knowledge’ part will be difficult, too) – it’s the decision to say “no” to distractions and “yes” to the mat. The thing with the higher value wins.

Back to our original question. By now I hope it’s obvious we’re not really teaching the dog to run through the tunnel as much as we’re building the value for running through the tunnel. How can we build this value faster? As we have seen from example with the mat the object gets bigger value if our rewards are better. If I reward running through a tunnel with a piece of kibble the dog might decide this is not enough and sniff next time instead of running through. If I reward it with a piece of meat, it might be like putting 1 EUR into the tunnel’s bank account. Three pieces of meat + me running and praising excitedly might be an equivalent of 5 EUR. And a Two Toy Game after the tunnel might be worth 10 EUR. Each dog has their own value system.

What motivation looks like

What motivation looks like

So if my friend runs her dog through a tunnel ten times rewarding with a piece of meat she will put 10 EUR into the tunnel’s bank account (if the dog is even willing to do 10 repetitions in the row – this might not be the case with some dogs). Then I run my dog through the tunnel three times and play Two Toy Game each time. I just put 30 EUR into the tunnel’s bank account and it’s very unlikely my dog has quit on me on just 3 repetitions (plus, as you saw in the Beagle study, less repetition might actually be better).

Distractions can decrease the value you put into that tunnel, because the dog must work harder. So if my dog’s friend is near, my dog will need to use self-control to stay and work with me instead of going to play with his friend. I will not be just paying for the tunnel, I will also pay for that self-control, so from my imaginary 10 EUR only 5 EUR will go toward the tunnel (but 5 EUR will go toward self-control, so his self-control will grow stronger with time).

As all analogies, this analogy with money is not perfect or scientific or even original (I think picked it up from Susan Garrett, but then it grew in my head to explain more and more events). But I find it helps me predict dog behavior, create training plans that work, and explain what is happening to others. Not too bad for an imperfect analogy πŸ™‚

I hope I have showed you that “remembering” is not just about memory, it is also about motivation. And motivation is not about how often you practice and how many repetitions you do, it’s about how excited your dog is about rewards you give for those repetitions and about the distractions that compete for his attention.

The source of Java's motivation

The source of Java’s motivation

Thanks to Helena Mesarič and Monika Pleterski for photos!

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In Which I Give Unsolicited Advice On Dealing With Adversity And Show Java’s Rally Obedience Tricks

If I counted it right my “30 posts in 30 days” was actually “25 posts in 30 days” which was about five times more than I usually write in a month. Not too shabby. I’m glad it’s over though πŸ™‚ When I started I thought I will be writing about agility and daisies and unicorns, but then it turned out to be wrist and toe problems and witches and bad luck spells. It took a lot of strength to fight depressive thoughts. I think this was my most successful fight so far. So yay! I guess.

Here’s what helped:

  • TheObstacleIsTheWayListening to Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is The Way over and over again. I first listened to the audio book in the beginning of June and I thought it was pretty awesome. Then the reality of Java’s injury hit on June 15th and I found myself going back to it again and again. This is such a first-world-problem to have. No children dying, no epidemics or hunger to fight. But it’s a real problem to me and a real source of sorrow. The Obstacle Is The Way helped me get past the emotional side of it, to act and find other things to focus on. Ryan’s book talks about practical applications of stoicism and while that made me write it off at first (who wants to be stoic? Not me!), the book quickly changed my mind, especially since the stoic principles actually helped me to deal with a rough month better then I have in the past. I might read works of Marcus Aurelius or Seneca in the future. That’s how good this book is.
  • Especially with both dogs injured it’s easy to stay at home a lot and be less active, but that is such a mood killer. I tried to spend the same amount of time on my feet even when we weren’t going for long walks.
  • Helping to train Trinity was a blast and so was our little Whippet Agility group. It makes me feel connected with the sport even though I haven’t been running around equipment all month. It feels good to help others and see changes in their dogs.
  • And of course Rally Obedience! It was great to have something else to focus on, something that we could do regardless of injuries.

Yesterday we had our last Rally class and since Ruby had some mysterious tummy problems I decided not to fill him full of treats, so it was Java’s chance to shine. And shine she did. It’s obvious that she had less practice at it than Ruby and she is a bit bouncy on all exercises which makes it look a bit less like obedience and more like a flavor of Whippet Ballet, but I’ll take it πŸ™‚ She did really really well with distractions. There was a dog barking, an unknown Golden Retriever next to our path (Java didn’t even glance at her), lots of rattling of treat containers and toy squeaking (distracting, but manageable) and instructor tossing a ball into the air while she was heeling (very tempting, but she made the right choice!!!). So proud of my girl πŸ™‚

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Day 30: Dog Body Language

A while ago I saw a wonderful collection of 12 photographs by Heike Kain, taken during dog play. She graciously allowed me to share them with you and comment on what I see.
The subjects of photos are 6 year old Whippet Crochett and a 2.5 year old black Galga Espanol Samira (spayed). They have been running around with other dogs, then things quieted down. But Samira wanted to play some more.

SamiraCrockett_1

Here you can see Samira doing a classic sighthound move: she is cutting Crochett off (though he wasn’t moving anyway as you can see from position of his legs), comes from the side and is trying to make him run, probably so she could chase him.

SamiraCrockett_2

SamiraCrockett_3
Crochett does not budge. Only his tail starts lifting. Samira’s eyes are soft. She says she is not a threat.

SamiraCrockett_4

SamiraCrockett_5
Samira lands tall on the front feet, daring Crochett to run. Her neck and ears are erect, she’s ready for action, but eyes are still soft. Crochett’s high tail indicates arousal and that he is prepared to take action, even though the rest of his body is completely still.

SamiraCrockett_6

Samira completes her manouver, waiting for response. Crochett’s response is seen in his tail: he waves it to the left, which can be often seen in dogs who wish to increase distance from the object of their attention. Samira’s maneuver was an intrusion in his personal space that he didn’t appreciate. He doesn’t want to play at this time. He didn’t have to get snarly to get this message across. Just standing still, muscles ready to respond and a left tail wag is all it took.

Look at Crotchett’s tail in the next few photos. He never truly wags to the right.

SamiraCrockett_7

SamiraCrockett_8
What happened to Samira’s ears? They were erect and hopeful just two pictures ago. Now she has folded them back, realizing this chase isn’t going to happen. If she would be a pup with bad doggie manners she would jump on Crochett’s back, paw at him or bark. But she read Crochett’s message well and she responds nicely.

SamiraCrockett_9

SamiraCrockett_10
She turns her head toward Crotchett with the last glimmer of hope…

SamiraCrockett_11

SamiraCrockett_12

SamiraCrockett_13
Crochett leans away from Samira, indicating that he doesn’t wish to play.

SamiraCrockett_14

SamiraCrockett_15

SamiraCrockett_16
And then also turns his head away to make the message clearer. “I really don’t want to play.”

SamiraCrockett_17

SamiraCrockett_18

In response Samira relaxes her neck and tail and turns her head slightly away.

I love these photos because they show how subtle the communication between dogs can be. If we wouldn’t be able to go through pictures again and again we might miss so many things, but Samira and Crochett understood eachother perfectly. Aren’t dogs amazing?

Thank you Heike for sharing these photographs with us!

The fields of behaviorism and ethology study animal behavior. Many dog owners have no idea that we can learn how to read dogs better and unfortunately many people don’t even recognize important emotional states such as fear. I once had to be quite rude to a friend to stop him from trying to pet Ruby (“don’t worry, all dogs love me!”) while Ruby was cowering in fear. Ruby is happy to see him now, but on that first encounter he felt cornered and wanted nothing to do with him.

If you would like to learn more about dog body language, here are some useful links:
Turid Rugaas: Calming signals – The Art of Survival (article)
http://eileenanddogs.com/dog-body-language/ (blog posts)
http://doggonesafe.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/tip-of-day-learn-to-read-dog-body.html (blog post)
Turid Rugaas: On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals (book and DVD)
Canine Body Language – A Photographic Guide (book)

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Day 29: Fronts

There’s one exercise in RO where we have been absolutely winging it: Fronts. Both Front on recall and calling the dog to Front while walking. I never taught my dogs to sit in front of me. I mean, they do it in normal life enough of the time, I certainly wasn’t going to put even more value in position that doesn’t serve me for agility. Instead, my dogs have a lot of value for standing and sitting at my side, so when I confused Ruby on this video he naturally tried to assume position at my side. That’s where the value is!

But let’s say I would like Ruby and Java to sit nicely in front of me, reasonably straight and close. Let’s say I would like them to be pretty confident about how to get into this position from my side and from recall… How do I do it? I watched a few videos on YouTube, but it was either luring or using rods. Then I remembered that some people use platforms for this and searched for “teaching front using platform”. I found this:

Yay! Looks simple and my dogs already have a ton of value for platforms. I used a platform to teach tucked sit so I can use that to start with, then I need to make a lower version to help with fading it.

Ruby will have to wait a bit, though. His gait looked funny to me, like he wasn’t using his back end freely, and when I tried to massage it he was quite stiff, so I took him to the physiotherapist. Poor guy, his muscles were all locked up. And it’s not like we’ve been doing anything strenuous… Just walks and a bit of RO. He should be fine in a few days with help of a little heat, though. In the mean time, Java will test drive learning fronts with platforms for him πŸ™‚

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Day 27 & 28: I Have A Plan

In less than two weeks I’ll be heading for Vienna to audit an OMD seminar by Janita Leinonen and Jaakko Suoknuuti. Trust me, the irony of driving to another country for agility workshop when I don’t even know when I’ll be able to do agility with my dogs is not lost on me. I have been thinking about it a lot. Would it just make me think of all the things I cannot do right now? Would I get all sad and depressed? Will I even remember anything of value since I won’t be able to try the moves with my dogs? Well I COULD practice the combinations on my own and visualize the dog, but

  • It would feel silly
  • I am crap at visualizing
  • How would I even know if I’m doing it right if I wouldn’t have a dog to show me?

But heck, I’m going anyway. I think it will be fun πŸ™‚ I bet it will be interesting and even though I might not remember much by the time we’ll be able to do agility again it’s not a bad way to spend three vacation days. πŸ˜‰ Plus, I’m taking Java with me. I’m trying to find some decent ultrasound diagnostics in Vienna as we speak. Keep your fingers crossed…

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Day 26: Another Rally Obedience Report

Recently I have changed my focus from doing as many exercises in a row as possible (for a single reward) to checking that Ruby knows his job well and fixing heeling precision (he started drifting away from my leg). We’re still working on reducing reinforcers, just in a different way. I’ve been quite good at remembering to work on that it showed in class today. It’s funny how the things I work on tend to improve, while the things I don’t work on do not πŸ˜‰ Like the about turn (I turn to the left, Ruby circles around me to the right). I haven’t found a good way to signal that. I haven’t actually been trying much, just hoping he would get it on a verbal cue. But he is not a very verbal oriented dog and he has been taught for five years NOT to go behind my back like that, so I will probably need to come up with a good visual cue to let him know it’s now OK to do it. He will do it if I walk slowly, but at normal pace he will sometimes do a front cross instead (and I get it, my body cues totally look like a front cross is coming up).

We also worked on heeling with distractions and I think there was some progress here as well. Really beautiful spiral and perfect focus on heeling around toys even though he knew exactly where they are.

At home we’re working on generalizing his Park cue (a tucked sit) to flat ground which he had a lot of problems with in the beginning, but I think he is starting to get it. He even did it at the training field today, but he’s not ready to start using it as a part of Rally exercises, so for now we’re using Sit.

I just can’t believe how much fun he’s having… he can’t wait for his turn to begin! I need to practice at the field with Java more often and make some video of her, too.

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Day 25: Should Our Dogs Listen To Other People?

Curious blog reader wrote:
If you ever wonder what to write about, I would really appreciate your thoughts on this subject: Should dogs listen to people other than their owner? I have been wondering about this for some time and now that you wrote that Ruby is with your friend while Java’s in heat, I thought I would ask you.

My BC does not listen to other people Here are some possible explanations I have made up for myself:

  1. No reinforcement history with these people. For him, a cue is a sign that a reward has become available, however, I wonder whether he only understands this in regard to me? So if they do not show him a reward, maybe he does not understand it is there?
  2. No matter what he does, IF they have a treat, they will give it to him eventually. So maybe he learned in regards to other people: Whatever they say, just hang around and you will get the reward
  3. Bad criteria. I had a friend who lured him into a sit a couple of times, but would not use a release cue. Eventually he ignored her “sit”

Well, to me it does not matter all that much. I just wondered how you do it if your dogs need to spend time in someone else’s care.

Dear Curious,

thanks for asking πŸ™‚ I would say for most dogs it’s either #1 or #2. When Ruby was a puppy he learned that when I call him by his name I usually have something good for him to eat or a game to play, but when my neighbors called him all he would get is petting. And he hated petting! So very soon he started ignoring them altogether and when they would call he wouldn’t even twitch an ear. It looked as if he didn’t hear them. He sat many times for different friends of mine though so he will usually sit even for a complete stranger if asked nicely. But if they try to use a stern voice with him, he will just ignore them. I think he doesn’t even recognize a cue if it is spoken with a stern voice.

But since we’re talking about a BC, there is a third option. Let me tell you a little story. A while ago my friend was training her young BC in agility. This went on for a few months before her boyfriend joined her on agility field and tried to lead the BC though a short sequence. The dog wouldn’t even come to him. “Nope” she seemed to be saying “I’m here to work and you are not a part of my work life, you’re part of my leisure life”. He called her repeatedly. Nothing. Then he called out a tunnel cue… and as soon as he did it she was with him, looking for that tunnel. She was there to work and he was just a distraction in her eyes until he showed her that he knew the agility game, too.

This is similar to #1, except the reason for not responding might be less in whether he believes a treat will be available but in simple fact that he doesn’t have a working relationship with them.

Should our dogs obey other people? Sometimes it can be handy, but other times not so much as not-so-good responses could get rewarded… either way is fine with me. As for Ruby, he is staying with a person he adores and has no trouble obeying.

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Day 24: Relaxation Protocol

Most of the time when I talk to other whippet owners I’m encouraging them to let their dog be naughty: to see jumping up for a toy as a positive thing (my dog just stopped staring at those BCs doing agility and decided to do something with me instead!), allow barking and other kinds of showing excitement. I let my dogs do some pretty obnoxious things as long as they give me their best when working and follow a few rules.

For example, Java is barking and crying with the loudest of them if I’m working with another dog. This would have been very simple to stop when it first started. She was so sensitive to my moods that an angry word would have stopped that barking and I wouldn’t have this “problem” now. But who knows what else would be affected if I got angry back then. Would she connect it with agility? With me leaving her? With other dogs? Punishment can be associated with either or all of these (yes, angry word is classified as positive punishment because it decreases behavior). A much better way would be to treat her while she isn’t making a sound. I would probably need a helper for this, but no negative meaning would get attached to agility, me leaving her or other dogs. I didn’t decide to do it, though. I decided to let her bark, because there are quite a few people who believe that letting the dog bark when another dog is running will increase their desire to do agility and I think for some dogs this is true. I would think that once the dog loves agility there is no “harm” in teaching them not to bark (in a friendly, positive way of course).

Which is to say, there is time to be crazy and there is time to be calm. Especially for Ruby who isn’t a calm dog anyway. As a puppy he had a terrible time learning a down-stay (or a sit-stay for that matter). Even at six months old he couldn’t stay still for 10 seconds without a constant stream of treats. Then I discovered Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol which is a tool she uses to help with behavior modification with her clients. It’s incredibly simple: for 15 days you’re supposed to put your dog in a sit-stay or down-stay and do a series of silly exercises that look suspiciously like proofing a stay. You’re supposed to do it all in a calm manner, without a clicker (to not excite the dog) and treats that aren’t too exciting for the dog, but are just good enough to keep him in a stay. The whole thing is incredibly boring for the human, and I’m sure pretty boring for the dog, too. That’s why it works. It’s like doggie meditation. It teaches hyperactive or stressed dogs how to calm down and unwind.

I think Ruby needed 45 days to get through the 15-day protocol. We couldn’t do the whole daily scheme in one sitting as he was too hyper and sometimes we had to do things more than once because he wasn’t calm enough to continue with next day’s schedule. But he got through them and at the end he was lying down on his mat while I walked through the front door out of his sight, rang a door bell and waited 30s. Quite a feat for a dog who had a problem with a 10s down-stay with me right in front of him!

Later on I used Relaxation Protocol when Ruby was too stressed at osteopath’s practice and wouldn’t lie down for her. I asked her to give us a few minutes, started the Relaxation Protocol (complete with my meditative voice) and soon he was much more cooperative and calm.

Now I would like to teach him the Honor Down which means the dog is lying down for a few minutes while another dog works. Yeah… not so easy for my crazy/anxious one. We have been successful at prolonging duration at home, but at the training field he just won’t relax. He will stay for about 30s, but it’s a twitchy kind of stay and not something I would like to build upon. So I think we’ll have to first complete the Relaxation Protocol at the field when there’s no one but us and then with one other person working before we’ll have any hope of getting relaxation in class.

Here’s the protocol if you have a stressed or hyper dog and would like to try it: Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol

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Day 22 & 23: Intact

As you can imagine whenever Java comes into heat I have a very crazed Ruby on my hands. I partly solve the problem by sending him on vacation with a friend for two weeks, but for about a week after he comes back he is still walking around wide-eyed and trying to hump Java 24/7. Java will either just sit looking pitiful or will try to play with him which is not helping me at all in trying to deter him. He will work just fine during this time, and we can all relax in the same room if I insist he stays on his bed (though he’s regularly trying to bend the rules).

It’s just the unexpected things, you know? Like when we find ourselves in small spaces. He will behave himself for a while and I will start thinking “oh, he must have realized that she’s not in heat anymore”, so I’ll take both dogs and pass between two parked cars without thinking. Java in front, Ruby behind thinking “it’s now or never!”, and me stuck behind them. Getting Ruby off is the easy part. Getting in the car with both dogs with Ruby in this state of mind… mission impossible. Java is the sweetest soul. She never found a reason to snarl at any dog and she certainly isn’t going to do it toward Ruby whom she adores. But it would come really handy at such times.

So why are my dogs still intact? There are some studies saying that spaying and neutering can cause more problems than it solves: from adrenal issues to behavior problems like increased aggression (yes, you read it right: increased). So far I have decided that risks are not worth the benefits of not having to deal with crazed Ruby, but who knows I might change my mind the next time he fools me like that…

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Day 21: Choosing A Whippet Puppy

EDIT: I realize now that the title makes it sound like I’m declaring this is how everyone should choose their whippet puppy. This, of course, isn’t true. This is how *I* would choose a pup for my lifestyle. Everyone’s needs and expectations are different.

Oh no, I’m not looking to add another dog, this just came up in a FB group and since I recently promised someone to write a post about it this sounds like a good time. Of course I only got to choose two puppies so far, but I have done a lot of thinking and researching these past five years, so I have some pretty strong opinions about it…

First and foremost I look for parents who have been tested and cleared for myostation mutation (in racing whippets), for heart and eye disease. I can hear you saying “But I thought Whippet was a healthy breed!” You are right, they are a pretty healthy breed, but:

The Kennel Club Survey of 2004 showed heart disease to be the most common cause of death in whippets after old age. The incidence across the whole breed is not really known but breeders are wisely beginning to test their dogs before breeding. – Whippet-Health.co.uk

This testing is much more common in USA, but I hope more breeders will start to look into it in Europe as well. I was very happy when I found Java’s litter and both parents had all three tests done!

Next I want parents who have solid temperaments (not spooky or aggressive) and have worked without major injuries (racing, coursing, agility, flyball…). I don’t care so much which sport they did (though sports with a handler are a plus for me πŸ™‚ ), the thing that matters is that their structure was tested in the field and it held up to the rigors of training and competing. Yes, all whippets run and do crazy things and many get injured on walks even if they never compete in anything. If a dog competes for several years and doesn’t get injured this must count for something, right? For this reason I prefer older parents because they have been sound longer than young-and-upcoming hotshots. I also like for parents to be biddable (meaning they like to cooperate with people). Ruby turned out just fine even though he was the very opposite of biddable, but I would prefer to avoid all the hard work next time, thankyouverymuch (and yes, Java’s parents are biddable and so is she!).

I’m looking for good drive for food or toys in parents. Toy drive is difficult to asses in dogs who haven’t been played with as adults, so I prefer to get a dog from a breeder who does something with their dogs. I want them to have full range of motion in the rear when they run (some show dogs can have a problem here) and as much angle on the shoulder as possible.

Next I go to http://thewhippetarchives.net/testmating.php and I enter the parents in Testmating form. This will show me pedigree of the proposed litter. I check the grandparents and so on… then I click on Pedigree Analysis and it will show me the Coefficient of Inbreeding over 7 generations (I can choose up to 10). COI shows me how related the family lines are – the bigger the number, the more inbred is the litter (so lower numbers are better). For example, in Ruby’s pedigree (7 generations) many dogs appear several times. Nutshell of Nevedith appears 8 times, Pencloe Dutch Gold 9 times, Hillsdown Fergal 10 times and Siobhan of Hillsdown 11 times. His COI is 19%, which is a little less than it would be if we would breed brother and sister. Whoa, that’s quite inbred!

Here’s the COI we would get if breeding relatives:
Parent/offspring: 25%
Full sibling: 25%
Grandparent/grandchild: 12.5%
Half sibling: 12.5%
Great grandparents/great grandchild: 6.25%
First cousin: 6.25%

Please read this about inbreeding, genetic diversity and health problems: http://www.dogbreedhealth.com/a-beginners-guide-to-coi/

For this reason I’m looking for very low COI – definitely less than 6%.

So let’s say I found a litter of two amazing parents who meet all of the above (I did! That was Java’s litter!). Then I choose (or let the breeder choose) a puppy of a balanced build and solid temperament. I like puppy testing, particularly watching puppies perform on visual and auditory startle tests – these tell us how resilient they are. I want a puppy who will show either great food or toy drive on the test. Java had a lot of food drive, but moderate toy drive which turned into amazing toy drive as she grew up (and she is still a foodie, too!). Also, the desire to be with humans.

It’s quite a list, I know! I wasn’t looking for a “black racing female” when I got Java. I was looking for a sound puppy from sound parents with lots of genetic diversity and lots of potential. She turned out to be a great choice, solid temperament, very driven and easy to train. While I would love to have my dream brindle-on-white whippet some day, color truly becomes immaterial when there are so many more important characteristics to look for.

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Day 20: Anticlimactic

I’m not sure why I expected to get a definitive answer to Java’s wrist problem today. After all I knew we couldn’t get a proper Ultrasound study in Slovenia, so what was keeping my hopes so high? This vet is quite certain that the cause of her swelling is tendovaginitis and that if we just prevent it from swelling for 6 weeks – 4 months it should heal on its own.

Ruby got his toe X-rayed and it looked like a part of one of the sesamoid bones is missing. The vet said that the missing part could be reabsorbed after fracture, but this doesn’t explain why the toe randomly starts hurting again (usually when he does a left turn). So I asked for a CT scan to check what exactly is going on. There appears to be some mineralization of the tendon… I will know more tomorrow hopefully when I have a change to speak to the vet again.

So, there. I know more than I did yesterday, but still less than I hoped to know. As Churchill would say, Keep Buggering On…

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Day 19: Figure 8 Backwards

Dear Blog Reader,

I’m glad you asked me how I taught Figure 8 Backwards because I had no idea what I was going to write about today! Tomorrow is D-day for our vet adventure and it was good to get distracted by thinking about tricks.

So, figure 8! Backwards! I learned this from Silvia Trkman in puppy school five years ago. It’s a combination of walking backwards and pivoting to left and right heel positions with some luring in between. I don’t know if this is the same way she teaches it now, but it works for me and I like it. As a bonus there is also teaching circling backwards around the handler since this is where our conversation started.

Happy training!

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