Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stopping by woods on a snowy evening...

Or in this case, a snowy morning...

"The woods are silent, dark and deep
And I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep"

This morning I woke up at 5 am as the power clicked off. Yesterday we had six inches of snow, followed by 12 hours straight of driving freezing rain. Around 8 this morning it changed over to HUGE snowflakes coming down hard and fast. Luckily the power came back on about that time. This was the view from my living room window.

Above me is the view of the house down the street- it is REALLY snowing hard. I was worried about the little downy woodpecker girl on the sunflower feeder; she wasn't eating, just huddled up looking cold, wet and miserable.

The icicles on the feeders made it interesting for the birds to get to the seed...maybe we could come up with a similar idea to keep fat cats away from the food bowl but let skinny ones through? And wasn't there a movie with a jail made out of icicles- maybe one of the Batman movies??
Stevie the clinic cat is home with me and watching the dogs go outside through the sidelight. I think he was pretty happy to be a litterbox user today.

I loved this cute little titmouse. He had to work to get to the food, but once he figured it out he kept coming back for more.

Even Cory wasn't wild about having to go outside to potty this morning. Sniffing around is ok, but actually having to get down to business is a whole 'nuther thing. See how big the flakes were? Andy had been out about 15 seconds when I took that shot and already his back was full of flakes.

Stevie had a GREAT day watching the birds. He'll be exhausted tomorrow for sure!

This shot wasn't quite in focus, but I thought the little titmouse was so cute!

Don't let them fool you... the finches look like they're waiting in line patiently, but they're really worse than the little old ladies at the midnight madness sales- they'll elbow each other out of the way and get nasty the first chance they get if it means going to the head of the line.

The pileated caught me by surprise- I usually hear him drilling away out there, but he was quiet today. I knew if I walked over to the window for a better shot he would take off, so I had to settle for these from across the room. Once he flew to the edge of the woods, I got the photos below though.

Andy and Cory couldn't believe I actually wanted them to lie down and pose for pictures. You've got to be kidding. As long as we're here, we'll just eat some snow though.
Around noon the snow stopped, and while the sun didn't exactly come out, it did get brighter; the pictures below were taken "after the storm". Hopefully the trees will keep bending and not too break.

I will get back to the utility part of the obedience series later...the battery ran out part way through Andy's run, and then when I tried to upload it the speed is WAY too fast. If you've seen Andy do obedience, you know faster and higher pitched is NOT the way to go ;-). Also I promised video of clicker training Stevie to do the weaves; we haven't had much of a chance to do that lately but I hope to have some more time this weekend. I do have some footage but I'm having some trouble figuring out how to edit it; believe me, clicker training cats is a WHOLE different pace and you want me to edit it down!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obedience explained...Open

Open is IMO MUCH more fun than novice. The exercises are more interesting, but they don't require quite as much intense concentration and independent decision making from the dog as utility. Once a dog gets comfortable in open, they can get very reliable in their performance and and it all just seems to flow along smoothly. Open does require that the dog is physically sound enough to handle the jumping exercises (the high jump is set at the dog's shoulder height and that is doubled for the width of the broad jump; there are certain breeds that due to their structure may jump 3/4 of their jump height- for example, basset hounds).

Probably the hardest part of training for open is teaching the retrieve. For some dogs, it is ridiculously easy (they don't call them "retrievers" for nothing!). For other dogs the idea of putting a foreign object in their mouth, bringing it back to you, and actually holding it until you take it, is just not appealing. Then once you teach it, refining it (clean pickup, no mouthing, etc) is another challenge. I teach a retrieve with a clicker, by shaping the behavior (we'll talk more about that later). It probably takes longer at the start than traditional "forced retrieve" methods, but once the dog starts to get the idea it can go very quickly. It is actually taught in two separate parts, the actual retrieve (running out to get the dumbell and bringing it back) and the hold (holding the dumbell while sitting in front). I usually find the retrieve relatively simple to teach and the hold considerably tougher. You can also tell what I enjoy teaching and what I don't; my dogs usually aren't the best about mouthing the dumbell and having clean pickups. I am working with Cory to clean that up but it's going to be a long haul. Cory probably had the best natural retrieve drive of all my dogs, but he was the hardest to teach a hold to; we got stuck there for a LONG time until it dawned on him that he could sit without dropping the dumbell, then actually fix his sit and get it straight, all without dropping it. It is something we work on daily, although most often not with a "formal" retrieve but instead with bringing me a lot of different objects around the house and learning to hold them until I take them.

The hardest behavior to MAINTAIN when you are showing a dog week in and week out, is the long sit. In open, the stays are done with the handlers out of sight. The dogs are placed in a line, the handlers leave the ring and the dogs are expected to hold a three minute sit followed by a five minute down. At some point, most dogs will get bored or tired and lie down on the sit. Once they discover they can do this and there's not a darn thing the handler can do about it, it is REALLY hard to fix the problem.

The exercises for open are:

Heel Free and Figure 8
Drop on Recall
Retrieve on the flat
Retrieve over the high jump
Broad Jump
Group stays

Below is a video of Cory doing open at our show and go last weekend (aren't I lucky to belong to a club with such a great facility? ). There are a few caveats (that's what you call it when it's your own dog, if it's someone else's dog it's called an excuse!). Cory is very green and has not yet shown in novice. This was only his second time to do the open exercises in public with distractions- he has been working on them at home but hasn't really even done them at club, except possibly a couple of times when we had the building all to ourselves. You can see that the additional distraction of jumps in the ring and a dog doing utility (fun stuff!) in the next ring was tough for him to handle, especially since he knew the dog and handler in the next ring well and the judge was someone he especially likes. It took the whole first half of the heeling pattern to get his head together (didn't hurt that I was between him and the jumps for the second half either). I did not ask for a drop on the recall as he's not ready to put that together yet; and as you will see, we haven't worked the broad jump much.

When I watch this video Cory reminds me for the first time of his great, great, great grandam Tuppence who was a CH/UD dog. Some of my LONG time clients might remember her, she belonged to my tech at the time Pam and came to the clinic every day and was good buddies with my old man Levi. Tuppence passed away in 1997. I never think of him looking like her, but there's just a little hint there! Andy reminds me of her from time to time as he gets older as well.

Hitting the boards of the broad jump with his feet would have been an NQ. He is not really ready to do that yet, I should have faced him and called him directly over. He also would have lost points for the bark (his dad is the champion of that!). For some reason that day he totally lost his "around" finish in both rings, we will have to go back and fix that!

Open is divided into A and B just as novice was; however the rules are just a little different. All dogs start in A UNLESS the handler is a judge or has trained a previous dog to an OTCh (Obedience Trial Championship). Once they finish their title, they have 60 days to continue showing in A or until they get a High in Trial; then they must move to Open B. Dogs can compete in Open B for the rest of their career. They also can enter Utility and Open B on the same day; once they earn their utility title they may work on two additional titles. For a UDX, the dog must qualify in BOTH open B and utilityB on the same day 10 times. In addition, points are awarded for placements in both classe based on the number of dogs defeated. In order to finish an OTCh, the dog must have an Open first, a Utility first, and one more first from either class and must earn 100 points. Open B is VERY competitive and many of the dogs have a very high qualifying percentage. The difference in placing or not may be a bump on the heeling pattern or a slightly crooked sit. To place in the B classes you generally need around a 196 1/2 or higher, I have seen three way run offs for first place with all dogs scoring a 199 1/2. Open B is TOUGH if you are going for scores! Many people showing for their UDX are not competitive for placements and OTCh points and are not as concerned with high scores.

In Open A the scores are typically lower just as in novice. Just as in novice, your dog must Q three times with a score of 170 and at least 50% of the points for all exercises. Once he does, he may now put CDX (for Companion Dog Excellent) after his name.

Obedience explained...Novice

Competition obedience is broken down into three levels: Novice, Open, and Utility. Today we'll talk about Novice...

Novice I must confess is not my favorite. No jumping, no retrieves, no "fun stuff"; a LOT of heeling which is not my favorite. Many handlers especially training their first dogs teach the exercises in order, i.e. all of the novice exercises, then all of the open, etc. With my first dog I didn't start training for the next level until I had finished a title. BORING!

Heeling is one of the exercises that takes the longest to teach; it also accounts for A LOT of points over your dog's career. You can only spend SO much time heeling before your dog starts to get bored...(and my knees start to complain). So I mix up training and teach most of the other exercises while the dog is maturing physically and mentally and THEN we worry about the nit-picky polishing things for heeling. Of course, we are also generally learning agility skills and probably tracking at the same time; we usually don't train "obedience" one day and "agility" the next. Most of our training sessions are a mix of the skills used in various sports; unless we are doing full run-throughs in preparation for a trial.

Personally I hate to heel, it hurts my knees, it's boring. You can tell this because my older dog Andy's heeling has deteriorated quite a bit. He used to be a fairly decent heeling dog, now he is often wide and forged. At his age, I really don't care :-). We are not going for high scores, we need just ONE more utility leg before he gets too old (he will be 12 in June).

Now Cory LIKES to heel. I think he views it as pushing me around the ring. So I have been working with him a little harder and I would like to polish up his performance a bit and get some decent scores. After watching video of our runs at our "show-n-go" (practice show) on Sunday I see LOTS of room for improvement. He tends to forge (be a little too far ahead of me), his finishes are going through a rough patch, and his pace changes and figure 8 leave a lot to be desired. MY footwork needs a lot of work and working on my handling should improve the changes of pace quite a bit. I also tend to drop my left shoulder so I can keep eye contact with him, and need to work on making this more subtle- it could be scored as an extra command. (I bet only flat chested judges score this! They have no empathy!).

The Novice exercises are:

Heel On Lead (including figure 8 around two people who serve as "posts")
Stand for Exam
Heel Free (no lead)
Group Exercises- Long Sit and Down (the dogs all line up at one end of the ring and do a 1 minute sit stay followed by a 3 minute down stay with the handlers across the ring).

Other important components of the exercises are the "front"- the dog must sit in front of you when called on the recall; he must be close enough to reach out and touch, he should be sitting straight, and he should not bump you with his nose. The "finish" is when the dog is sent from the front position back to heel position. He can "finish" either to his left (the around finish) or his right (the swing finish). He should go to heel position promptly and sit straight and in line with the handler's leg.

Here is video of Cory from our show-n-go this weekend. He is my "young" dog; he just turned 4 and I am hoping to polish up his exercises and have him ready to show this spring. For Cory the hardest thing in obedience has been not being able to socialize with the judges and the "posts"; the stand for exam is especially hard for him- he wants to hurl himself at the judge and get hugs and wrestles. He is coming along but we still have a LOT of perfecting to do. I think he would have a good chance of qualifying at this point (the stand and the stays always have room for brain fade!) but I am holding out to try and improve our scores a little.

You will notice that Cory heels with his head up watching my face. Teaching "focused attention" is very helpful in getting your dog to stay in position and ignore distractions; however the heads up position is NOT required and does not earn you extra points (it does look flashy though). For some dogs it is counterproductive. In Cory's case, he naturally wants to heel this way; it DOES contribute to his forging a bit (he's trying to see around certain anatomical landmarks!) so we have to work on that a lot. My older dog Andy tends to focus a little lower; he alternates between watching my face and keeping his eye on my knees. My first dog, Levi, focused on my knees and never looked at my face; he was not as flashy but was my most accurate heeling dog with many perfect heeling scores (but sadly, we always struggled with crooked fronts and finishes! Oh well). If you watch closely you will also see that Cory paces rather than trots; that is, both legs on the same side of the body move forward at the same time resulting in a kind of rolling gait, rather than a trot in which the diagonal legs move forward together. This is often seen in obedience dogs, in our case it is a combination of me being slower than my dog would like (and shorter strided, I think) and the heads up position which tends to encourage it. It is not scorable, but I would prefer if he trotted simply because it looks better.

In order to qualify in obedience at any level, you must have a minimum of 170 out of 200 possible points. In addition you must pass each individual exercise with at least 50% of the points assigned to that particular exercise. A perfect score of 200 is a rare thing indeed and something that most of us never achieve. After your dog earns three qualifying scores, he may add the title "CD" after his registered name. This stands for "Companion Dog".

Novice is divided into "A" and "B" which are judged separately. "A" is for handlers who have never put an obedience title on a dog before. Once you earn your first CD, you will show all subsequent dogs in "B". Once your dog earns his CD, you may either move up to Open immediately, or show in Novice until he earns a High In Trial award (the top score out of all the winners of all the classes on that day); should he achieve this (we all should be so lucky!) he must move up to open. In our area, to consistently place in Novice B, your dog generally needs to be scoring 195 and higher. High in Trial often comes from this class (usually with a very experienced handler) and so the first place dog often has a 198 or higher. That's not a lot of leeway for tiny mistakes! In Novice A, the scores are typically much lower and the classes are usually smaller. If your dog qualifies you have a good chance of placing.

Points are lost for being out of heel position (forging, lagging, wide, crowding the handler). It can be as minor as an inch or two out of position or as major as being several feet away. Typically a minor hit is 1/2 point; a major can be up to 3 points. Extra commands are a major hit, and more than 1 or maybe 2 will likely result in an NQ (nonqualifying score). Sniffing also will earn you a deduction. On the stand for exam, the dog should not move his feet at all; he will lose points for shifting his feet or moving from position;' he can wag his tail and sniff the judge, but if he gets much more "friendly" than that you risk losing points. If he shows any evidence of aggresssion he will likely be excused. On the recall, the dog must hold his stay until called, then come in "briskly" (does not have to run, but should be at least at a trot), sit straight in front, and go directly to heel position and sit straight on the finish.

In theory, once your dog successfully completes a basic obedience class he should have the skills to earn his novice title. In reality, for most of us it takes a little longer than this to train the exercises adequately (especially heeling) and if we are wise we spend some time "proofing" the dog- that is, gradually increasing the number of distractions as they work so the first time we ask them to perform at a show, the noise, dogs in the other ring, spectators, etc, are not a new experience for them. Having a judge in the ring with them can be a HUGE distraction; some dogs are very worried by this stranger following them. It was very hard for Cory to learn to focus when all he really wanted to do was go play with the judge; it has taken us a while to be able to have him maintain attention through the whole heeling pattern.

Once your dog earns his CD, you generally can feel that you have a dog who can behave himself reasonably well in public and has mastered the basic skills necessary for a well behaved pet- truly a good "Companion Dog". Next post...on to Open! Now the fun stuff starts!

Why I love training my dogs...

Finally, a post about DOGS!

This past weekend, I planned to attend a "show-n-go" at my dog training club, Queen City Dog Training, in Sharonville. I had a lot of work-related paperwork to wade through, so I decided to work on that in the morning and get there shortly before they stopped taking entries in the afternoon; then a few of us planned to hang around, train a little after, and then eat Mexican for dinner. I let the dogs out at about noon; there was a flurry or two in the air but nothing much going on. I came back in and spent about half an hour printing off some tax forms and show entries, and about 12:30 headed out into the garage to load the dogs up and go. When I opened the garage door, you could have knocked me over with a feather- the street and yard were totally snow covered and it was coming down hard and fast. About half an inch had accumulated since I'd looked outside a few minutes ago. I called a friend who was already at the club and she reported no snow there, so I decided to brave it. It was coming down so quickly that the roads were totally covered and very slick; 18 was bumper to bumper all the way in to the expressway and there were accidents everywhere. It was a little annoying to sit in the car and listen to the canned weather reports talking about "scattered flurries". I guess they don't have windows in the TV studio. And snow on a Sunday is definitely not as newsworthy as it is during the week! Luckily it didn't last long, but I managed to pass out of the front going through downtown, then into it again as I neared 275 north of town. All told, my normal 40 minute drive took me 90 minutes.

So why didn't I curl up at home and enjoy a relaxing Sunday afternoon watching the snow fall?

I confess....I am an addict. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor dark of night will keep me from my dog training activities. That is the ONLY thing that will get me out of bed in the wee hours of the morning when it is still dark outside.

People who are not addicted to dog sports don't really understand why we do it. To the rest of the world, "dog obedience" brings to mind a vision of a handler with a passing resemblence to Hitler, barking out orders and executing militaristic maneuvers with their dogs marching along beside them. Agility and other sports are just elaborate tricks. If you ask the average guy on the street to explain obedience training to you, he will probably start to ramble about dominance and alpha and showing the dog whose boss.

MY reality of obedience training falls pretty far from this description (as it does for most of my friends who train). When I got my first dog Levi, I thought I would like to do obedience with him, because it looked like fun, but also because I wanted a well trained dog who could go anywhere with me. What I found, in working with him and my subsequent two dogs, is that "training" should not be something you do TO your dogs, it is something you do WITH your dogs...while the end product is a dog who can perform a lot of snazzy looking behaviors which ultimately should make him easier to live with and a more pleasant pet, the true joy of training is that with each passing day your communication with your dog reaches a whole new level. If you have never trained a dog to a high level and experienced that teamwork that comes from years of working together, it is hard to explain to you how it deepens and enriches that relationship in a way you never would have thought possible. I don't even have words to describe how much those dogs come to mean to me. I LOVED them from the day I brought them home, but the difference is like the difference between that junior high crush, and the marriage that has lasted 50 years.

I used to think if I had one wish it would be to be able to talk to my I don't so much feel that need anymore; talking would just clutter our relationship with minutia and I might find we had different political views or that they would natter on and on about the squirrels in the yard ;-). We communicate just fine the way we are...the hell with being able to talk to them, I'll use my wish for a million dollars so I can retire and we can spend every day training or showing!

One thing that I have learned over the years is that there is a big difference between an "obedience dog" and an obedient dog! The exercises we teach in obedience certainly are based on a good foundation of behaviors that result in an excellent pet. However, competition obedience is a bit stylized; there is a big focus on drive and attitude. In other words, we not only want our dogs to DO the exercises, we want them to do them with pizzazz- speed, style, focus, and drive. So from the beginning as little puppies, we reinforce that drive and attitude, and then spend the rest of their careers trying to keep it under the fine control needed for high scoring competition work. Often we find that reinforcing that drive becomes more important than having a perfectly behaved pet! The irony is that often our FIRST obedience dog is our most "obedient" dog. We started training because we wanted a dog who would behave, and then got hooked. In our next dogs we wanted the attitude, and having a dog who drags us around on lead OUTSIDE the ring doesn't seem so important anymore ;-).

The beauty of training though, is that there is room for all. Whether your priority is a dog who will behave perfectly under all situations, or a dog who will do the exercises with flash and drive but may be a bit of a "wild child", there is a place for you. Your relationship with your dog will be better for it. Watching a well trained dog and handler can be an inspiring its best it is truly a love story in action. Now, some of us may be epic like Romeo and Juliet, and others may be more everyday comedy like the Honeymooners!

Train your dogs! They will be better for it, you will love them more, they will be easier to live with, and their lives will be much fuller for the mental stimulation. WHAT you do with them is not so important- a little obedience is essential as the foundation for all other dog activities, but whether your "thing" is obedience, agility, tracking, herding, flyball, hunting, doesn't so much matter. You don't have to become an addict, a few minutes a few times a week can make a huge difference. What matters is you will have a happier, mentally healthier dog and a whole closet full of memories to make you smile when that dog is gone.
Exercise finished!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Peanut butter recalls extend to dog treats...

Recently there has been much in the news about recalls of various products using peanut butter contaminated with salmonella. There are now some dog treats involved in the recall sold by Petsmart. Until the source of the contamination is found, it might be best to avoid feeding treats with peanut butter as an ingredient; also remember if you use peanut butter to give pills, make sure that you check the recall list to see if your brand is involved.

Here is the direct link to FDA's website; you can sign up there to receive updates. The recall information is included below the link.

PetSmart Voluntarily Recalls Grreat Choice® Dog Biscuits
Contact:PetSmart Customer Service1-888-839-9638
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- PHOENIX, AZ, January 20, 2009 -- PetSmart is voluntarily recalling seven of its Grreat Choice® Dog Biscuit products that contain peanut paste made by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). PCA is the focus of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigation into potential salmonella contamination of peanut butter and paste made at its Blakely, Georgia facility.
Although PetSmart is not aware of any reported cases of illness related to these products, it has removed these products from its store shelves and website and is conducting the recall as a precautionary measure.
The recalled products include only the following types of Grreat Choice Dog Biscuits sold between Aug. 21, 2008 and Jan. 19, 2009:
Small Assorted 32 oz., UPC 73725702900
Small/Medium Assorted 4 lb., UPC 73725700601
Small/Medium Assorted 8 lb., UPC 73725700605
Small/Medium Assorted 10 lb., UPC 73725702755
Large Assorted 8 lb., UPC 73725700638
Extra Large Assorted 8 lb., UPC 73725700779
Peanut Butter 4 lb., UPC 73725700766
Customers who purchased the recalled dog biscuit products should discontinue use immediately and can return the product to any PetSmart store for a complete refund or exchange. Customers can visit for more information or contact PetSmart Customer Service at 1-888-839-9638.
No other products or flavors are included in this recall.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Presidential Pooch Search

Lately there has been much ado made over President Elect O'Bama's promise to his daughters that if he won the election they could have a puppy. The choice of the puppy has gotten more press coverage than the choice of any of his cabinet members. I guess we all feel strongly about our dogs, and the choices we make in our pets sometimes are a reflection of ourselves; so everyone has an opinion over what he should do.

You knew that I would have one,didn't you??? ;-)

There has been much discussion over whether the puppy should come from a rescue, a shelter, or a breeder. The decision is complicated by the fact that one of his daughters has severe allergies that have previously precluded allowing her to have a dog. In today's world, it is the current "in" thing to have a rescue dog. The sadder the story that comes with it, the better. There is almost a kind of reverse snobbery now; those who have a rescue sometimes feel superior to those who have obtained a pet through other means. But the end result is that a lot of nice animals have found homes, which is the good side of the situation (there IS a bad side to be considered as well, but that's another post for another day). So in many ways, choosing a "rescue" or a shelter dog of some sort would be the politically expedient thing to do.

However, it is important to realize that one of the most common (if not THE most common) reasons for pets to be turned into a shelter is that a family member has allergies. Now, sometimes this is just a convenient excuse to get rid of an animal that has become more of a liability than pleasure. But in many cases it is a legitimate issue. We know that it will be an issue in this situation, so choice of the dog becomes even more important.

While it would be nice to have a heartwarming story of the down and out stray who ends up in the White House, I think the bigger picture is being missed here. It is FAR more important that an appropriate dog is chosen in the first place, so that it doesn't end up in a shelter, than it is to obtain a dog from a shelter in the first place. Save one from the shelter if you can, but by all means DON'T fall victim to the poor choices that result in so many dogs ending up in a shelter in the first place.

One of the reasons that we have so many breeds of dogs is that there are as many specific needs and purposes for dogs as there are stars in the sky (well....maybe not that many. As many as states in the union, and then some, at least!). One of the reasons for developing breeds of dogs, and breeding purebred dogs in the first place, is to reliably reproduce certain characteristics that are important for that dog's end purpose. In other words, so if you need a dog to help you hunt, you don't want to pick a puppy that would end up better suited for herding sheep. It gives us predictability in how that cute ball of fluff ends up as an adult dog.

If you are pretty flexible in your requirements from a dog as a pet, a mixed breed may be the perfect dog for you. If end size, type of coat, and trainability for a certain task are not terribly important, then you have some flexibility if that puppy who was "supposed" to grow up to be medium sized ends up being a 95 lb behemoth. But the more specific your needs are, the more likely you are to be better served by a purebred dog with predictable characteristics.

I have had mixed and purebred dogs. I am very addicted to dog sports, and love training my dogs and competing in various sports such as agility, obedience, and tracking. Therefore, I have a pretty specific picture in mind when I choose the next dog as to temperament, size, coat, and other characteristics. If I were to choose a dog who was not AKC registerable, I would limit many of my options for competition as they sponsor more competitions in a bigger variety of sports than any other organization (there certainly ARE options for non AKC dogs, just not quite as many especially when it comes to tracking and obedience). In addition, I try to keep no more than two dogs at a time, and I'm not willing to "grow out and place" a dog who doesn't work out for me in most cases, so I must choose very carefully. Plus I live alone and my dogs come to work with me every day and travel with me often on the weekends, so there are definite size and behavior constraints in place. So I now own purebred dogs (shelties, in my case); I spend hours pouring over pedigrees and looking at other peoples dogs, and a new puppy usually took years of planning and decisions. I love this process, I like studying genetics, and I like "window shopping" for dogs. So it works out great for me and I don't foresee me choosing a different breed in the near future.

On the other hand, pretty much all I expect from a cat is that it be nice to me, nice to the dogs and to guests, and that it snuggle occasionally and make at least an occasional pretense of being grateful for me housing, feeding, and providing medical care. I see enough cats on a daily basis that I can usually recognize "my" type of cat when I see it. My requirements are fairly flexible and therefore all of my cats have been rescues of one sort or another. I figure I've rescued enough cats in my time to have as many purebred dogs as I want without a smidge of guilt ;-).

If ever there was a case where a purebred dog was the best choice, the O'Bamas are it. It is essential in their case that their dog have predictable characteristics, both for the health of their daughter and the long term future of the puppy.

In choosing the O'Bama's puppy, there are two good options available. The first option is to buy a puppy from a reputable breeder (reputable breeders NEVER sell their puppies through petstores!). A good breeder knows their lines and constantly is selecting for dogs who better fit the standard. They evaluate their puppies and choose the ones who best fit the standard to keep and continue their breeding program; but they can tell you how their "pet" puppies fall short of the standard and if it will impact on your needs (for example, proper coat texture will be very important to the O'Bamas since this is a major component to the "hypoallergenic" traits). A pet quality puppy from a good breeder is likely to be of far better quality than "pick of the litter" from a puppy mill or casual breeder. A good breeder also screens carefully for health in their breeding stock and betters your odds of having a puppy who is free of inherited diseases.

The second option would be to go with a purebred rescue and choose an adult pet. There are many such rescues across the country, often supported in part by the parent club for the breed. The volunteers who work with such rescue are usually fairly knowledgeable about the breed and very dedicated to making sure the dogs get into appropriate homes. Since the dogs usually are adult, variations from the standard which may make them less appropriate for a situation with allergies should be apparent and those dogs who don't have the correct, hypoallergenic coat can be eliminated from consideration. It is less likely that a puppy would be available through rescue, particularly in a less common breed, although sometimes they do end up in rescue.

Adopting a purebred from a shelter is a possibility, but most likely a less satisfactory one. Often the dogs promoted as "purebred" by shelter personnel bear only a passing resemblance to the breed they are labeled as, and they may or may not show the characteristics that are the important reason for choosing them in the first place. A less common breed, such as the Portuguese Water Dog the O'Bamas are considering, does not show up often in the shelter, is likely not to be identified correctly if it does, and, should one be turned in, it often is "pulled" from the shelter if possible by the breed rescue. The breed rescues try to get representatives of their breed out of the shelters, firstly because they often are at risk for euthanasia, but also because they are often in a better position to carefully screen homes and match them appropriately. Waiting for a PWD to show up in a shelter, then making sure it would be an appropriate individual, could take months to years.

The other option reportedly being considered by the O'Bamas is a labradoodle or other "doodle" cross. It is important to realize that this is NOT a breed, but a mixed breed hybrid of two separate and distinct breeds. There are many fallacies being promoted about such "designer dogs" at the moment. One is that they are inherently healthier than purebred dogs and that genetic screening is not necessary due to hybrid vigor. This is absolutely not true. A crossbred is less likely to have an inherited disease that is caused by a single recessive gene, provided that it is a cross in which only one breed carries the recessive, and that it is an "F1" or first generation cross. However, if multiple genes are involved (as is most frequently the case), a dominant gene is involved, or a cross back of hybrids is occurring they certainly can have inherited disease which occurs in either or both parent breeds. In my experience the incidence of hip dysplasia and allergies, to cite two examples, in labradoodles and goldendoodles is every bit as high and possibly higher than in labs,goldens, or standard poodles themselves. Hybrid vigor does NOT affect inherited disease at all. It does have some effect on certain traits, the majority of which have to do with fertility and reproduction. Since most pet owners spay and neuter their pets, this is of no benefit to them. In some cases, hybrid vigor may result in larger size and faster growth as youngsters; this can actually increase the odds of skeletal problems. I also am a bit skeptical of the hypoallergenic claims for these dogs; for the goldendoodles in particular I have most often seen a coat that will likely need periodic shaving and certainly is not no shed.

And most importantly, while it is certainly in the realm of possibility that there are "responsible" breeders of such doodle crosses out there, selecting their breeding stock for a purpose and to certain guidelines, and doing genetic testing, I have not yet seen a single one. Instead, the vast majority clearly come from people who are in it to make a fast buck. I have never seen one with any kind of health clearances on the parents and they often come complete with a full complement of intestinal parasites and minor (and sometimes more serious) infectious issues which often indicate less than optimal care and maintainence of puppies and dams. In some cases I also believe that there are individuals who are adopting puppies of unknown parentage but similar appearance from shelters and then re-selling them as expensive doodles. Buyer beware!

I am hoping to do a series later on how to choose the kind of dog for you, and how to find one once you've narrowed the choice down. Check back!

So my vote is, purebred puppy from a GOOD breeder or adult potentially from breed rescue. I'm sure Mr. O'Bama has been awaiting my advice!


It is DARN cold here in Northern Kentucky; I woke up this morning to a temperature of five below zero with windchill factor of sixteen below. Pretty cold for our part of the world.

It's a good time of year to be cognizant of how the weather affects your pets, particularly if they spend a lot of time outside. Make sure plenty of fresh water is available, and that it does not freeze. Wipe your pets feet when they come in from outside if you use salt or chemicals on your driveway so that the residue doesn't cause irritation (I keep baby wipes for wiping feet and messy rear ends- works great). Be on the lookout for antifreeze leaks; just a small amount of antifreeze will kill a dog or a cat. And it's a good idea if you park outside, to bang on the hood of your car or honk the horn before starting it up just in case a cat has taken up residence under the hood on the warm engine (I've had at least two cats that I adopted after they were injured by fanbelts- a common scenario).

As far as pets who live outside, it is an individual call as to when to bring them in especially for the night. If they are out, a dry, windproof, insulated area is essential to keep them safe. Most dogs can tolerate some pretty cold temperatures if you protect them from wind and wet. I recommend a doghouse with an offset door so that the wind and rain doesn't blow in. Straw makes great bedding as long as it is kept dry- much better than blankets or newspaper. A common scenario is the stray kitty outside; often the "good samaritan" can't bring it inside due to other pets who may not get along, but feels bad for the stray. A cheap, quick and easy shelter is one of those inexpensive styrofoam coolers. Fill it with straw, tape the lid on, and turn it upside down. Cut a small hole in the side, and voila! Instant cat shelter. If you want to REALLY insulate it, line a rubbermaid storage container or larger styrofoam cooler with straw or crumpled newspaper, turn it upside down and place it over the original cooler shelter. Cut a corresponding hole and now you have an insulated, better water-proofed house. (It actually works better to turn the original shelter upside down and put it inside the larger one; cut the opening, tape the lid on the bottom one, and then turn it all rightside up again. But I thought it was easier to picture the end product with the first description).

Here's a great chart from Tufts Animal Care and Condition Scores recommendations; it helps you to determine when your pet may be in danger:

If your score is a 1 or 2, you are minimal to no risk. A 3 means no immediate threat but watch for changing conditions and be sure to take special circumstances into consideration; there is potential for problems without supervision. A 4 means you have a potentiallydangerous situation and prompt action should be taken to avoid problems. A 5 or higher means your pet's life is in immediate danger. I like this chart because it takes variables such as breed, size, and protection from the elements into consideration.

I read an article on "winterizing your pet" in the Enquirer's online edition today. One of the things they cautioned about was that pets were more likely to get lost when there was snow on the ground, as they could "lose their scent" due to the snow and not be able to find their way home. I don't know who came up with this old wive's tale....not anyone who tracks with dogs! I have been training my dogs in tracking off and on for the past couple of years. I was hoping to have them both ready to certify in time for the winter/spring tests in our area (they have to pass a certification track before they can enter an "official" test). I've been lazy this fall though and haven't had them out in a while. I can tell you though, one reason tracking tests entrants pray for snow the day of a test is it makes tracking so easy! Not only can you often SEE where the track goes (you can't make the dog go that way, but it sure makes it a lot easier to know when to believe your dog or not if he tells you there's a turn!), but the dogs find tracking in the snow incredibly easy in most cases. I try NOT to track them in the snow too much while we are training, for fear they will get used to that all winter and then make it into a test the weekend of a spring thaw and not be acclimated to tracking without the snow holding all that scent.

I laid a short track for my younger dog Cory on Wednesday (decided it was too darn cold for Andy the old man, although he thought otherwise). We've only been out once since we stopped tracking for the summer (tracking is not a hot weather activity!). That time I ran a fairly fresh track, about 30 minutes old. When we stopped for the summer he was tracking really well for me, mostly doing 1 1/2 to 3 hour old tracks, with multiple turns and articles and starting to add obstacles like parking lot and sidewalk crossings. When I took him out on the fresh track in mid October, he did a lot of running and circling; I had some trouble with this when we first started and he seems to do better with older tracks. I'm guessing the fresh tracks have a lot of hot scent swirling around whereas on the older tracks it has had time to settle back down. At any rate, Wednesday I decided to stick close to home since it was so cold and laid our track in the empty lots across the street. This meant that it was sparse cover, mostly mud with scant grass and lots of gravel and rock, and our available area was long and narrow. I ran the track at about an hour and 15 minutes old. This seemed to suit Cory much better; I downed him at the start article, waited until he indicated the direction of the track, then ok'd him to get up and start down the track. He did most of the track at a run (or at least, trying to run with me not moving nearly so fast at the end of the line). We had a few minor issues with wanting to cut corners and go directly to the gloves I had dropped since the area was so narrow and our legs* were not very far apart, but he worked through it very quickly and we were back inside eating chili in record time. Now I am motivated to get out and work again, but with sub-zero weather not only is it too miserable for me, but the dogs don't tend to scent as well when their mucous membranes dry up and freeze; my guys also tend to have their feet freeze up. I do have boots for them to wear in training (not legal in a test, although jackets are), but haven't really tried them yet as the dogs are very offended when asked to wear them.

Here's a picture of Andy (the older dog) tracking in warmer weather. These were taken at a seminar in Bardstown 11/07. Also pictured is my tracking partner Sharon and her Welsh Springer Baylin. Baylin earned her TD (Tracking Dog title) last spring and is now working on TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent). Andy unfortunately ran into a few bobbles in his tests and did not pass; we are having a few age related health issues with him but hope to be able to try again this spring.

Those pictures make me long for nice fall "jacket" days to track in! Oh well, we'll hang in there and wait for it to warm up just a little and then we'll get out there again!
Stay warm!

*By "legs" I mean each particular segment of the track, not the dog's or my legs! Ideally you would like it if no part of the track passed closer than about 50 yards to another. In this case, because it was such a narrow strip of land we had to use, in some cases the track was only 40-50 FEET from another segment; not ideal and not something I'd do everyday in training as the dogs want to cut directly across and head to the glove (which usually has a treat in it).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My other addiction...

Many of my "doggie friends" will be surprised that I have another hobby that can suck up all my spare time....since moving to my current home about 2 1/2 years ago, I have gotten addicted to watching the birds who come to my feeders on a daily basis. After I finished packing, sorting, throwing away, and moving all the JUNK I had accumulated in my previous home, I decided I could not have any new hobbies that involved collecting anything I had to move, store, clean up after, or feed. For someone who gets a weird little thrill out of seeing "complete sets" of anything in their possession (especially books), this was a problem!

Shortly after my move, however, I discovered that I now lived in bird heaven. My back yard slopes down to the woods; the woods extend all the way down to Gunpowder Creek and I own as far as the flood plain along the creek. Just behind the lots on the other side of the street is a large farm field which currently sits empty. Between the woods and the field, it's an ideal habitat to see lots of birds. AND I can "collect" them (I keep an excel spreadsheet that tracks the birds I see on days I have time to really sit and watch) without having them clutter up my house!

My very favorite group of birds are the woodpeckers. Luckily for me, my yard provides ideal habitat for them and I am lucky enough to have all seven species native to Kentucky as regular visitors to my feeders. This little guy is a Downy woodpecker. It's rare to go more than five minutes without seeing one on the suet or sometimes the black oil sunflower seed, and at times there are half a dozen or more there at the same time. This little guy is a male, identifiable by the red patch on the back of his head. Females don't have any red.

Here to the left is his bigger cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker. They look very similar, including the red patch on the males, but the Hairy is about twice the size of the Downy. If you look closely, you can see he also has a larger, longer beak in proportion to his head. Telling them apart at a distance, especially with no other birds nearby to compare to for size, takes practice. The Hairies are not nearly so numerous as the Downies, but they still are at my feeder almost every day. Last August there was an oil spill into the creek at the end of my street; for weeks afterward they worked round the clock with lights blazing and equipment going all night. My bird numbers dropped dramatically and are just now starting to rebound. The Hairies have been the slowest of all the woodpeckers to return.

To the right is another common daily visitor, the Red-bellied Woodpecker. If you look really closely, you can see the slight reddish blush on the belly. REALLY closely. It's there, I promise! These guys like both the suet and the Nutty Safari mix that costs more than a steak dinner. When they fly towards you they look kind of like torpedos going through the air. Below you can see a profile view of that bright, almost orange red head. This is a male; on the females the red does not extend as far down over the forehead, kind of like a receding hairline.

These guys are probably the boldest of the woodpeckers and don't take any guff from any of the other birds. They also are the easiest to identify different individuals, at least for me. They all have slightly different head patterns and behaviors. At any given time, I usually have 4 or 5 individuals who hang out in my general area and visit the feeders; maybe more, but that's how many I have identified at a time. These guys are also among the easiest to spot down in the woods on the trees. (They kind of look like a hunter wearing a blaze orange cap!).

To the right is probably my least frequent feeder visitor, the Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. I see them down in the woods pretty often, especially in cold weather, but they are by far the scarcest of the bunch. I always think of them as "Dirty Hairies". To me, when I first catch a glimpse of them hanging onto a tree they at first glance look like a Hairy who got muddy. Your first clue for identification however is behavior. While most of the woodpeckers flit from tree to tree pretty quickly and rarely spend more than a couple of minutes in one spot, the sapsuckers seem to stay on one tree and move up and down or around. They don't actually move much at all, in comparison, and a couple of times my first thought has been that they are a big glob of mud. The second easy identifier is that downies and hairies have white backs between their wings; sapsuckers have sort of mottled bars. Whites on the other woodpeckers are bright whites, but sapsuckers have more of a slightly dirty looking buff. The yellow belly is difficult to appreciate when they are perching, but can look quite yellow when they take off in flight.

To the left is my next rarest visitor, the Northern (yellow-shafted) Flicker. Lately though he has been a near- daily visitor to my suet feeder. Last year he would visit occasionally, but more often I would spy him in the underbrush near the edge of the woods, very low to the ground. Either word has spread about the good grub, or their numbers are increasing because they've been around a lot. If you look at the underside of the tail, you can see the "yellow shafts" of the feathers that give part of the name (there is a red shafted varient too, not seen in our area). These also show up quite nicely on the undersides of the wings when they take off. These guys aren't the most colorful around, but I just love their sharp pattern with the black breast plate and the "grease paint" below their eyes like a football player. The black "whisker" below the eyes is only seen on males. Hmm. Can't say I've ever seen a human woman using the grease paint either.

Probably the most impressive woodpecker to visit, and certainly the largest, is the Pileated. These guys are the ones you think of when you see Woody Woodpecker, and are almost prehistoric looking and sounding as they fly through the woods. They really love the creek bottoms so my yard is perfect for them. It is a rare day when I don't hear them drumming or calling, and most days they visit the suet feeder as well. They are rather shy but now I can move around the living room without scaring them off as long as I'm not too close to the window.
This one is a female; the males have a red streak on their cheeks below the eye. I am pretty sure there are at least two breeding pairs that visit occasionally.

The first time (to my knowledge) that one came to the feeders I was dragged out of a deep sleep one morning by an ungodly noise. It sounded like someone was jackhammering in my living room. I jumped up to see what was going on, and there was a pileated drilling on my gas grill on the deck. I think he was trying to enlarge the vent hole at the end and make it into a nesting cavity (he had no luck, but later a startling was able to fit through and steal his idea!). It nearly scared the life out of me!

These are ALMOST my favorites of the woodpeckers....but they are just barely edged out by...

The Red-Headed Woodpecker. I LOVE these guys- they are SO sharp looking. They are not terribly common anymore, and are not seen often at feeders. I have never seen them at my suet feeders, but they come for the Nutty Safari; what they REALLY love, however, is dehydrated banana chips. They show up in April and until August or September visit several times daily. They come until the banana chips are gone, then check back several times to see if I put any more out. If they HAVE to they make due with some nuts. They are quite interesting to watch as they carry all this away and stash it in crevices in the trees in the woods. I always wonder how much they actually get to eat, and how much the squirrels find and steal.

The male and the female almost always come together (I don't believe you can tell them apart by looking, at least I can't). I know they are a breeding pair though because the past two summers they have produced babies. Last year there were at least three that made it to fledgling status. The first time I saw one of the juveniles, it took me a while to figure it out. Where the adults are red, they are a dull brown; and their black isn't nearly as shiny and sharp either, it's also a bit brownish.
I miss my favorites in the winter time, but I look forward to seeing them again in the spring!
***These photos, and all photos in the blog unless otherwise stated, are copyright to Rebecca L. Golatzki DVM. Please do not use without permission.