Category Archives: Notes

Herding Clinic with Roy Sage – April 20 & 21, 2013

I am a bit behind but two weekends ago, Bear and I headed to St. Norbert, MB for three days of herding. This was my first herding clinic so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I’m new enough to the sport to know I don’t really know anything.

There were a variety of dogs and handlers at the clinic including mixed breeds, Australian Shepherds, German Shepherds, Swedish Vallhunds, a Dandie Dinmont, a Poodle and our friend Astrid, a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. I only recall one border collie in attendance!Some dogs were new to herding some have been attending classes for the past year or so. Some of the dogs took to herding like dicks to water and others needed some encouraging to interact with the sheep. Regardless of what happened in the ring, Roy, the clinician, had something nice to say about each dog and their work.

Over the weekend, Bear and I made progress in a few areas and discovered a few new challenges. Below are the highlights:

  • We managed to get Bear to work a little further away from the sheep i.e. not plastered to their butts. When Bear works farther back, the sheep panic less and Bear barks less.
  • I discovered that Bear barks mostly when I turn him from moving in a  counter clockwise direction (away)  to circling clockwise (come by).This means he’s turning left, which was the same way he turned in flyball…at least he’s consistent.
  • We were able to move sheep in more of a straight line than we ever have.
  • Not once all weekend did he try to dive in and grab wool.
  • Bear worked in a ring with 2 border collies in attendance…staring at the sheep…as border collies do. He gave them a brief glance and then went back to his sheep..no hard stare, no lunge, no nothing.
  • We started working on walk-ups and getting Bear to move towards the sheep at a speed slightly slower than Mach 10. Sheep don’t like Mach 10. and moving slowly towards the sheep is a skill we need for driving at the intermediate level.
  • We started a few call offs – calling Bear away from the sheep. He was better than I thought he would be. Leaving perfectly good moving sheep is going to be one of the major challenges for us if we ever progress to the intermediate level.
  • Roy believes Bear is barking not at the sheep to get them to move but at me because I am preventing him from doing what he would like. I would agree that frustration and barking go hand in hand with Bear.

Roy said he thought we could ‘go far’…not sure what that means. I think our progress will mostly be limited by how often we can get out and train on sheep and right now, it’s around once a month. Roy did leave us with some ideas for ‘dry land training’ without sheep and I will write more about these as we give them a try.

Other highlights of the weekend included: Meeting some new people including another rottie owner and someone who lives not far from us, great food and company (as always) and and two incident-free nights in the hotel with our friends Stephanie and Astrid!

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Notes: Tracking lecture by John (Jack) Wilhelm September 2, 2012

The following is my interpretation of some of the topics covered in a short (2.5hour) lecture delivered by John (Jack) Wilhelm after our tracking test last Sunday. I am posting them, like I have for other seminars in the past, because writing helps me process things. I’ll add my thoughts/comments at another time.

Training vs. Practice

When working with dogs, we need to remember to have an objective for each training session. The objective could be training (teaching) a certain skill or practicing (testing) a skill.

Praise & Corrections

  • According to Jack correcting a dog by yanking on the line/harness is not something a person should ever do but there is a place for correction in tracking. The examples he gave were of a verbal correction “hey get back to work” from the end of the line or dropping the line, marching to the dog and getting in their face. He also mentioned that when dogs make the proper choice after correction – copious praise is due.
  • On the subject of praise it is his opinion that praise is often offered when dogs are not performing the desired behavior and then it becomes meaningless to the dog.
  • What is not okay in tracking is to remove the dog from the track if they are acting up. If the dog is not into it, this is when having an article on hand for the dog to discover is appropriate before ending the training session. The dog should always find something.

Training vs, Test Day

  • Do in practice what you plan do to the day of the test.
  • Do not change your handling on test day – this will only confuse your dog.

Corners & Cross tracks

  • When working with dogs on corners and cross tracks, use back pressure to slow them down at the corner and praise/release line tension when dog locates and commits to corner/appropriate track.
  • Many cross track problems are the result of training which has not challenged the dog. Examples of challenges include cross tracks at very tight angles, walking a cross track carrying weight, even laying the cross track by riding a bicycle.
  • Below is one method suggested for starting to train cross tracks. Using the same field lay a track – do your work – and the next day, lay another track your track across it. You can increase difficulty by decreasing the hours between tracks.

Beginning-Cross-Track

Distractions

If dogs are distracted by something and recover, allow the dog to investigate distractions after track is done and harness is removed – ideally off leash. This allows the dog to ‘be a dog’ while maintaining a clear distinction between work and ‘free time’.

Test Preparation

  • Practice plotting tracks using landmarks.
  • Practice at different times of the day
  • Practice in different ground cover.
  • Practice with someone following you in rain gear or a hat/sunglasses.
  • Practice driving to a test site and having the dog go to work right out of the car.

Line handling

When dog is off track and looking, stay in one place and let line out as they go farther, pull in as they come nearer. In a blind track, the handler does not know where  the track is  – having the dog circle the same path is ineffective because the track may be 30 feet behind you.

Common causes of team failure

  • Guiding by the handler– all examples were of handlers guiding with the tracking line by pulling the dog to perform a circle or corner.
  • Handler accidentally corrects the dog– usually when the tracking line gets tangled or the dog takes a hard fast turn and the handler is not ready. The dog is essentially corrected for following the track and may be less likely to seek it out after this.
  • Handlers pull the dog off of track before they have officially started– When start lines are a distance from the road, the track layer will be walking through the exact same area you have. Handlers who punish dogs for sniffing before they get to the track may not be able to get past the start line because the dog is hesitant to continue tracking.
  • Handlers expecting the picture perfect indication they see in practice – Some handlers wait for the “perfect” indication rather they have seen in practice when the dog has obviously found the article and indicated it in an other way. Waiting too long may encourage the dog to resume tracking and follow the tracklayer’s path off the track.

Dogs that appear to be on track, and working…but aren’t

Someone asked a question about what to do with a dog that appears to be on track but that  overshoot corners consistently always moving in a straight line with the impression the dog would go straight forever.

This brought up a shot discussion about reinforcing the effort vs. reinforcing the behavior you want. Jack suggested that this dog had learned that ‘assuming’ the position meant he would be allowed to continue forward. The solution – lay known tracks and use back pressure to slow him at corners – only releasing pressure when he is on the track.

Recommended reading

One person asked if there were any books on tracking that he could recommend – he did not as he said he hadn’t really read much in the past few years.

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Notes: Temple Grandin Lecture – May 23, 2012

Way back in May, Renee and I attended a lecture delivered by Temple Grandin right here in Brandon Manitoba! The conference room at the Victoria Inn was packed with approximately 700 individuals from all walks of life. To say the crowd was diverse is an understatement. There were folks dressed up in their western best (including hat and belt buckle), there were folks in suits, folks from the hutterite colonies and folks of all ages including what appeared to be 3 generations of one family.

Since this lecture was sponsored by the Manitoba Pork Council and the Manitoba Beef Producers, it was geared towards the welfare of animals raised for food production (meat, milk, eggs etc.). That being said, a lot of what Temple Grandin had to say about farm animals is also applicable to companion animals.

The gentleman who introduced Temple Grandin (I don’t remember his name) spoke of animal welfare in terms of Brambell’s  five freedoms, developed from a British report on livestock husbandry in 1965. These freedoms are:

  • Freedom from hunger or thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  • Freedom to express normal behavior
  • Freedom from fear and distress

One of they key concepts that kept resurfacing during the lecture was that reducing an animal’s stress can improve their lives in a multitude of ways. In the case of commercial livestock operations, lower stress means healthier animals which in turns means more profit. In the dog training world, I think folks are just beginning to fully understand stress in dogs and how it can affect their health, well being, behavior and performance. The following constitutes my notes from the lecture with my toughts written in bold italics.

Environmental Stress

Where cows live and the conditions under which they are raised can affect cattle behavior. Cattle that are used to humans, to cattle chutes (to collect cattle for transportation or medical procedures) and allowed to explore their environment are easier to handle and they have higher weight gains than those that are forced into new environments and new situations with new people. In fact, research has proven that when animals voluntarily cooperate during a procedure their bodies produce less cortisol (a stress hormone) than when they are forced into the procedure.

I see this every day at dog daycare and as a trainer who uses positive reinforcement to teach new behaviors, I understand and see how much more relaxed dogs are when they are used to volunteering behaviors to earn rewards compared to when they are used being forced to do something in order to avoid punishment.

Genetic Stress

Producers need to understand that when they over select for one trait (like faster growth) they may be loosing others (health bones that can support the weight of a heavy bird). She calls this bad becoming normal. Since sow stalls are a hot button topic she suggested that many of today’s sows would not be able to live in a group environment because farmers have been breeding pigs for lean mass, growth rate etc and they have no idea what temperaments they have been breeding because breeding sows are largely been isolated as a matter of course. Her suggestion is that in order to find an alternative to these stalls, part of the solution is going to involve including temperament in the traits that are selected for during the breeding process.

In the dog world the most obvious example of this is in purebred Bulldogs, many of which cannot reproduce, deliver puppies or breathe naturally. In the UK rules have been introduced to make breeders (at least those involved in dog shows) more accountable for the health of their breed but in other countries like Canada, breed health is largely left to individual breeders. Some are breeding for conformation or looks that win dog shows. Some are breeding for temperament and working ability (police dogs, guide dogs and some sport dog breeders) and an even smaller fraction of breeders are trying to maintain the entire package of a physically sound dog, with a wonderful temperament that will live a long, healthy life. In the designer dog world and backyards around the country, the exact same thing is going on only people are breeding for ‘small’ dogs regardless of health and temperament. I am not either for or against purebred dogs but I am certainly for a dog that can enjoy a walk with his owner, without collapsing because it can’t breathe, lunging at everything that walks by or dissolving into a puddle of stress – whatever the breed, or mix of breeds.

End of life Stress

Dr. Grandin also spoke of  how animals that enter the plant quietly and calmly, are  more likely to be effectively stunned prior to slaughter. During the question and answer session, one gentleman asked about how he could ensure humane euthanasia on the farm since processing plants no longer accept sick or dying animals – even if it is to dispose of them humanely. Dr. Grandin’s reply was that one of the things to keep in mind was the animal’s level of suffering either on the farm until it dies of illness injury or disease or en route to the plant because it was unfit for transport. She spoke of how (especially with companion animals) technology has come so far that now we are able to keep animals living longer but she states that sometimes a long life is not a better life. If I remember correctly, her exact words were “a dog with cancer does not know chemotherapy will make him better. He just knows he’s suffering.”

It had never occurred to me that farmers would struggle with ending the lives of sick and dying animals the way pet owners do. In many ways, I suppose it is worse – farmers struggle with the loss of an animal and the additional stress of the accompanying financial loss. As a business owner, of a relatively new business, I have first hand experience worrying about financial losses but, I never have to add the stress of euthanizing and animal to that equation and I can only imagine the loss of an animal and that is also costing you financially creates an extra helping of guilt.

Changing Behavior with regards to animal welfare

It would seem that animal welfare audits are becoming more common place in slaughterhouses. According to Grandin this is not because producers decided to raise their livestock to a certain standard or because buyers (large corporations like McDonalds) decided that they should only buy meat from animals that are ethically and sustainably raised. This change was largely the result of consumer demand for healthy food and ethically produced food. Consumers put pressure on large buyers, large buyers change their standards to appease consumers and slaughter/processing plants livestock transportation companies and individual producers are forced to follow suit if they want to stay in business.

When it comes to dogs, I think we face the particular challenge that companion animals are not regulated to the degree that ‘food’ animals are. You can trace the origin of your steak down to the cow however many dogs sold online, in newspapers and on websites are untraceable if the breeders are not using registered purebred stock. Further more, there is no guarantee that your dog will be healthy or even tempered just because you purchase from a registered breeder because there is no mechanism currently available to make Breeders do health testing on their breeding stock and even if they could, the complexities of genetics are always expressed in different ways in any breeding. We all know how we are both similar and different from our siblings an the same goes for dogs. 9 out of 10 puppies may be mentally sound but one may suffer from crippling fear for it’s entire lifetime, regardless of the planning and care taken when choosing breeding stock.

The breeding of cats and dogs is an unregulated industry and there are no large buyers so it is left up to individual consumers to determine whether their pet is coming from a breeder or rescue that is truly concerned with providing animals with the best health and welfare possible.

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