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Ava, the non-show dog

A couple months ago I used BreedMate Pedigree Explorer to create a database of Border Terrier bloodlines. This would allow me to easily run Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) calculations and do hypothetical matings, thus improving my breeding decisions. In the process I ended up tracing Wally and Ava’s bloodlines all the way back to the 1890s.

First of all, wow, the development of the breed saw so much inbreeding and Popular Sire Syndrome. I saw many dogs over and over and over again. Back in the day there were only so many BTs and apparently they all knew each other on a conjugal level. This is common during breed development though, so I wasn’t surprised. It was just fascinating to see genetic concepts actually played out in history.

Secondly, did you know that dogs in the UK rarely have CH titles? As I was looking through the UK pedigrees very few of the dogs had a CH title. To earn a UK CH the dog has to earn three Challenge Certificates (CCs), which is difficult to achieve. A CC all by itself is meaningful and many pedigrees will note if a dog has earned one, even if they never finished. I’ve seen something similar with certain breeds in America, like the Doberman, who face enormous entries and as a result getting points at all is a big deal.

Things have changed over 100+ years but this got me thinking about whether or not CH titles should be as meaningful as we’ve been told they are. For years the refrain has been that “a good breeder puts CH titles on their breeding stock” because “a CH title is a sign of quality.” Sure, it’s a sign of quality but you still have to evaluate the actual dog with your eyeballs. So why are there so many CH-titled breeding dogs in the US and so few in the UK? You could argue that US dogs are higher quality but it’s more likely that an American CH is easier to obtain, for whatever reason.

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I don’t always chew, but when I do I prefer bully sticks. I’m the most interesting dog in the world.

 

I probably wouldn’t have questioned this so much if Ava liked showing, but she doesn’t. As a breeder it was important that I finish her, but as an owner it was critical that I respect her needs. I was advised to “make her to do it anyways” and that “she’ll get used to it”. I disagreed. It was more likely she would no longer trust me to protect her, not to mention she would hate it. I’d have created a lifelong rift so I could earn two tiny letters and a piece of paper.

The better, yet far more time consuming, option was to systematically counter condition and desensitize her to the whole experience, then use +R to train the operant behaviors required for showing. I was pursuing this option until one day I found myself watching Ava goof off, and I finally asked myself, is it worth it to train my dog to do something she hates in order to be a “good” breeder?

The obvious answer is no. It is one thing to ask your dog to do an activity she feels “meh” about, yet it’s quite another to pursue a sport that makes her miserable. This is a common topic amongst agility folks and it should be more common in the conformation world. The quality of my dog isn’t determined by the titles she carries. If I don’t respect her needs and quality of life then I’m not a good breeder, period.

Instead of conformation we’ll do agility, which is a sport Ava adores. Maybe we’ll never trial; maybe she’ll never have any titles, who knows? Either way it’ll be fun to play together.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2017 in Other Stuff, Shows, Training

 

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Instincts & Breed Traits (LONG)

Sorry this is so long, I got carried away.

Recently I posted a link to this article, and if you haven’t read it yet you should: Nuisance Behaviors and “Naughty” Dogs: Who Problem Is It, Really? In essence the article reminds us that dogs don’t inherently know human rules and it’s our responsibility to teach them. There are no bad dogs; there is only poor communication and unrealistic expectations.

It brought to mind another point that’s dear to me: respecting the natural instincts of dogs. As a species canines possess certain instincts and humans have artificially strengthened some of them. Humans developed each breed for a specific beneficial function and the traits that enhanced the dogs’ ability to perform that function were selected for. Mixed breeds inherit all the possibilities of their ancestry, so knowing the breeds involved can provide a broadly painted picture of possible behavior traits.

As I am wont to do, I geeked out. Keep in mind that these are general observations applied to broad categories.

  • Terriers (hunt burrowing small prey): high pain tolerance, little human input needed to get job done, “fight” fear response stronger than “flight”, high environmental curiosity, highly attuned to movement/sound/scent and environmental changes, work at a variable pace with moderate to high energy output, highly persistent, typically work alone rather than in a pack, actively seek prey, more focused on environment and prey than on humans, live and work in rural areas
  • Guarding (protect people/property/animals): high pain tolerance, no human input needed to get job done, “fight” fear response much stronger than “flight”, highly attuned to changes in the environment, work at a constant pace with low energy output, highly suspicious of unknown humans/animals, warn intruders prior to engagement, typically works alone rather than in a pack, constantly scanning environment, property/animal guardians typically don’t leave their own property and work in rural areas, human guardians typically do leave their property and live in urban/suburban areas
  • Fighting (other dogs/animals for human sport): very high pain tolerance, some guidance needed to get job done, social toward people with excellent bite inhibition, low tolerance for other animals, square head and short muzzle for optimal jaw strength, low center of gravity, tenacious, works in short bursts with high energy output but has stamina, strong “fight” fear response for animals, “flight” fear response for people, more focused on humans or dogs than on the environment, live and work in urban/suburban areas
  • Sighthounds (hunt prey in high-visibility environments): pain tolerance dependent on typical prey, no human input needed to get job done, “flight” fear response stronger than “fight”, highly attuned to movement, work in short bursts with high energy output, aerodynamic, often developed in resource-poor areas and have low food motivation, more focused on environment and prey than on humans, typically hunt large game and takes down the animal, usually does not hunt in packs, live and work in rural areas
  • Scenthounds (hunt prey in vegetation): high pain tolerance, no human input needed to get job done, “fight” fear response stronger than “flight”, highly attuned to scent, works at a constant pace with bursts of moderate energy output, more focused on environment and prey than on humans, typically hunts small game and does not take down the animal, often hunts in packs, live and work in rural areas
  • Herding (gather and move livestock): cattle dogs might have a higher pain tolerance than sheep dogs, high human input needed to complete job, “flight” response stronger than “fight” response, highly attuned to movement, works at a constant pace with occasional bursts of speed, uses strong body language (e.g. hard eye or stalking) to move animals rather than physical contact, more focused on humans than on the environment, seldom leave their own property and work in rural areas
  • Toys (hang out with people): traits will vary depending on the breeds used to develop the toy breed; low pain tolerance, job is to be friendly and tolerant of adult humans (specifically their own humans), fight/flight response varies but usually flight due to small size, energy levels vary, highly attuned to people and movement, may leave their property and live in urban areas
  • Sporting (locate/indicate/retrieve birds and small game in water or field): high pain tolerance, high noise tolerance, moderate human input needed to complete job, fight/flight response balanced but likely not easily startled, highly attuned to movement, works at a constant pace with endurance and stamina, excellent bite inhibition, balance of focus on humans and environment, typically works alone with their human but travels with other dogs/humans, often leave their own property and work in rural areas, live in suburban/rural areas

This gives you a general idea of what, say, an Irish Wolfhound would be like to live with versus an Irish Terrier or an Irish Water Spaniel.

Since I have terriers I’ll continue with that line of thought. If you consider all the things that terriers were bred for you can easily paint a picture of what it would be like to live with one. Maybe more than any other group, terriers bring to mind specific stereotypes: hyper, scrappy, not great with kids, hard to train, unreliable off leash, can’t be trusted with cats, bark a lot, mouthy, etc. Alas, these are just labels applied by humans who didn’t do their research.

Here’s my analysis:

What did people want out of a terrier? A dog who would search out and gleefully dive into small spaces after angry prey that might be his same size, not coming back until the critter is dead.

As a result terriers act first and think later, jumping confidently over a wall before finding out if it’s really a well. People couldn’t use a dog who cringed away from the things that scared him, they needed one who came back for more; hence their scrappiness and tendency toward “fight” rather than “flight. And of course angry critters in tunnels frequently lead to injuries, thus the high pain tolerance.

Critters cause lost profits and property damage, so no surprise that land owners wanted a dog who would always be on the look out and ready to hunt. These dogs were constantly scanning the environment looking for signs of prey: movement, scents, sounds. When they did find prey they had to dispatch it, which takes a lot of effort. They had only one job and the last thing a farmer needs is to micromanage their dog; that dog better be able to work independently or he has limited usefulness. This means the dog had to be an elite problem solver and incredibly persistent.

With such a specialized job there wouldn’t be a need for numerous terriers, so most terriers probably didn’t live with many other terriers. They probably lived with herding, guarding, hound, or sporting breeds, most of whom are much bigger and less scrappy. They also lived in rural areas, so they didn’t spend a lot of time in confined spaces, large groups, or surrounded by artificial environmental stimuli.

Now all those labels make a lot more sense, right? Hyper, scrappy, not great with kids, hard to train, unreliable off leash, can’t be trusted with cats, bark a lot, mouthy, etc. These are just negative perceptions of the things that humans selected terriers to be good at.

My point is this: while there is always variation between and within breeds/types, you can guess at what it would be like to live with a particular dog based on it’s breed(s). Armed with that knowledge you can compare that prediction to your actual lifestyle and see if that dog is really a good fit. If you frequently host large parties and have a small lot on a busy street, a guardian mix would have a hard time with that lifestyle. Is it possible? Sure. Will it be easy? Probably not. Just remember that you chose to bring your dog into your life, so it’s on you to make it work.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2017 in Other Stuff

 

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A follow-up on training fearful show dogs

You remember that blog I posted with a review of the Puppy Culture Rockstar Show Puppies DVDs, and I talked about training Ava for the show ring? I mentioned that it was a challenge to find +R handling classes and that many people in the dog show world subscribe to more traditional views of dog training and behavior.

Recently I found this article by Vicki Ronchette from Positive Training for Show Dogs, Helping Fearful Show Dogs, and repeated “YES” to myself as I read it. She accurately captures my experience of trying to train Ava for the show ring. I had even come up with a training plan very similar to the one she laid out but I couldn’t get any buy-in on it from the instructors I tried. Can you blame me for resorting to DVDs rather than real people?!

You are the expert on your dog. Always do what’s right for your dog, regardless of what a trainer, handler, breeder, friend, etc. tells you. And if they can’t respect that then you probably shouldn’t be asking their advice in the first place.

Doodles

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2017 in Shows, Training

 

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Puppy Culture’s Rockstar Show Puppies

Wally was easy to train for the show ring, although in hindsight I would have done some things differently. The biggest problem we had was too much enthusiasm; he was totally confident in the ring and didn’t mind being examined. Fiona was a little less enthusiastic but basically the same way. Ava, however, is different. She’s much more sensitive to sensory input so the show ring is overwhelming. She also prefers to initiate interactions and being examined by a stranger is A Big Deal.

That was only half of the problem though. I know how to train a dog; what I really needed was help troubleshooting Ava’s particular challenges using +R methods. Unfortunately the show world is at least a decade behind the rest of the dog training community and true +R training is far from common. Our regular +R trainer offered solutions but she’s never shown conformation so I was still left with some gaps. I looked for local +R handling classes but couldn’t find anything within an hour’s drive. What to do?

Ever since Puppy Culture came out I’ve kept it on a wish list, waiting until I could justify the $70 price tag. Then I found out that there’s a bundle that includes the PC DVD along with a handful of DVDs on training show behaviors using +R methods. Hello justification! I ordered up the Rockstar Show Puppies Bundle and watched the four DVDs related to showing: Attention is the Mother of All Behaviors, Killer Free Stacks, Stack & Deliver, and Winning in Motion.

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Jane Killion uses shaping and luring to train these behaviors, and breaks everything down into incremental steps. Each behavior is demonstrated with multiple puppies and dogs to show how the behavior develops from the first lesson with a 6 week old puppy to a seasoned special with a GCH. She goes over the entire process, some parts in more detail than others, and in the end you get a complete picture of how to take a tiny puppy from a being a Mexican jumping bean to a competitive show dog. And while it’s not a big focus she does cover training for the table, which is critical for table breeds like the Border Terrier.

The target audience for the series appears to be show exhibitors who a) have never used clicker training and/or b) have never trained a show dog. If you’ve trained a lot of show dogs with positive reinforcement methods this series may not help you much. Still you might get something out of it; I did!

Attention is a super simple behavior yet Killion’s approach is pretty novel. Usually the goal is to train the dog to look at the handler but her goal is for the dog to ignore distractions. That seems like it’s just semantics but it makes a big difference! As soon as I saw this DVD I realized I had a solution for Ava’s discomfort with being approached and handled. In the future I’ll be using this method for all of my dogs whether they show or not.

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The last two DVDs (Stack & Deliver and Winning in Motion) were the most helpful for me. These two went over more of the “tips and tricks” of handling skills such as how to best display the strengths of your dog while minimizing weak areas. She also discusses things like lead placement, gaiting speed, a few breed specific tips, and multiple small details that really set the pros apart from the novices.

These are all webinars that were recorded for later distribution so there are times when the camera handling or audio is a bit sloppy. On the other hand because they were webinars there are frequent Q&A sessions that provided a lot of the info I found most helpful for my own situation. Killion also discusses and demonstrates a variety of solutions for troubleshooting different issues.

Ultimately I think they were totally worth it. Despite the fact that I already knew most of the material it was incredibly helpful to see someone demo the skills with an actual dog. Plus I picked up a lot of great new info!

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2017 in Product Review, Shows, Training

 

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Posted by on July 7, 2017 in Other Stuff

 

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Oops, I accidentally sensitized my dog

Terriers are zesty little predators who closely attend to their environment. Is it a critter? Can I chase it? SOMETHING MOVED!

This can easily turn into reactivity if the dog develops a pattern of over-responding to minor stimuli. Ava was doing just that: barking from our deck at people walking by, barking in the backyard when the neighbor dog barked from his deck, etc. This is pretty normal for adolescent dogs but it’s not a good habit. To change it I decided to try strict classical counterconditioning.

How does CC work?

  • Here comes a [thing you don’t like that elicits a negative emotional response].
  • The instant you see that thing I’ll give you this [thing you love that elicits a positive emotional response].
  • Do this a gazillion times until the dog goes, “ooh, thing! I love thing!”

In counterconditioning it doesn’t matter what your dog is actually doing; the only thing that matters is associating the negative conditioned stimulus to something she loves. I see [thing] and I feel happy because [thing] means COOKIES!

So I tried it! After a few weeks we noticed that Ava barks and then immediately turns to us for a cookie. She also goes bonkers in the backyard even when that dog isn’t on his deck. Hmmmmm. I think something went wrong.

I found this video from Dr. Patricia McConnell where she speaks about treating dog-dog reactivity. She mentions that nearly all counterconditioning methods have these things in common: increase distance between dogs, decrease direct approaches, eliminate eye contact, and reinforce appropriate behavior. I would add that management (e.g. barriers) is also important so the dog can’t practice the undesired behavior in your absence.

I wasn’t consistently doing any of those things, which is especially embarrassing since I’m pretty proficient at BAT and have owned a reactive dog. *shaking my head* I also had poor timing and ended up positively reinforcing the undesired behavior. Oops.

I wanted to beat myself up about this but then I thought, what makes people good trainers? They recognize their mistakes and fix them. That’s what I’m doing right now. We’re going to intensely work on the issue using BAT until it’s no longer an issue, and I’ll keep learning.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2017 in Training

 

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Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Other Stuff

 

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