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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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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

 

Getting your puppy ready for the show ring

The Table
This is a key piece of the grooming and showing experience; life is a lot easier if your dog likes it! I start by setting Ava on the table and brushing her all over with a stiff bristle brush. Occasionally I’ll forgo the brush and give her a full body rub down instead. Either way I make sure to lift and set each leg, check the bite, press on the back, lift the tail, span the dog, and grasp the pelt. My goal is that she ends the session a little more relaxed than when we started. I don’t use any treats for this activity, just praise and petting. I also take advantage of observational learning by doing this exercise with Wally while Ava watches. She sees how much he loves it and then she asks to be put up!
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In the past few months I’ve implemented a new strategy for nail clipping that seems to be conditioning a positive response to the table. After reading an article by behaviorist Dr. Patricia McConnell, I now give my dogs a treat after I clip each toenail. Instead of click/treat it’s clip/treat. I prep the treats so I have five piles of four treats: one pile for each foot plus a few “good dog” treats for when we’re done. Ava lays on her back on my legs for nail clipping (and she’s never been quicked), but Wally is clipped on the table. He hates having his nails clipped and will either stand up on his back legs (for front feet) or kick them out (for back feet). Sadly I have quicked him so I don’t blame him, but it’s pretty obnoxious. After just a few sessions of this new strategy he’s significantly better about having his nails trimmed and now asks to be put up on the table.
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Ava post-strip, 6mo old

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Stacking
I happen to have a set of Happy Legs that I’m using to teach Ava to stack. You could probably make something similar yourself or simply do it on the ground (that’s how I trained Wally). I like using a platform because Ava is less likely to move around and she tends to plant her feet better after I set them. I use a clicker and a high rate of reinforcement for this activity.
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At first, I set just her front feet on the pedestals and c/t immediately after removing my hands. I stack her entire front end by lifting her chest and setting both front feet on the pedestals; not only does this work better than doing it foot by foot, in the ring I put the dog on the table front feet first. This moves on to placing each back foot with a c/t for each one. Once she is on the pedestals I use my hand as a visual target (sometimes with bait) and c/t if she stays on the pedestals while looking at my hand. As she gets more comfortable I move on to repeatedly resetting her feet and c/t each time. I practice all the same things on the pedestals that I mentioned above for table work. In just a handful of sessions Ava made a lot of progress!
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Eventually we’ll work up to her holding a stack with her tail up and her head up with ears pricked; at this point I’ll add a cue word. Once she can do this consistently on the pedestals I’ll move to stacking her on the ground and the table until we get it consistently in those locations. As she gets older and more experienced we can work on free stacking, which will be a lot easier if I can put a cue to the stack.
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Gaiting
Puppies can be tough to gait properly since they’re easily distracted and often act like they’re either a bag of cooked noodles or a vacuum. Unlike heeling, you don’t want the dog to look at you since that will mess up their movement. You can get straight movement by using a Clik Stick as a target but I prefer not to use those since I then have to fade it out (which I’m bad at). Instead we practice trotting with a show lead on and c/t for just a step or two of nice movement. Gradually you’ll increase your criteria to more steps until finally you can move down an entire side in a straight line with nice movement. Then you can practice turning both directions, which will be necessary for patterns. Finally, once your puppy is doing well on the straights and the turns, start practicing patterns. Make sure to practice some of the weirder ones, especially if you’ll be showing at specialties. See pages 4-7 of this 4H guide from Purdue for patterns and explanations.
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The final piece is to stop at the judge. This is pretty challenging! I’m actually going to experiment with using a target to teach this to Ava, but in the meantime I’ll share how I did it with Wally. Stopping at the judge is a free stack with the added complication of going from moving to stopped. Most dogs are used to free stacking with you standing in front of them, so typically you try to speed yourself up enough to get in front of the dog so you can body block them. This will slow them into a free stack before the judge. It’s kind of a messy process, which is why I want to try something different.
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Physical Conditioning
Puppies shouldn’t be rigorously conditioned like an adult dog, but after 4mo or so they should be walked 20-30min several times a week. Muscle development can make a huge difference in movement, topline, and silhouette. Practice having your puppy trot for increasing lengths of time, which will improve their gaiting speed and movement on lead.
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Behavioral Conditioning & Desensitization
Dog shows can seem like a crazy place to a puppy. Technically you’re not supposed to bring un-entered dogs to a show but people do this all the time. As long as your dog is healthy, well-behaved, and unobtrusive nobody cares, so take your puppy to local shows just to hang out and observe. Flexi leads are typically forbidden on show grounds and you can’t take dogs into bathrooms, so plan accordingly. If you have kids it’s probably best to leave them at home since you need to focus on your puppy. You can also attend some agility trials, which are an even crazier environment.
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Finally, make sure you go to handling classes so your puppy (and you!) can get used to ring procedure, the exam, gaiting patterns, and being in a ring with other dogs/people. Make sure to enter any local fun matches, although these are often few and far between, and take advantage of the 4-6mo puppy classes now offered at AKC shows.
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An amazing resource is Karen Pryor’s book “Click to Win”, which goes into great detail on how to clicker train your show dog.
 
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Posted by on January 30, 2017 in Shows

 

A little understanding for our show dogs

I imagine dog shows are pretty weird and stressful to most dogs. Let’s begin with the obvious: the environment. Dog sporting events are probably the only places our dogs will be surrounded by hundreds or thousands of strange dogs and people in close quarters, none of whom they’re allowed to interact with. There’s not normally a ton of noise at conformation events but there’s always a dull roar of activity and sporadic barking, especially by the terriers and toys. Adding to the stress are the owners who don’t properly control their dogs (looking at you, Chow man) or the spectators who coo in your adorable dog’s face (“HELLO little Border Terrier!!!”). Plus most owners/handlers are stressed and distracted, so they aren’t paying attention to their dog and may even be stressing their dog out.
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As an imaginary dog I’m already exhausted thinking about this, but now we have to go into the ring. Your dog must perform ambiguous behaviors (standing just right, trotting just right) in the presence of strange people and dogs. In fact, there’s a dog right in front of her that she isn’t allowed to say “Hi” to and a dog right behind her who might be doing something shady. She doesn’t know, she’s not allowed to look. A strange person walks by and now the shady dog is chasing her as they trot around the ring!
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Then comes the exam. For Borders this is on the table, which your dog may not enjoy at home, much less at a show. Some tables aren’t stable either, so she gets to stand on shaky ground in a crazy place with a bunch of strangers. Speaking of, a strange person walks right up to you dog while staring at her face and starts touching her head. This person has the audacity to stick their fingers in your dogs mouth! Then the stranger runs their hands along the dogs entire body and touches some extremely sensitive parts, maybe even tugging on her pelt or checking boy parts. Is it any wonder most dogs do a full body shake (stress reliever) after being removed from the table? Afterward your dog is expected to trot in a perfectly straight line, an abstract concept for a dog, before trotting right up to the stranger who is still staring at her face. Finally you go around the ring and she finds herself looking at that strange dog’s butt again, the one she’s not allowed to investigate.
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When you think about normal canine communication and behavior, all of this is totally out of their wheelhouse. So let’s have some sympathy! We think it’s no big deal to stand around with our buddies, stroll around the ring, or have a judge run their hands over our dog. Our dogs would disagree; this is nothing like everyday life.
 
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Posted by on January 19, 2017 in Shows

 

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Westminster 2015

I love watching Westminster. To me, and I think to most people, it’s the pinnacle of the dog show world. There’s prestige to be had just for attending, much less winning breed or getting any kind of placement. Since we had a snow day over here in VA I’ve been live streaming the breed judging, which of course leaves me inspired to get out and show again. We’ve been on hiatus from the show ring for quite a while, but once I get back to WA (I’m only in VA for a few months) I think it will be time to dust off the show lead.

Pause to watch GSP breed judging…. I’m just dying over here! So many upsets! AHHHHH! The drama of dog shows, it gets me so amped up.

Anywho, lately I’ve been pondering the various paths Audacious BT’s could take and mulling over the best course. Serious business, being a fledgling dog breeder with high standards.

OK, I <3 Giant Schnauzers. Will never own one, but LOVE. They are the Friesian of the dog world.

So yeah, rambling aside, I need to get back into it. Wally doesn’t realize it but he’s just asking to be Specialed. Dude is looking goooooood. Fiona presents more of a challenge due to her propensity to be overweight, but she has potential. Thank you Westminster for inspiring me anew.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2015 in Shows

 

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Like any sport, it takes a winning strategy

In prior posts I’ve mentioned that serious show competitors have a strategy. They don’t enter shows willy nilly and dogs don’t drop off the face of the show planet for no reason — there’s always something behind those decisions. Below is a perfect example of this, where someone thought carefully about their show weekend.

I’ve done some of this myself with Wally. Just having turned 2 in March, he really wasn’t mature enough to be incredibly competitive as a special. Then we went through a few months where I simply didn’t have the time to make showing a priority and as a result Wally lost his show conditioning and coat quality dropped due to lazy grooming. Had I chosen to show him anyway it would have left a poor impression on judges and competitors, in addition to being a waste of time and money. Instead we’re taking some time off to mature and play, not to mention wait for Baby Girl to come around. Then we’ll see about getting back in the ring!

Show Strategy

 

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2013 in Shows

 

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