- Square Pegs and Round Holes (Cognitive Canine)
- Reducing Reinforcers (Denise Fenzi)
- 2 Strangers, a Malinois, and a Precarious Game of Jenga (Collared Scholar)
- Dog vs Wolf Critical Period (Darwin’s Dogs)
Recently Denise Fenzi did a series on leadership, in the sense of how we dog owners can take appropriate leadership roles toward our dogs. As always I love her work, and this time I particularly wanted to share it. I can attest to the deer in the headlights feeling of “oh crap, my dog is acting bonkers, what am I supposed to do?!” This series reminded me of a quote I saw once, one I think we should all live by and then forgive ourselves for our past ignorance.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
- Leadership: Entry-Level Management
- Leadership: A Little Bit of Knowledge
- Leadership: Management Training
- Are Preservation Breeders Preserving the Doberman? (No.) (Institute of Canine Biology)
- Why Prong Collars Hurt (EileenAndDogs)
- From Start to Finished (Denise Fenzi)
- Behavior: What a Dog Does, Not What a Dog Is (Growl Snarl Snap)
Heads up that I’m now a full-time student and a full-time employee, which means I probably won’t be posting a whole lot for a while. Like a year or two. Hopefully I don’t totally fall off the blog planet because I do like writing, but something’s gotta give!
I’ll post updates on the pups over at ABT (like Rory’s recent major win! And Chaser’s first points!) and if anything interesting happens with my two doodles (my word for dogs, no relation to poodle crosses) I’ll try to post it. We don’t really do cool stuff though, mostly Wally tries to stop Josh from kissing me while Ava shoves toys against our legs. This is our normal.
- Tell Me What You Want (What You Really, Really Want) (Upward Hound)
- Desperately Seeking Snoozing: How to Help Your Dog Relax (ClickerTraining.com)
- Your Brain Hallucinates Your Conscious Reality (TED)
- Cherrypicking Dog Behaviors (The Cognitive Canine)
I grew up riding other people’s horses in WA and had two horses of my own that lived with my dad in OH. The horses in WA were nearly always boarded and pastures were relatively small, a few acres tops and typically subdivided to smaller paddocks. These horses spent most of their time in stalls; sometimes stalls had small attached paddocks. At one barn most of the horses lived in a stall 23 hours a day and got 1 hour of turnout in a small paddock.
Some of the WA horses demonstrated stereotypies such as cribbing (chewing on wood), wind sucking (clamping their teeth on a surface and sucking in air), pawing, pacing, or rocking. Some also developed annoying habits like manipulating latches, banging on metal water troughs, or harassing passersby.
Magic and Jak, my two horses in OH occupied a 10 acre pasture with a shed, sharing it with a few Great Pyrenees and occasionally a flock of sheep. During the winter months they shared a large pen in the barn and were turned out if weather allowed. We never even had stalls! They also never developed any stereotypies; they got to live like horses are supposed to live.
Zoos spend a lot of resources on enrichment for their animals and enrichment, in a fashion, comes up pretty frequently in dog training circles. Usually it’s part of a conversation around problem behaviors. We don’t notice how unnaturally we keep our dogs until they do something so irritating that we decide we can’t live with it. Suggested solutions often include more exercise, more training, and food puzzle toys. Those things are great and very important for a dog’s wellbeing, but can’t we do more? What about the world they live in?
Recently I was perusing upcoming animal behavior conferences and I came across The Shape of Enrichment, a group that provides enrichment solutions for zoos. They have a downloadable PDF that goes over the five categories of enrichment: social, cognitive, habitat, sensory, and food. This is what I was looking for!
I’m going to try a few new things. I’ll set up a couple crates even though Wally dislikes them; Ava might like having one as a den. I’ll work harder to find them appropriate dog friends. I ordered a Pet Tutor so we’ll try some new games with that and I’ll give them food puzzles more often. I’ll make an effort to introduce them to novel scents and foods as well as hide or scatter their food so they have to hunt for it. I’ll get a plain old radio that I can leave on for them since Pandora always wants to know if I’m listening. I’ll spend more time training and exercising them. I’d love to get them a pair of mini donkeys to be buddies with but Josh is balking on that. Maybe a cat? I miss having cats.
Like any good scientist I’ll do this for a while and then examine my changes to see what’s working and what’s not. This will be fun!
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.
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.