Kathy Diamond Davis

Name:
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States

Author of the book "Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others," 2nd edition published by Dogwise Publishing. Canine Behavior Series at www.veterinarybehavior.com

Monday, July 24, 2006

DogRead

I've just left the job of moderating the DogRead list after doing it for almost 2 1/2 years. It was exhausting, it was a learning experience, and I can't picture the scenario that would ever cause me to do it again (dementia?). I'm glad the list has continued and a new volunteer will be taking over the work. I hope the list participants will play nice!

With any time this frees up for me, I hope to sleep more, exercise more, read more, and do more crafts. I will absolutely be in no danger of idleness or boredom. I have a fascinating book on my desk at the moment, about half read, titled "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" and authored by Robert M. Sapolsky. The time I've spent studying Temple Grandin's writing and other books it has led me to read has started what I'm sure will be a long-term interest. Useful, too.

My older computer seems recovered from its hard drive failure and replacement, but the aging of the software is catching up. Wonder if we'll have to change all the old dudes to Windows Vista in the future or else just shelve them. Hard to say. But by then I'll be ready to put at least one on the new system. I just hope not to have to change to that system when it's still too new.

I found out why my last computer from Dell was so horrible. I thought it would be worth it to get RDRAM. That didn't seem to stay on the market long. The techs who were here to install the new hard drive told me that RDRAM got Dell a big lawsuit. Bummer--all I got was my money back, and it took a month to do that! At least I recognized a lemon. Wasn't that hard. By the end of the first week, it wouldn't even take input from the keyboard or mouse. Right from the start it wouldn't shut down properly, always gave "the blue screen of death."

Gateway's price on this new hard drive was good, the price on the new monitor was good a few months ago, and the price on the new computer was good, too. Yeah, it did need 60 Windows XP updates right off the bat, but hey, nobody's perfect!

I don't see where anyone has solved the question of how to store photographs in the digital age. It's all so subject to loss when it's on a hard drive. And digital music for which a person has paid by the song, same thing.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Service/Assistance Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Emotional Therapy Dogs, Access Rights

People are really muddying the waters on the emotional support dog issue. Landlords seem to be the toughest sell, and yet that is the right a psychiatric patient specifically SHOULD have: to keep a companion animal in the residence.

The Americans with Disabilities Act says the person can be reqiuired to remove the dog if the dog's behavior is disruptive to the function of the place. A widely used example is a dog barking in a theatre during a performance can be required to be removed. The disabled handler of the dog is liable for any damages. It seems that a landlord could require the person to move the dog out of there if problems with noise, mess, damage, or threatening behavior to other tenants occurs.The dog being kept for emotional support needs to be suited to the housing facilities. That's an unpopular notion in this apartment and condo age.

Public access rights are something else entirely. Just because you have a prescription that provides for the dog to live with you doesn't mean you need or should be allowed to have the dog go everywhere with you. Dogs provide emotional benefits either way. So do other companion animals, for that matter. One of the most widely cited studies was done with parakeets (budgies?).

One of the stories in the article is particularly troubling. When someone's emotional/mental problem is the inability to control anger, is that person suited to work a dog around the public? Service dogs MUST be under control. How can a person who cannot control his or own behavior control that of the dog?

You don't have to be able to "manhandle" a dog physically, but you do have to be able to give the dog direction so that as a team you are not a danger to others, and you don't interfere with the business of a place. Either party in a dispute in a public place can call the police. It does not require making a disruptive scene.

As a store manager in my checkered past, I had a cranky old customer swear that my assistant had short-changed him. That was highly unlikely, but I would have given him the money to get him and his loud mouth out of the store.

My giving the guy the money was unacceptable to my assistant, however, because he was a careful and honorable person and because you could have cut the testosterone in the air with a knife. So, I called the police and an officer came out and quietly and patiently explained to the one who would not leave that he didn't have the right to stay in a crowded store and loudly proclaim to all the other customers about his grievance. He was told if we came up long on cash at the end of the day, we would contact him and he'd get the five dollars he claimed he'd been shorted from a $20 bill.

So, how is that disabled people get away with making nasty scenes? Yes, they can quietly stay there and call police (viva la cell phone) and wait for the officer to come and take a report. A courteous, low-volume mention to the business proprietor of that intention will likely eliminate the need for it.

My own disability is physical, my dog is courteous, I don't behave defensively, and any questions I've had have been extremely polite--makes me get misty-eyed how well my princess-dog and I are treated by strangers. Truthfully, though, if businesses could get away with just denying access to service dogs, they would. Especially big corporations (who control so much of our daily world now) would just have a policy against ALL dogs, period. A few run-ins with the Department of Justice, and they establish a policy to treat disabled people and their dogs with the utmost courtesy. The pioneers who have gone before me have cleared the way, and I'm grateful to them. Because they have EDUCATED, not just sued, members of the public who are not going by "corporate policy" are very accepting of my dog, too.

The pioneers are furious at the fakers, and I'm frightened by the fakers. I fear they are going to cause me to lose the right I need to have my dog's help. I fear they are going to make people so suspicious that going anywhere will be a huge ordeal for me. Currently I don't take my dog when I go to restaurants, and my health prevents me from traveling. The restaurant thing needs to come soon. I'm getting by with hubby's help, but it's not always enough. I'm told that the biggest problem with fraud is happening in travel.

And that leads to another issue that is contributing to this fakery, which is how dogs fare on airplanes. They need to all be cared for safely and be where their owners can monitor them, not just service dogs. Safety includes safety from attack by other dogs, though, so having too many crowded together would be asking for trouble. There have to be safe arrangements for dogs who are not able to handle that, too.

Perhaps airlines could deal with problem dog owners the way utility companies do. Utility companies get attorneys, and the post office cuts off mail service even before a carrier is bitten. Besides suing you (or billing your credit card!) for damages, perhaps the airline could put you and/or your dog off in some town you had not planned to visit. Enforcement with teeth, so to speak.

The world is changing when it comes to dogs, with lots of growing pains. In many ways, the service dogs and the volunteer therapy dogs are carrying the banners. I'm part of both groups, and it saddens me whenever anyone tarnishes the trust we've built with the public.

Emotional Support Dogs and Rights

People are really muddying the waters on the emotional support dog issue.
Landlords seem to be the toughest sell, and yet that is the right a psychiatric
patient specifically SHOULD have: to keep a companion animal in the
residence.

The Americans with Disabilities Act says the person can be reqiuired to
remove the dog if the dog's behavior is disruptive to the function of the place.
A widely used example is a dog barking in a theatre during a performance can
be required to be removed. The disabled handler of the dog is liable for any
damages. It seems that a landlord could require the person to move the dog
out of there if problems with noise, mess, damage, or threatening behavior to
other tenants occurs.The dog being kept for emotional support needs to be
suited to the housing facilities. That's an unpopular notion in this apartment
and condo age.

Public access rights are something else entirely. Just because you have a
prescription that provides for the dog to live with you doesn't mean you need
or should be allowed to have the dog go everywhere with you. Dogs provide
emotional benefits either way. So do other companion animals, for that matter.
One of the most widely cited studies was done with parakeets (budgies?).

One of the stories in the article is particularly troubling. When someone's
emotional/mental problem is the inability to control anger, is that person
suited to work a dog around the public? Service dogs MUST be under control. How
can a person who cannot control his or own behavior control that of the dog?

You don't have to be able to "manhandle" a dog physically, but you do have
to be able to give the dog direction so that as a team you are not a danger to
others, and you don't interfere with the business of a place. Either party
in a dispute in a public place can call the police. It does not require making
a disruptive scene.

As a store manager in my checkered past, I had a cranky old customer swear
that my assistant had short-changed him. That was highly unlikely, but I would
have given him the money to get him and his loud mouth out of the store.

My giving the guy the money was unacceptable to my assistant, however,
because he was a careful and honorable person and because you could have cut the
testosterone in the air with a knife. So, I called the police and an officer
came out and quietly and patiently explained to the one who would not leave
that he didn't have the right to stay in a crowded store and loudly proclaim to
all the other customers about his grievance. He was told if we came up long
on cash at the end of the day, we would contact him and he'd get the five
dollars he claimed he'd been shorted from a $20 bill.

So, how is that disabled people get away with making nasty scenes? Yes, they
can quietly stay there and call police (viva la cell phone) and wait for the
officer to come and take a report. A courteous, low-volume mention to the
business proprietor of that intention will likely eliminate the need for it.

My own disability is physical, my dog is courteous, I don't behave
defensively, and any questions I've had have been extremely polite--makes me get
misty-eyed how well my princess-dog and I are treated by strangers. Truthfully,
though, if businesses could get away with just denying access to service dogs,
they would. Especially big corporations (who control so much of our daily
world now) would just have a policy against ALL dogs, period. A few run-ins with
the Department of Justice, and they establish a policy to treat disabled
people and their dogs with the utmost courtesy. The pioneers who have gone
before me have cleared the way, and I'm grateful to them. Because they have
EDUCATED, not just sued, members of the public who are not going by "corporate
policy" are very accepting of my dog, too.

The pioneers are furious at the fakers, and I'm frightened by the fakers. I
fear they are going to cause me to lose the right I need to have my dog's
help. I fear they are going to make people so suspicious that going anywhere
will be a huge ordeal for me. Currently I don't take my dog when I go to
restaurants, and my health prevents me from traveling. The restaurant thing needs to
come soon. I'm getting by with hubby's help, but it's not always enough. I'm
told that the biggest problem with fraud is happening in travel.

And that leads to another issue that is contributing to this fakery, which
is how dogs fare on airplanes. They need to all be cared for safely and be
where their owners can monitor them, not just service dogs. Safety includes
safety from attack by other dogs, though, so having too many crowded together
would be asking for trouble. There have to be safe arrangements for dogs who are
not able to handle that, too.

Perhaps airlines could deal with problem dog owners the way utility
companies do. Utility companies get attorneys, and the post office cuts off mail
service even before a carrier is bitten. Besides suing you (or billing your
credit card!) for damages, perhaps the airline could put you and/or your dog off
in some town you had not planned to visit. Enforcement with teeth, so to
speak.

The world is changing when it comes to dogs, with lots of growing pains. In
many ways, the service dogs and the volunteer therapy dogs are carrying the
banners. I'm part of both groups, and it saddens me whenever anyone tarnishes
the trust we've built with the public.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Atkins Blessings

Just checking in, since it's been awhile. Still very happily at goal, still pray for guidance if the scale readings over a few days concern me, and still getting answered with marching orders on what to do about it (if anything). Still doing the moderate exercise including simple therapy pedal exerciser at my desk chair while reading a book, and indoor walking since I'm allergic to all outdoors. Still in ketosis.

Dr. Atkins would approve of what I eat. It's not as liberal as a hard exerciser or a man or a younger woman in maintenance, but it's very comfortable. I'm definitely not deprived. I've been on Atkins since 1/30/2002, and am still on my One Golden Shot. Not anti-yeast or even gold standard, just plain Atkins with the individualization Dr. Atkins' book mentions we all have to do.

Hubby still takes me out to eat when I want to go and brings home take-out when I want that. Not necessarily on the exact night I first bring it up, but pretty soon. He does the weekly shopping from my list to keep the stuff on hand for me to eat in lieu of going out or to add to my take out food. Typically the meat might be take out and I cook frozen vegetables and fix my own sauce to go with it.

As of April 24th, I've been at goal, up a little and down a little--currently a couple of pounds below goal--for 2 1/2 years. I still weigh daily. I still feel free of food cravings. It took 21 months to lose the 181 pounds I needed to lose. Prior to starting Atkins I had been very ill and lost 30 pounds, so altogether I'm 211 pounds below top weight, and my weight would bounce above that if I went off Atkins. I would not be able to walk, due to rheumatoid arthritis. But that would not likely be a long-term problem, since I'd be a prime candidate for heart disease and all sorts of complications of diabetes. Yep, I'm committed to Atkins for life.

Not that it's a hardship. Talk about "my yoke is easy and my burden is light," that describes Atkins.

Menopause is clobbering me, but I'm weathering the autoimmune storms rather than take the hormones I know a doctor would just love to put me on. I need to give my body time to adjust. Putting it off would not help. I do need to find some splints to wear at night to remodel these thumbs, though.

I'm not getting the infections I was constantly getting before going on Atkins. The physical problems I'm having are due to inflammation from the drop in estrogen, and as I understand it, the body does adjust. The way it has adjusted on Atkins has given me a lot of faith in that. My fingernails have never been so nice, my hair is doing great, no loose skin on my face (I had three chins!), and all my skin is stronger than it was.

My assistance dog Believer is doing a fantastic job and we took a test earlier this year as a team that made my confidence soar. I'll be starting a new dog probably by the end of this year, and she's helping me get ready by all the things I learn with her. I'm sure she will help train him, too. She's smart and loves to help me do whatever I want to do. She is a blessing on 4 feet. I plan to call the male Redeemer.

I did not realize it until I lost the weight, but I needed to do that in order to be able to train and handle my assistance dog effectively. I could have worked with a program-trained Labrador or Golden as a very heavy person in a wheel chair, but I could not have trained a Belgian Tervuren myself for the work. The dog would have perceived me as needing protection in that chair and that can't happen when an assistance dog is working around the public. Also we would have had a terrible time fitting through tight spaces with a huge wheel chair and a dog at the side. Stores are so crowded these days of every selling inch being so valuable.

I still have a left knee with damaged ligaments, but losing the weight and exercising regularly with the pedal exerciser pulled the ligaments into a snug fit around the joint with strong supporting muscles. I'm careful with it, wear shoes that give me a good feel of the ground and don't slip, and use my dance training to avoid twisting that would reinjure it.

My vestibular balance is very poor from ear damage after 54 years of respiratory allergies, but the kinetic sense from trained muscles compensates, with the dog's help, so I stay on my feet. Very cool how it works. Because of losing that weight, I kept the ability to walk. That's better motivation for me than wearing a size 6 any day.

The length of time I've maintained the weight loss will never "prove" anything. It's not over 'til I'm dead. I didn't get bloodwork or other evidence at the start of Atkins. I'm not writing a book about it. It was a gift from God. It continues to be a miracle. I've read that the purpose of a miracle is to increase faith. For me it has surely done that. For my husband, who watched it happen, it has also increased faith. He has his dream job now. When he saw what happened to me and I told him I was praying for his job; well, now he's doing what he's always wanted to do. He had the faith to step up for it.

As everyone will tell you, maintenance is harder than weight loss. But then again, it's not about will power. It's about surrender. I don't worry like I used to. I don't have the anxiety I used to have. I got into menopause and felt more creative! If this is hard, well, it's hard in a good way.

---Minus 181 pounds on Atkins in 21 months, now at goal weight since 10/24/2003. I'm in the middle of a miracle. Thank you, God.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Thinking and Working Together and with Dogs

Prey drive, and the word drive in general, can certainly be vague terms. But we're trying to describe observed behaviors that no one can fully understand. The more I read about dog training, past and present, the more I am struck by the amazing work people train dogs to do, without even knowing why, how and if a particular dog "can" do it.

When you read about early police dog training as we did in the Konrad Most book, you see that the instructors taught the handlers to train the dogs, knowing what worked, and always willing to learn from the dogs. They still do that. They build and build and build on what we have learned from experience about dogs to move forward.

The Pfaffenberger book discusses his experience with family dogs going through the defense dog program OFF TO WAR! In this country! And then back home after the war to their families again! Humans and dogs are at their best when allowed to try, not knowing for sure if it will work.

Our culture is moving the wrong way in those respects. People want to too tightly control things; legally, socially and financially. Many of the best dog books now are self-published works, because too much of book publishing is controlled by huge corporations who treat the business solely as an investment. They do things like put a corporate person in charge who doesn't know the subject but presumably knows "what sells."

Turns out that isn't even a smart strategy for making money. People keep discovering new ideas and wanting to learn more about them. Corporations don't have a model for that. Some of the marketing books explore things like "the tipping point" in an effort to explain why suddenly an idea comes out of nowhere and makes a fortune.

Corporations are neither good nor evil. They're not human, after all. They're a different organism altogether, with "drives" (there's that word again!) to survive and to grow. They also lack intuition and anything approaching brilliance. Only people have such qualities, and only to the extent that a person keeps control of the reigns of a company can that company have human qualities.

Economically, small businesses are better for a country's financial stability and provide more jobs. Just not as many all in one lump, which means the politician can't point to the accomplishment of having brought 2000 jobs to the state by attracting that company. We'd all be better off and happier in myriad ways with more small businesses and fewer of the corporations that are suffocating us.

Legally we have people who think problems get solved by passing laws that "other people" will have to obey but of course "will never apply to me." Politicians like laws because it gets their names in the news and improves their chances of re-election. And now we're dealing with scary anti-dog legistation as a result.

Socially we have people who want the world to operate according to "if you don't agree with me, shut up." Civil discussion is harder to come by when people don't respect each other's rights to view things differently. If we were all alike, we could not learn from each other. It's part of our basic design to perceve the world differently and as a society to be able to benefit from the different viewpoints people get out of their genetics, their physical traits, and their experiences in life.

This is very interesting to ponder as I watch my Belgian Tervuren morph into helping handle the old Terv as a tending task rather than a pack-structure task. The old dog is 13 and losing the male recently seemed to bring the two females to a crossroads in pack structure. For one thing, they didn't seem to be a pack anymore. Nature seemed to be telling both of them that the appropriate thing was for the younger to kill the older, but the younger looked to me for my wishes in the matter. I did not reinforce any competition and I strongly reinforced all moves on the part of either dog to "stand down" from it. She determined her shepherd's wishes, and set about carrying them out.

It's been 4 months now, and the younger, who seems to just absolutely adore the opportunities to solve problems together with me, treats the old dog as sort of a cranky livestock animal who has canine behaviors. She never did seem to take the other dog's attacks personally, and now she doesn't even respond to get the old one under control. She just follows my lead and ignores it. The older one never did bite, anyway. It's just been sound and fury. With no male dog in the group, it's as if us girls can work out different rules.

For the first couple of years, the old dog wouldn't even let the younger one retrieve if she was in position to stop her. That had the paradoxical effect of turning the youngster into a lightning-fast retriever, once I'd taught her to do it in sessions away from home over time. The older dog finally gave up, but we other girls still keep a close eye on her in any retrieving situation in order to prevent unnecessary conflicts.

I asked the younger to get me something yesterday, and the old girl positioned herself so the young one would have to pass her on the way back. I wanted to tell the younger to come around through the room with the slick floor, which doesn't bother her but does give the old dog pause. Before I could figure out how to cue it, here she came, sailing to me from that direction.

Of course big praise and petting with loving eye contact to my younger heroine, and once again she is proud of herself for sizing up the task and the tools and making the best solution of it. I expect she could have been a good sheep herding dog. I think she finds her life very satisfying, because it gives her many opportunities to use her genetic gifts. I love reinforcing a dog for trying, for thinking, for problem solving, and for offering up so much service to me. Yes, I trained her, but what she does goes far beyond that. Her mind and heart are so open to learning. She inspires me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Do Scientific Terms Help Us Understand Dogs?

I guess "exact" definitions of words (good luck with that) are on topic considering the books we're discussing this month, though they do give me a royal headache. Jargon in sciences such as psychology and sociology may have purpose for some scientists, but for many it is simply a way of saying "This is a real science, because we know the meaning of this word, and you DON'T! So, give us our share of university departments and government grants."

Jargon obscures communication rather than facilitating it. For anyone who wants their words to be understood outside their own tight circle, it is the enemy. Except when writing a professional treatise, writers try to avoid using jargon unless they define the term within the article. Too many such terms and a writer's message is lost.

This months discussion will be more interesting if we keep it very close to real dogs. I see a lot of generalizing about "all" dogs, and in fact many breeds don't come at all close to the predominantly German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers used in the projects these books describe.

The book on the Scott and Fuller research work behind Pfaffenberger's guide dog pup testing does go into the huge differences between the various breeds they studied: Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, Basenjis, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Fox Terriers. That title is "Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog," by Scott and Fuller. I got it and read a lot of it, skimmed the rest, for this discussion. It helps put these books into perspective for those involved with other breeds.

I think the Saluki is just gorgeous. I can't get over how beautiful they are. But I relate to dogs as a handler. It's a partnership with me the leader, and I need a dog with a flexible mind and intense interest in interacting and working with me. The Saluki is not that kind of dog. Virtually all the retrievers and several of the herding breeds are. A few of the working breeds are, but mostly they are not, because they tend to be less "yielding" to whatever game the human wants to play now. Humans have genetically set strong --whatever you want to call its-- (see what happens when you argue about a term? NOW what do I call these--uh--"tendencies" that have been so powerfully genetically set into many breeds by genetic selection? Instincts? Drives? Perceptions? ROM?) into many of the working-group breeds. I don't require guarding of my property, myself, my bank deposit for a business, or my livestock as some of these breeds were selectively bred to do. I don't require a dog to pull a load for me--and have the big bone structure to do that comfortably.

Retrievers and herding dogs have been genetically selected to like to fetch things and to take direction off-leash and at a distance from a human when engaged in exciting, active work. Pretty cool. And that's the kind of dogs these authors were dealing with. When handlers know how to teach it, retrieving objects comes pretty naturally to herding dogs, because they are so interested in "retrieving" and manipulating moving critters. Retriever breeds take to "retrieving" humans, because it fits their perceptions. Thus you can get very complex trained behaviors with both types of dogs and their thinking is flexible. Many breeds from other groups inherit from the genetics of these dogs, such as the little American Eskimo I had, who was a sure-enough herding dog.

I didn't understand that about her until I had had a Belgian Tervuren for while. Then one day Pepper the cat was up on the TV, jumped off and started down
the hallway. Angel the Miniature American Eskimo dog ran at her from the side with some barking and "headed" her, turning the cat back toward the TV. But she did not have the physical power to hold the cat's position, and the cat knew it, so after that 180 turn she just did another, for a full 360, and ran on down the hall where she had been headed in the first place. Actually, I'm not sure she even ran. The dog's game had been to head her, not to chase her.

Next day, same scene, except this time the dog was gentle Star the Belgian Tervuren. Pepper jumps off the TV, Star runs at her from the same position as Angel the day before. Pepper does a 180 and is back on the TV. Star works silently. Then I knew what Angel had been trying to do--and a great deal of her behavior for the few years I'd had her at that time suddenly made sense.

Star made me do my homework, because she had so much herding behavior I had never seen before and didn't understand. One thing she did at first was stay in the back of the yard when I would call her in, lower her arched Tervuren neck and hold her head like a coyote, eying me. I didn't know what the heck that meant.

My homework gave me an idea, so one day when she did that, I put a smile on my face and walked out there, holding eye contact with her, and walked a circle around behind her. She tossed her head exactly like a laugh, and merrily went inside with me. She had been telling me a joke, and was thrilled that I "got" it.

People often interpret herding behavior as "dominance," but it is not. Herding dogs can be "dominant," but manipulating the environment, especially when turned toward the handler, can be the foundation for wonderful communication. It was a blessing to me that my first dog with so much herding instinct was clearly a submissive dog. It saved me a lot of potential confusion.

Terms, oy.

---Kathy Diamond Davis, author, "Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others," and the Canine Behavior Series at www.veterinarypartner.com

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Directing Doggy Traffic

My elder Miss McNasty Terv has in the last few days decided to play "Mine" games with the dog dishes. She has to eat in a crate due to her laryngeal paralysis that makes her eat so slowly. She decided to jump Believer a few days ago and start a fight-ish (loud, no holes) when I opened the crate door to let her out. The next few times we reached in through a barely-cracked door, lifted the dish to the crate roof, and then opened the door to let her out without either dog touching the crate.

Then Spirit began to exit the crate after first picking up her dish and taking it with her. Today, ready for whatever, I opened the crate door without taking the bowl out. Spirit just sat there. Another kind of "Mine"--a landmine is going to go off if Beevy gets into the bowl! Or maybe not. Spirit is thinking about it to decide which would mess with all of us the most!

Beevy backs up a little. She has shifted into a tending mode with Spirit. I felt that happen about a month after Gabriel died. Believer realized that for some strange reason we were keeping this crazy old dog, and needed her help. She never cared about being leader anyway, but now it's more pronounced that she is simply helping us manage Spirit.

So in this situation, there I am standing just outside the crate, Beevy has backed up and moved toward the back door but is waiting to see what to do next. Spirit stands up and picks up her dish, with a body posture of sort of hoping for Beevy to reach for it. She doesn't exit the crate, but pauses there in her "So what's it gonna be?" attitude. With one arm I point out straight to Beevy to head on out that door. With the other I start beckoning Spirit to move on out of that crate and let's go. They both do it. I wish I had a video. That must have looked just like a police officer directing traffic! Note to self: be sure to teach Redeemer hand/arm signals when he comes to join the team!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

AKC--How about It? It's time for Pass/Fail Companion Dog (now called obedience) Titles!

The AKC does have teeth, and sometimes uses them for the benefit of dogs, though we're never all going to be satisfied. One thing I kept putting on the suggestion list for tracking when input was solicited was that handlers should be allowed to carry plain water on the track and administer it to their dogs anytime they felt it warranted without needing the judge's approval. Water is life to a dog, and timing can be critical. The handler should never hesitate to give it. Whenever I read the tracking regulations now, I say "Yes!" because it is now the rule.

I'm not exhibiting for titles any more, and never did breed. But I have been a member of a national breed club since the 80s that is an AKC member club. I joined that club because its breeders are The Best, Bar None. They take care of dogs of their breed in every way they can, which turns out to be quite a few ways. The last time I checked, the membership was about 900, and this is a breed that produces fewer than 600, often fewer than 500 registered puppies a year. But earns way more than its share of titles. I've had the breed since 1986, because of a great breeder who is one of many in the breed. The club has one of the finest rescues, and has done since before rescue was so popular. I wanted to support all that and be a part of it, so I joined. It's a group I'm proud to be numbered in. It doesn't make me a "member" of the AKC, though. Not even the club's president is that.

I came to dogs through animal welfare (note: not animal rights) volunteer work, adopting a previously trained German Shepherd who was a dream to walk with, and then getting a shelter Lab/GSD cross who was a 65-pound gyroscope on the end of a leash. I took him to class after having taught him basic cues on my own, and they got me where I needed to be with him on the ability to go for walks. Saint and I walked hundreds of miles together in his long life, and he was such a gentleman. When another dog approached, he would stand quietly at my side while I handled the other dog (or got some help to do so).

I learned a lot by training for obedience trial rules and exhibiting my non-registerable dogs in matches, and that's why I would like to see pass/fail obedience available with handlers allowed to actually handle (with words and body language, not physical guidance or treats) their dogs in such exercises toward structured goals. Maybe it could be Canine Good Citizen 1, 2, 3, and 4. 1. CGC test, 2. pass/fail Novice, 3. pass/fail Open, 4. pass/fail Utility. Or maybe it could be CGC, Companion Dog 1, Companion Dog 2, and Companion Dog 3. Hey, if AKC won't do it, maybe the American Pet Dog Trainers will. Didn't they have a Rally O program before AKC did?

AKC suffers from being too big. A ship that large is not quick to turn in the water. But when a smaller, lighter craft shows the way, sometimes the big ship can follow. The United Kennel Club, which is a privately-owned business, not a club of clubs, seems to be on the verge of starting to endorse Schutzhund-type events. Many years ago, the UKC had rules for pit dog fights. And no I'm not making that up.

I believe we owe our dogs a good life. I believe more dogs lengthen and save lives in the role of companion to a human or a family than in any other job. Assistance dogs for people with disabilities grew out of things individual humans and their dogs figured out on their own.

Competition escalates. It is the natural progression of competition. Agility started out fun and games and now look at it. Rally-O will go the same way. But tracking, which is neither scored nor competitive one dog against another, still has an atmosphere of everyone cheering everyone else. Why not? Their win doesn't keep you from winning, too.

Obedience--or call it Companion Training, perhaps--is the foundation of most other work with dogs. It develops a language between dogs and humans and keeps dogs from losing their lives due to their humans not having learned how to manage them. This needs to be available apart from a competitive sport, and it is within AKC's power to do that.

It needs to be available to all dogs, whatever their genetic heritage, as in fact it is available in training classes and matches. But when you get to AKC sanctioned events, the non-registered dogs get left out. I believe in the pure breeding of dogs when the breeding is intentional. But when it's a done deal and that dog has someone who wants to train with him or her, let's welcome them with open arms and get on with it!

Every dog/owner team who gets training strengthens the evidence that dogs in our communities are not only a good thing, they are a necessary thing. They are more likely to stay in training long enough to get solid control of that German Shepherd, Doberman, Rottweiler, AmStaff or other serious breed if there is a definite goal to work for.

Heck, Labradors and Goldens need it, too. They may be less likely to bite (or they may not), but they are winding up dead due to overpopulation of their breeds in alarming numbers. This is especially true of Labs, far and away the highest number of all breeds in the US and often black-coated. If you want a big selection of amazing dogs to train, start looking among homeless black Labradors. Black coats are the shiniest, too!

People are realizing they need to train their dogs. Problem is, they think enrolling in a 6-week class, showing up twice and never practicing is going to somehow magically create that! Clubs raise money by conducting classes--money they need since trials operate at a loss. Opening up title opportunities and making it more fun for so many more dogs would bring in more volunteers. Clubs seem to be more short of volunteers than of training students, because people are looking for classes, but the problem is that they don't stay. Get them hooked with available advanced training, and they will.

AKC could help dogs, owners, and their own organization in so many ways by taking up the flag of a full program for dogs to advance in pass/fail companion training through the Utility level with the same types of talking and gesturing allowed in the CGC Test, agility and Rally-O, and with jumping optional. The CGC test and record-keeping are already in place to make this work for non-AKC dogs, too.

This won't be a popular comment, but obedience competition is dying. It is being left in the dust by things that are more fun to do and to watch. But that leaves a huge problem of dogs in these other events who are not under basic control! Yikes! To keep the serious obedience trial competitors happy, maybe these events could be structured so that every pass/fail dog who passes automatically becomes "point fodder" for the OTCH contenders.

I was motivated to keep training with my dogs by the availability of matches, though it was hard to find enough of them and still is in many areas. I'm rather independent, though, and tend to set my own goals. Most people will need more of a social network and structured titles to keep them motivated. And why shouldn't we have that? What great public relations for dogs and for the AKC (or whatever organization does it--but AKC has so many clubs and events in place that it would be up and running quickly through them). Many of us believe that education is the best way to solve most dog problems. What better way than getting more owners into training with their dogs, and KEEPING them in school until they reach some meaningful levels of learning?

---Kathy Diamond Davis