Kathy Diamond Davis

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

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dog Handling Manners around Other Dogs

On the Dogwise message board there has been a discussion of dog behavior around other dogs. Someone recently posted that she doesn't allow her dog to upset other dogs. Here is my response:

Bravo! My dogs are not only my heart, but also my hands and sometimes other body parts since I need the help of an assistance dog. The idea of someone letting their dog put my dog's mind and body in jeopardy of losing the ability to work calmly around other dogs in the future not only horrifies me, it makes me angry. You are exactly the kind of handler I look for when I need to practice with my dog around other dogs, which I recently did in order to go back and take another CGC test for the record.

My next dog may come to me before being neutered, depending on when my old meanie female goes on to her heavenly reward and when his breeder decides she's done showing him. I want him neutered around 14 months, but my 6 year old female is spayed, so he doesn't have to be neutered to be here for a few months prior to that. I may be dealing with that large, unneutered adolescent male myself, and most people would consider a Belgian Tervuren assertive, though they are always submissive to me.

I believe in better living through training! And part of training the way I do it is to control/handle/govern the dog's behavior through each situation until the dog is doing it automatically the way I want it done. For example, I will get his attention onto me when we encounter another dog until he gets so in the habit that the sight of another dog automatically turns his handsome head to look at me and see what I'm going to ask him to do.

One thing my breeder, a fine trainer and coach, often says to someone she's working with as they handle their dog through a situation is "Do Something! Do Something! Do Something!" Exactly what you do to get your dog's attention on you/off trouble varies with the dog, the training you've put in, your skills, the position of the other dog or distraction, etc. But Do Something!

Working with Believer for the CGC test was a wonderful experience for me, and perfect timing with a new dog coming up. She and I took the test 5 years ago for therapy dog registration, but the TDI evaluator didn't have the CGC paperwork, so it did not count for that. I got a chance to take the test again with Believer this January in a way my health would permit, and it was just too perfect to pass up. First time in 5 years I've had the opportunity to do it when I was well enough, weather was good enough, I had a ride, the situation was well-controlled for my dog's safety, etc.

Practicing a little each day outside the house for 4 days prior to the test got me asking people for training help I normally wouldn't ask for, such as a friend coming over with her dog and people on an outing walking up and petting the dog while I had her do a stay. People enjoy helping, but I just don't often ask. It was so heartening to see how the help I needed was so readily there when I just let them know. With that help, I got to step through maneuvers that added to my range in handling my assistance dog. It's not that we learned new skills, but we reorganized skills in a couple of ways that turned out really well.

Most of all, I gained confidence for handling the upcoming new trainee. Instead of worrying that my physical disabilities will make it too hard, I'm looking forward to new challenges. Working through this reminded me it isn't my body that trains the dog. There are plenty of work-arounds for physical limitations. It's the mind and the heart that do the training. At least that's how I do it.

And getting back out around other trainers gave me a real boost of confidence that yes, you betcha, there are still plenty of people around who can be trusted in a working dog situation. The dog park mentality that seems to be taking over in some areas scares me sometimes, because dogs being allowed to jump on other dogs is not safe for working dogs. But thank God, a lot of people still know that.

There is the occasional person showing off, such as a woman in class with a male Standard Poodle when Believer was young and we did about 12 sessions at the armory. She was supposed to have her dog on leash, but showing off while waiting her turn for the recall, she left the leash off and turned attention to chatting instead of watching her dog. He came running off to the sideslines where I had my girl taking a break with my husband. As he stuck his nose at her, i cupped the palm of my hand around it and pushed him back from her. She's not aggressive and he probably wasn't either, but I was just desperate not to let some careless person ruin my dog! My assistance dog must not think that other dogs being around means they are going to come stick their noses in her face--or her rear, for that matter. She must believe that she can do her job without being molested, no matter who is around. What she believes is a result of what she experiences, and I have to do my best to shape those experiences. At a class where the rule is to keep the dogs on leash, I should be able to trust that situation. And in fact the next person to talk to that handler was the instructor telling her to put the dog back on leash.

I remember when I spent a night photographing training of a group of police K9 handlers on a regular training night with their dogs. During the building search practice, each officer sang out when entering the building with a dog. No one took chances by having two dogs loose in the building at the same time. The dogs are just too valuable to risk a dog fight that could have been avoided by responsible handling. That's how I feel about my working dogs, and that's the kind of handler I want there when my dog is around that person's dog. So, Bravo!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

PBS "Nature" program on Dogs

I just now watched the PBS television episode from the series "Nature" that started this Belgian list discussion. For those who didn't see the program, it shows two problem dogs who go into training with experts in the work their breeds were originally bred to do. Both dogs showed strong instinct for work and had failed definitively in non-work homes.

The Bearded Collie had had a lot of contact with sheep without proper training, and had a strong habit of gripping them. He could easily have been put down or legally shot by a farmer for his behavior. I think they said once he was 3 years old and another time that he was 2 1/2. I did not catch whether the original plan with him included the possibility of placement with another trialing or working home after training. The trainer shown working with him appeared highly skilled and very in tune with the dog.

People on BELG-L questioned her yelling at the dog, but I would want to see more of the whole process before forming judgement on that. We never saw him grip a sheep after he came to her, but perhaps off camera he did abuse sheep at times. We also have no way of knowing from the peephole into the training process we got on the program just what proportion of her work with the dog involved that degree of yelling.

You could see that the dog was eager to earn her praise: she wasn't using treats, toys or games. She used effective praise and lavish, affectionate touch. I very much agree with her emphasis on developing a dog's composure. I also found it interesting, in light of what I'm seeing in my assistance dog, that she felt the ball play was detrimental to his herding work, in part because it encouraged gripping. As I understand it, herding dogs "hunt," but stop short of closing in for a kill. Her thinking was that the ball play was taking him too far into the sequence and encouraging a "kill," or at least excessive roughness with livestock. The program showed him grabbing at a toy and shaking it hard while carrying it.

She took him to a test before she thought he could perform it successfully--evidenced by her description of how nervous she was. Perhaps this was the only opportunity she had to check his progress with strange livestock at a strange location, in which case I would be likely to do the same thing. Sometimes you just need to jump off a cliff to find out if your gliding practice is going to pay off.

But if other opportunities were available to her, it would have made more sense to take him along more slowly. He did show progress at that event by not gripping the stock (at least not on camera), but since it was in front of God and everybody--including people whose opinion of her ability she valued--and he didn't get the job done, it would be very hard for any handler to feel good about it.

I wondered as I watched her train the dog by creating a tight bond with him and handling him very minutely whether she would ever be able to turn him over to another handler and have that training be stable. I wondered if he would always be high risk for getting too rough with livestock and maybe even someday killing, unless he remained in her hands. Perhaps she decided that was the case, thinking as an expert trainer. Or perhaps she just got too attached to give him up. I think they said she has 22 dogs. I wonder if he will get the attention from her that he clearly craves. Or maybe that's why he craves it so much and is willing to work so hard for it--because it's not a constant in his daily life.

The Bloodhound story thrilled me. My tracking dog was noise-sensitive, too, and knowing that, I was able to bolster him when he shied from a sound and get him quickly back to work. He was as work-oriented as that Bloodhound. I also got to spend a training night with some police K9 handlers and see that their handling on scent work was indeed as depicted in the story. They love working a good dog, and they can cope with imperfections. Heck, any good dog handler can, because there are no perfect dogs (or humans).

He was training that dog for someone else, but he gave her his heart. He did not have her as long as it took to train the Beardie, so that must have helped a bit with having to give her up. The Beardie was a bit shy with strangers, but the Bloodhound was a love-everybody girl.

The herding trainer emphasized subordinance with the dog in training, but I noticed she didn't ask that of her trained Border Collie. I can relate to that. After the initial several months of training with my last two dogs I felt the dog was truly my partner and I even changed the call name to a nickname of the name I trained with.

The Bloodhound trainer did not emphasize making the dog subordinate to him. Some people think the scenting dog "takes charge," but I don't see it that way. I see it as a similar partnership to how I work therapy dogs and assistance dogs, but not everyone works the way I do. And a whole lot of dogs cannot accept responsibility in the ways a Belgian can. Those dogs need to take a more subordinate role, because rather than pleasing the handler, they'd take advantage of greater responsibility to please themselves in unsafe ways. I believe that some of the mindset that makes a dog capable of herding work also gives me the rapport I want with my Tervs and makes them capable of developing the sense of responsibility I so value in a dog.

No livestock are at risk in scent work on leash, so there's seldom any occasion that correction could achieve any benefit. Bloodhounds can stay on leash, which means the training doesn't have to take voice control to anything like the level of a dog herding livestock off-leash. I'm sure there are some who use electronic collars in herding, though it doesn't seem to be common. I'd a whole lot rather see someone yell threateningly at a dog than use "electronic stimulation" (people who use those collars object to the word "shock").

A long line can't be all that useful in herding because so much of the time the sheep will be between you and the dog, even when you're close enough for a line to reach. I saw her use it on the program once, very briefly, probably a set-up so she could get in a correction. That leads me to believe he probably did grab livestock at some point during training. I believe they showed the long line some for recall training, too.

The herding trainer did use the voice of someone who'd lost her temper with the dog at times, but my impression was that it worked because the dog craved her approval and praise, not because the dog was afraid she would follow up with physical punishment. To me this is a critical difference. But again, we only saw the peek into the process that the camera gave us, a few minutes out of months of work. So there's a lot we do not know.

Part of this discussion has been whether herding ability is preserved in breeding that never proves that ability by training the dogs and demonstrating they can learn and perform the work. Someone said we don't really need dogs for that job anymore. By that argument you could say we don't need hunting dogs, either, but I believe we do need both. And I believe the instincts will be lost if the work to prove the breeding stock is not put in. The deep divisions between working and show dogs in breeds such as the Labrador should be enough to demonstrate that.

That's not to say that it's wrong to breed Belgians for the other jobs many of them do so well. We just did a book on DogRead about genetic selection and what makes for the healthiest purebred dogs who can still meet other breed criteria. One key is periodically breeding back to bloodlines closer to the foundation of the breed, such as dogs from the country of origin. Another is breeding to dogs with phenotypes you want who are not close to your dog's bloodlines. Terv breeders do a lot of both. From what I can see, it's working.

From the point of view of preserving herding ability in the breed, it doesn't take everyone breeding for that. It takes some breeding for it. Do we want to see more Belgian therapy dogs and assistance dogs? It doesn't take all breeders breeding for that, only some. Tervs are demonstrating that a dog can be a good conformation show dog and a working dog, too. Another book that we're doing on DogRead in April deals with some research about that.

It helps that the Belgian breed standards fit a functional, agile dog with stamina. The ones capable of chilling out when not working have the most stamina for work. They also have the best chance of avoiding gastric torsion. This ability is trained, but impossible to train if the genetics for it are not there. Like herding!

For me the Bloodhound's story had a happy ending. The Bearded Collie's story, not so much. But who's to say the Bloodhound won't get shot by a suspect or a stray bullet during a search, while the Beardie lives a long and satisfying life before dying in his sleep at the handler's feet some quiet evening.

Thoughts on Training Believer's Successor

Believer isn't ready to retire, but she's nearly 6 and I'm glad the time for starting another dog is coming before there will be a rush to have him up and working. I want to do the training well and to know I can count on him when he's needed. There are likely to be times for that before she actually retires. She may be ill or injured or a situation where I need to take a working assistance dog may be a better fit for him than for her. So it's looking like I'll be able to bring him along at the best pace for him and me, hopefully without temptation to put him on any job before he's fully ready.

I don't want to do all the new boy's training with my trained assistance dog working alongside to pick up the equipment, though I will do it some in order to expose him to Believer's lovely public attitude. It seems that a male dog will become more protective when living with a very protective female, as if he has to outdo her in order to be pack protector. I'm hoping it works the other way, too, that when a female is outgoing and friendly with the public, the male will pick that up, too.

In my state, assistance dogs in training do not have public access rights, and the federal legislation (the Americans with Disabilities Act) provides public access rights only for trained assistance dogs, not those in training. So any access beyond that allowed for all dogs will have to be by permission from proprietors only, as with therapy dogs. I'll be eager to get him walking smoothly with me for balance and retrieving to hand just as soon as I can. He'll be better able to understand the responsibility I need from him by working lots of sessions with me away from Believer.

I'm excited, though, at the prospect of having, for the first time, two dogs capable of the steadiness to learn to "honor" each other at home off-leash for me to work them both. There's always been one yay-hoo in my little group at home who just did not have the emotional stability for that.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Distractions (Re: The Volhard Motivational Method)

I have had dogs with lots of self-motivation to retrieve and dogs I didn't think were that motivated. I need the dogs to do it for me, for assistance. Because the turned-on play retrievers already fetched, I didn't spend much time doing structure with them. And they were sometimes as Jack and Wendy described--"What, fetch it here? Now? That thing? Why?" They did a little better when it was something I needed, sometimes a lot better in a crisis.

But the best ones for me have been the dogs who had retrieving instinct that hadn't been turned into a huge game. In particular, two of my female Belgian Tervuren didn't seem interested in retrieving. These dogs were not non-retrievers. It was just more dormant in them, perhaps because of early experiences. When I got them, I built a play retrieve, taught "Hold It" and "Give," and both became dogs who used their retrieving for me. Thus I learned that a structured retrieve is a better retrieve for work.

The Volhards' Motivational Method for teaching the retrieve gives that structure, teaches each aspect of the retrieve systematically, and makes sure that you cover distractions to the point that the dog has the needed experiences to perform reliably.

I won a writing contest years ago that brought me the marvelous prize of the Volhard videos. The beginner tape showed me the elegance of their method. Each part of your body and each step of the training is clearly laid out so that if you do it exactly by the instructions you are all set to go on to good obedience trial scores.

A lot of beginner training you encounter in other classes lets people develop all sorts of bad handling habits that they later have to try to fix--and fix the errors the bad handling has taught their dogs. I think of the Volhard method as "elegant," because it does so many things well all at the same time. If you've ever seen an outstanding handler work a dog, putting every body part in exactly the right place at exactly the right time--wow!

I also got the retrieving training tape, and it is just as elegant. It helped me understand what distractions in training can do. When I trained in classes a bunch of years ago, distractions were a dirty word to me. It was the word that described people trying to trick my dog, even including fear and intimidation, to try to cause the dog to make a mistake and get in trouble. The group stay practice at class was horrible.

The good part, though, was that I learned to stand up for my dog and to be the one who decided what was and was not going to happen in my dog's training. We all need to learn that. If we don't protect our dogs, who will? Every dog handler, no matter what your activity, needs to learn how to be the dog's protector.

When I did tracking, I developed a vision of the track as the tool to teach the dog the task. The dog knows how to track. The training process develops your ability to read your dog, your dog's ability to communicate with you, and your dog's understanding of what scent you want the dog to follow for you. For you. Ahhh.

The track is the most important tool. You plan, between sessions, what you can do with the next track to help the dog progress in knowledge. For example, the dog needs to experience various wind/air flow patterns, surfaces, moisture, etc. It's your job to provide the dog with the proper experiences via the proper tracks to work, so the dog will have a full picture of the task. And you have to learn your part of the task, too--what can you do in laying out that track that will help you to know better how your dog looks or pulls on the line or other behavior that will help you learn to read that scent detection?

The Volhard retrieving tape helped me to see distractions in other training as being like the training tracks I created to teach my dog! Distractions provide experience for the dog to better learn the task. And distractions provide experience for me to practice handling my dog on the task. Distractions build understanding, communication, and the correct habits.

I hated heeling, too, in my earliest training experiences. It was pointless precision as far as I could see, since winning obedience trial placements did not turn me on. Then I read Michael Tucker's books (he was a guide dog trainer for a lot of years) where he used heeling to work dogs past things that bothered the dogs or might make them misbehave.

In other words, he used heeling to help dogs deal with distractions. I most certainly needed my therapy dogs and now my assistance dogs to be able to deal with distractions in order to cope with what happens in work situations. All of a sudden, heeling mattered to me. It wasn't just part of a sport; it was a tool for the real world.

In heeling you can use attention to work the dog past the distraction, but in other exercises such as the retrieve, the dog's attention has to focus on the task. I aim to train, teach, handle and manage dogs by communicating with them and by picking up on what they want to communicate to me. Distractions provide intriguing ways to do that. When I learned to view distractions as opportunities to communicate with my dog, it made them tools instead of traps, solutions instead of problems.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Retrieving: It's In There

Saint, Lab/GSD adopted from the shelter at 9 mos of age, force-broke hubby and me to the retrieve. When I went back to the shelter 2 years later looking for a small female dog who was not a terrier (I knew what I needed--nothing against terriers, just not what I needed), the little test I did with Angel, a mini American Eskimo, told the tale.

A shelter employee helped. The dog was 18 mos old, and unbeknownst to me, starved to 2/3 of a minimum weight for her. The shelter employee held her, we got several feet apart and both squatted down. I beckoned and called the little dog, and she came straight to me. Then I tossed out a rag and she ran out and got it.

When I first saw her in the run, she sat, hanging her head and not meeting my eyes, but right at the chain link gate near me. When the employee took her out, she relaxed in her arms. She also relaxed in mine. She stayed that way through the whole evaluation, which included the employee taking her to another building to weigh her because it was hard to tell how "big" she was (normal adult weight for her turned out to be 15 1/2 pounds, and for anyone not familiar with the breed, it's a big white fluffy coat, hard for the eyes to figure size by looking). She was still relaxing under my arm as I held her to write a check to the shelter.

As we got to know each other, that simple recall plus that run-out-and-grab-the-rag easily became, you guessed it, a retrieve. Try and make me believe an Eskie won't fetch, just try! She was great. She was the one I could send under the bed to get things I dropped that rolled under there.

I didn't teach her with food or "force-fetch," or even all that much structure. Eskies are a lot like Tervs in training. They were circus trick dogs in the U.S. for many years, and learn with few repetitions. She also had Saint to help turn on the retrieve drive.

I had a friend who told me her Terv and two Aussies "wouldn't retrieve." Turned out the game was for her to throw the ball and they would then relay-race with it. As soon as she understood what a retrieve actually is, presto-chango, all her dogs began to retrieve.

With some dogs, maybe a lot of dogs, retrieve is a lot like tracking. It's in there; we just have to get out of the way and help it come out. Maybe it needs a little help with structure, or maybe it needs a lot of help. I did about a minute of "Hold It" with Believer every day for about four months, supporting her chin rather than using correction because emotionally she shut down the one time I tried a gentle one under the chin. In some ways she is the softest dog I've ever had and in others the absolute staunchest.

She is the best one I've ever had. That happened because of the ones who came before her. Doing the Personality Profile on her the other day, I realized why she was so complicated to train, especially at first, and it wasn't for the reason I had thought: high pain threshold (about 8). But for me, she followed the great dogs that included one who forced me to learn focused attention and one with just about zero defense fight.

Believer and I came to each other at just the right time. She reminds me in some ways of Saint, if he had had her great emotional control. He and I had great communication. With Believer the communication astonishes me. She knows things about what I want her to do that I haven't figured out how she knows. He had a lot more defense fight drive. Neither of them much defense flight at all. He had a bad start in life and was hyperactive. She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and marvelous nerves.

On body sensitivity, he was a 10, but like her, deeply cared about pleasing me. He would have died for me. She probably wouldn't have to do more than get dirty to achieve equal results. As the song goes, "She's got what it takes and she knows how to use it." I'm so grateful for her, and for all the fine breeders who do what they do to bring dogs like this into our lives.

"Be Nice"

Since I need assistance dog and therapy dog work from my dogs and have the world's lowest threshold for boredom, Belgian Tervuren are a good match for me. They can do most things, and they don't need very many repetitions. The key is to keep the stress low and be very, very accurate with your training. They tend to remember, so if you train it wrong, they'll remember it that way. They know how to communicate with me, and have over the last twenty years taught me a lot about how they like to learn and work. They aim to please.

I was talking to hubby the other day about whether Believer would protect me or not, and we agreed that she would do it like Patrick Swayze told his bouncer employees to do in the movie "Road House." I never get this quote exactly right, but he tells them to, in a variety of situations, "BE NICE." And then says something to the effect of "Until it's time to not be nice." She's my assistance and needs an extremely high level of niceness and steadiness.

The first big dog hubby and I had together changed my life by taking away my fear of being home alone. Sometimes I forget what a dramatic difference that made, and take for granted what I've now had for so many years. Happily, I wanted right from the start to be able to take the dog for neighborhood walks and "be nice" to the dog and to everyone else. So though the thinking back then was that you had to use a tough voice to train a dog, I figured what my college psychology courses had taught about the cue that was reinforced being the cue that would be followed--was probably right. Indeed, as most everyone with training knowledge now knows, it is. So I use an extremely happy voice to direct a dog that pleases even the most tender-hearted non-trainer who hears it in public, and my dogs respond to it just as well as that first Lab/GSD named Saint did.

I train in a strip shopping center, where I have to make sure merchants are happy I'm there. It's private property, so if they don't want me around, I lose the location for training. I've been happily training there for 24 years. Once Saint and I made lots of evening trips after a clerk in a liquor store had been raped on duty. It didn't happen again.

Another time Believer and I were out training during her early work, when she was an impressive-sized adolescent. I didn't do tug-of-war with her. I was training her for therapy dog work, and had had a bit of a struggle getting the silly mouthing stopped. In fact, she's still hard on fabric leashes. A Terv without mischief, well, it may not be a Terv. They are stinkers, and you need a sense of humor. They are my four-legged anti-depressants.

This day, there was a suspicious-looking fellow sitting in a car in front of the dollar store. In the news had been several daytime robberies of dollar stores with a similar profile. He set off the car alarm when Believer and I were in front of his car. She was unimpressed, bless her breeder's heart--and my breeder, who gave her 4 months of little-kid experience before I got her.

I had a dishtowel in my shoulder bag to dry things off in general while out with her--people's fingers from dog slobber when giving treats, drips of water from giving her water, or whatever. I pulled that out and started our first tug game together. I knew tugging would make her look tough to the guy, and she of course thought it was great fun. She put her whole big self into it. He honked the horn some--which she also ignored--and another guy came out of the store with a very small purchase. They drove away and then we walked on. I'll never know, but I'll always believe we stopped a robbery that day.

Meanwhile, back at home, Believer chewed about half a dozen dish towels before I removed all such from our household routine. She's tall and smart and can probably get anything she wants. That she does not do so i really just her "being nice." I switched to paper towels in the kitchen, and 5 years later we're still using them. One consolation is that we do seem to get fewer colds.

No wonder dogs extend our lives.