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

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

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Aha Moments I've Had in Dog Training

The first dog I trained to obedience rules had a body sensitivity
of about 10. So a correction would hurt his feelings before he would feel it
physically. So much for that idea! The first ear pinch attempt on him taught
me an important principle. If someone says that a training method will make
a dog worse before it gets better, I'm outta there.

Another experience taught me another principle that has served me oh so very
well. This was the same dog, Saint, adopted from a high-kill shelter at 9
months of age. He knew I was his lifeline, and he and I were soulmates. He had
trouble with the out of sight stay at first. There was an assistant
instructor in the class who thought she knew how to handle my dog. When I got out of
sight, he lay down on the Sit, because he was trying so very hard to stay. She
went over to him and jerked up on his leash. Though he was a big, black dog,
he was a darling. I won't tell you what kind of big, black dog she had had,
because some on this list would recognize her by that, and she's probably
learned better by now. Anyway, my dog didn't think like her dog at all. When she
yanked on him...well, as I came back from the out-of-sight spot, I saw a
horrifying view. She was holding her arm and the instructor and another
assistant were next to her. My dog was down.

About that time the other two people started laughing, but not her. When she
yanked on my dollbaby, he got so scarred he urinated. You know what can
happen when a boy baby urinates at a diaper change. Well, evidently it can also
happen with a scared, submissive dog on his back, and that's a pretty good
distance for the urine to shoot!

The next week I had him on a soft nylon collar and she started arguing with
me to put a prong on him so she could jerk him harder. The Instructor--a
Border Collie owner and a fine, seasoned trainer--came over and intervened on my
dog's behalf. She stayed and also intervened when we started to leave and my
dog started to cry. I told the assistant I was going to stay IN SIGHT for him
this time. She tried to make me leave. The Instructor backed me up.

I took him out of class and he distinguished himself in tracking. I had
learned another principle: if someone tries to do something to my dog or get me
to do it and I don't think it's right, I need to say "NO." If someone messes
up my dog, I'll be the one left with the mess. It's MY dog. And I'm what
stands between the dog and any bad training method. I'm the gatekeeper. Like that
sign I really should get for my house that says something like "Never mind
the dog--Beware of Owner!" I didn't let anybody direct his tracking program,
just had tracklaying partners and studied the subject carefully. I remember one
so-called expert who came out one day to see my dog work. He laid a track
for us and, as is common in tracking practice, followed behind to spot whether
the dog stayed on track or not. That fool yelled at me the whole way around
the track--cussed, too--trying to get me to handle the dog differently.
Meanwhile the dog and I successfully worked the blind track, ignoring the cussing
fool. So much for experts. And so much for my being a "good student," which I
usually am, but have learned not to be when it comes to training my dogs.
They are counting on me to protect them, and to the best of my ability, I will.

He was a dog of a lifetime, and perfect for me at that stage of my own
journey. A few years later I was teaching my little Eskie Angel the out-of-sight
stay with him at her side to simulate the group situation. Saint kept
breaking, and I thought it was unfair to let him think that was the right way to do
it. So I tethered him and he quickly learned that way. The little dog learned,
too. People say dogs can't learn by watching, but she was one who could. She
saw him leave position and that not work out for him, and got a satisfied
expression on her face that said "Yep, I KNEW that was the rule!" A couple of
times he finished up before she did. I think she broke to go chase a squirrel
in the back yard. So I had her do another stay with a teddy bear in his spot.

After training him, with a 10 body sensitivity, I went straight to her, with
a 1! People don't know this about Eskies, because they react so quickly that
you can miss the reason being pain, or fear of pain in a situation where
they have experienced it before. I had to teach her things with the leash off
and then add it, because she worried about the leash. I walked her on a
non-restricting chest harness.

She was too sick to go to class for the first 4 or 5 months I had her, as I
discovered when I took her one night and she promptly came down with
bronchitis. So I trained her at home and in the neighborhood and then took her to
class to test our learning. At the wonderful club I belong to, they set up a
little test for her, and then let her take the graduation test with the next
class and graduate. She did brilliantly on the graduation test in a ring. On our
first "check up" test, we didn't have a ring, just a judge and a corner of
the building. The dog got a little confused on off-leash heeling and wound up
sitting next to the judge. It was kinda cute, actually. The next week we had
a little more practice and a ring to test in, and she got it all within
passing limits.

One thing that happened for me as a result of the assistant mistreating
Saint was that I started reading about dog training instead of accepting the
"oral tradition" that was so common in training at that time. People did what
they had been taught and taught their students some version of it, never really
understanding it in the first place. One of the first books I read was
Patricia Gail Burnham's "Playtraining Your Dog," a groundbreaking book at the time.
I also read Karen Pryor's first edition of "Don't Shoot the Dog!" which is
not about dog training.

If I were a campaigning-type person (I simply don't have the energy), I
would try to get AKC to establish a pass/fail category for CD, CDX and UD. In my
imaginary world, you could talk to your dog while working and use body
language, there would be no scores or placements in this category but the dogs
could be judged in the regular lineup with the others if there were not enough
for a separate class. Jumping would not be required to pass, provided the
handler informed the steward or judge in advance and had the bar set on the ground
so the dog could go between the posts without jumping. The broad jump could
be one board. The handler would also have the option to specify the height at
any height from the trial height downward.

The titles would be different from competitively earned titles. This class
would be ideal for therapy dogs, assistance dogs, search and rescue dogs,
practice to fix problems for trial dogs, senior dogs whose owners want to bring
them out, cruciate ligament and hip dysplasia dogs who shouldn't be jumping,
puppies too young to jump, etc. It would likely have an atmosphere like
tracking, with everybody cheering for everybody else.

Sadly, I don't think top obedience competitors want this kind of class. It
would remove a whole lot of points from OTCH possibilities, since the
pass/fail people would not be dogs defeated in that event. But I believe it is a
needed change, for the same reason that the AKC obedience regulations state: to
demonstrate the usefulness of dogs to humans.

They say purebred dogs in the purpose statement, but I'd love to see this
open to mixes. After all, I can't imagine there is a dog in the USA who isn't
descended from some purebred or other. And in this category, no purebred would
be "defeated" by a mixed-breed.

Obedience in my community has always reached out to all owners who sincerely
want to train their dogs. It would be such a shot in the arm to obedience
trials if these wonderful clubs could throw their arms open to ALL their
students to participate in obedience trials. And it would be a true service of AKC
to many working handlers and dogs. I think it should be the next step in the

Neither Saint nor Angel were allowed in AKC events due to registration
criteria at the time (Eskies were not AKC then, so no ILP for her, and Saint was a
cross between Lab and GSD), though one club member who wasn't really
thinking about what he was saying told me I could participate by volunteering. He
said they always needed someone to pick up dog poop. Me picking up the poop of
other dogs at an event where my own dogs aren't allowed to participate? I
don't THINK so! I can pick up the poop of the World's Greatest Dogs every day
without leaving my house, thank you very much!

I took my dogs into fun matches a bunch of times to verify our learning.
Then I got a purebred dog and did a CD with her. At 3 1/2 she nearly died of
what we think was Lyme Disease. Her name was Star. As I nursed her for about 5
months, I thought about all my dog work and what was worth spending part of the
time--too short--that I have with each dog. For me, it was the therapy dog
work I was by then doing with all three dogs. I took Angel out of further
matches in Utility without finishing, and put all the training into therapy dogs.
I started having experiences of joy just bubbling up in me while working
with my dogs. I was no longer one kind of handler for one thing and another for
something else. I was me all the time when interacting with my dogs. They
must have thought "Mommy isn't schizophrenic anymore!" That decision has brought
me so much joy. And another "Aha!" I'm not saying everyone should stop
working their dogs for titles, but I don't enjoy competitions, so it was no fun
for me. Dog handling in the real world thrills my heart.

But it hasn't changed my mind about dog training, and soon I'll be training
my second assistance dog. The CGC test is very useful, but for many of our
dogs who need to be extraordinarily mannerly and steady, a pass/fail obedience
system would be a real help. And it would help the cause of dogs in our
country, too. ---Kathy Diamond Davis