Just a dog….

Just a Dog

From time to time, people tell me, “lighten up, it’s just a dog,”
or, “that’s a lot of money for just a dog.”

They don’t understand the distance traveled, the time spent, or the costs involved for “just a dog.”

Some of my proudest moments have come about with “just a dog.”

Many hours have passed and my only company was “just a dog,”
but I did not once feel slighted.

Some of my saddest moments have been brought about by “just a dog,”
and in those days of darkness, the gentle touch of “just a dog” gave me comfort and reason to overcome the day.

If you, too, think it’s “just a dog,” then you will probably understand
phrases like “just a friend,” “just a sunrise,” or “just a promise.”

“Just a dog” brings into my life the very essence of friendship, trust,
and pure unbridled joy.

“Just a dog” brings out the compassion and patience that make me a better person.

Because of “just a dog”, I will rise early, take long walks and look longingly to the future.

So for me and folks like me, it’s not “just a dog” but an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future, the fond memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment.

“Just a dog” brings out what’s good in me and diverts my thoughts away
from myself and the worries of the day.

I hope that someday they can understand that it’s not “just a dog”,
but the thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being
“just a man or woman.”

So the next time you hear the phrase “just a dog”
just smile…
because they “just don’t understand.”


Things that scare or concern Miles

“Reactive dogs are anxious, and their response is intense because they are freaking out.”

–Leslie McDevitt, MLA, CDBC, CPDT in Control Unleashed

 I wrote the following list back in January of this year.  The purpose was for me to have a better idea of things that bothered my boy so that I could help him with some or all of them.  I had forgotten about the list until I was going through some old documents this morning.  Here it is from 1/18/08:

Things That Scare or Concern Miles


  1. plastic tarps
  2. most things overhead
  3. baby gates
  4. dogs and people “suddenly” appearing
  5. dogs barking
  6. people holding umbrellas or with big/long jackets
  7. walkers
  8. dogs/people watching him run agility trials
  9. teeters
  10. things that move under his feet
  11. tunnels/chutes
  12. large, unknown objects
  13. nail clippers
  14. frontline
  15. bike pumping tires noise
  16. large maglite flashlight
  17. under the bed

That was then and boy does that seem like a long list!  We’ve come so far since then, it’s amazing.   Some of these I haven’t specifically worked on, but by working on his confidence in gereral the specific concerns have greatly abated. 

First, let me give a plug and a lot of credit to Leslie McDevitt and her book, “Control Unleashed”.  I was gifted her book for Christmas last year and was immediately hooked.   In her words, the Control Unleashed program is designed to help “dogs with issues” learn how to relax, focus, and work off-leash reliably in either stimulating or stressful situations.  I have found her positive training methods and innovative “games” to be refreshing and very helpful for us.  We haven’t worked through the whole program, but have been using ideas from it to mold our own.  On thing that Miles particularly benefited from was the Relaxation Protocol written by Karen Overall which can be found here.  Leslie uses it as a foundation, and I found it to be extremely useful in helping Miles to learn how to relax no matter what was happening around him.  I still need to do more work with this and need to work on it away from home, but have been admittedly slack since we’ve seen so much improvement thus far.

Back to the list though.  Most of these things have been “fixed” by systematic desensitization and counterconditioning (D/CC).  That’s trainer speak for reducing the emotion connected to the object/situation and then changing the dog’s perception of it.  It can be a rather long process depending on how strong the fear is.  For instance, it was rather easy for me to D/CC him to the maglite, yet we’re still working on the teeter.  Miles was “allowed” to develop a much stronger fear response to the teeter whereas the flashlight thing was just one episode and thus there was not much history of fear there.  I’ve always thought that it takes several hundred times more positive responses to something to equal a few negative ones.

So here is the revised list for 10/21/08: 

  1. plastic tarps on a windy day only
  2. dogs and people “suddenly” appearing when other stressors are present
  3. dogs barking only in some conditions where other stressors are present
  4. teeters getting better, but have had to break it into many steps
  5. bike pumping tires noise because I haven’t done anything about it yet

 Much better, eh?   I sure think so!

How to kill a shelter dog

The following is courtesy of Joanna Kimball of Blacksheep Cardigan Corgis.  I feel like this is an important thing to share with as many people as possible to help cut down on irresponsible breeding practices, etc.  Thanks Joanna for putting this in writing!

How to Kill a Shelter Dog

It’s really simple: Buy from an irresponsible breeder. I need you to hear this: If you buy from an irresponsible breeder, you are killing shelter dogs. YOU.  

What’s an irresponsible breeder? Any breeder that does not breed as a caretaker and devotee of her particular breed, as shown by showing, health testing, and being involved in a community of her peers.

Where do you find irresponsible breeders? Flea markets; swap meets; newspaper ads; generic sites on the Web that list a bunch of breeders on the same page. They’re the guy at your office that let his girl dog get pregnant. They’re the friend of a friend who bred her miniature Australian Shepherd “just once.” They’re your cousin who thinks she can make some money by breeding her Chesapeake Bay Retriever to another registered Chessie. They’re the people with the plastic sign at the end of their driveway: “Yellow Labs: $250.” Some of them even have gorgeous websites and professionally produced graphics; many of them are wonderful people, members of churches, clean housekeepers. They don’t look like puppy mills or evil people. But hear this: I don’t care if the breeder is your best friend and you think her dog is just awesome and your kids love the puppies and there was a rainbow in her driveway when you came over to see the litter. If she is not a responsible breeder, go to any vet’s office and ask to see the big bottle of Euthanol and take a good hard look at it, then go to your shelter and pick out the six dogs that are going to get that needle because your friend bred her dog.

Learn to recognize the birdcall of the irresponsible breeder: “We focus on breeding happy, healthy pets.” “You don’t need a show breeder; you just want a pet.” “We don’t want our dogs ruined by the stresses of the show ring.” “I am going to breed her once and only once, just so I can keep a puppy.” “This mix offers the best of both worlds—the nonshedding poodle and the easy-going Lab” (or insert the two or three breeds of your choice). “Our pets are our babies—we breed only for temperament.” “Mom and dad vet-checked.” “Champion lines.””Family-raised adorable pets.”

Learn to recognize the website of the irresponsible breeder: Dogs pictured lying down or playing. Males and females are called “mommies” and “daddies.” Puppies are often shown with props, or with hats on, or on a satin background. A special place in hell is waiting for those websites that show all the breeding females obviously pregnant or lactating (because, presumably, they are never NOT pregnant or lactating). There are no show pictures (where the dogs are “stacked” foursquare) or groomed pictures. The dogs have no achievements aside from looking cute. There’s usually a focus on external qualities: the biggest puppy, the smallest puppy, particular (often “rare”) colors, desirable hair textures or lengths.

So how does your purchase kill a shelter dog? Buying from an irresponsible breeder does several things: one, you’re buying a dog that you could have adopted instead. Irresponsible breeders don’t offer you anything that you can’t find at a shelter; they do not breed only the best to the best; they don’t warranty health or temperament; they don’t test and prove their dogs to demonstrate that their breeding stock looks, acts, or performs the way that breed should. So they are competing directly with the shelters in terms of putting dogs into people’s arms, and when people can buy a puppy instead of adopting an older dog, they virtually always do so.

Second, irresponsible breeders don’t just produce the puppy you brought home. That was one of a litter of perhaps six or eight. You gave them a pretty big check for almost no work on their part, so they’ll do it again. Maybe they’ll get a couple more bitches and make it a part-time job. So yeah, you may take this dog home and love it and never give it up, but your purchase encouraged the breeder to make thirty or forty or fifty more dogs. Can you guarantee that they all ended up in good homes? Can you be sure that they didn’t end up in shelters? The purebred dogs in shelters are the result of irresponsible breeders—yup, the same one you just handed a check to. It’s as simple as that.

Irresponsible breeders are going to keep on breeding until they cannot sell puppies. The market must end. That’s why it’s YOUR responsibility, not just theirs. The first time they have a litter of seven Labs who are all still chewing on kitchen cabinets at age one, having consumed several thousand dollars worth of food; the first time they have to raise an entire litter of Maltese until the patellas start to fail on all the dogs; the first time they get some of the pain and none of the dollars, they’ll reconsider doing this again. Until then, they will keep making puppies.

So what now?

There are exactly two ways to obtain a puppy or dog: adopt from a rescue, shelter, or pound; and buy from a responsible breeder who SHOWS (or trials) her dogs, who HEALTH TESTS (not “vet checks”), who INTERVIEWS YOU and who has standards for where she places her puppies—which means she may tell you no—who REQUIRES A WRITTEN CONTRACT including a puppy-back clause so your dog never ends up in a shelter or rescue, and who is open to PEER REVIEW and a member in good standing in her community (as shown by participation in a club or recommendations from other good breeders in the area). These are the qualities that set her apart as a responsible breeder, and they’re what keep your purchased puppy from adding to the statistics of homeless dogs.

Rue’s the best?

Time for a puppy update!  The little miss is 18wks old and continues to learn lots.  My main focus is on play and fun for her right now.  We play a lot of tug and retrieve games as well as chase/shadow handling games.  I do have some rules with these games, but I try really hard to blur the line between training and play.  Because of this Rue LOVES to train and learn.  She is already so far ahead of where Miles was at this age and I attribute most of that to my knowledge and previous experiences.  My timing has gotten better and I’ve learned to break down behaviours into smaller pieces for quicker learning and more confidence on the part of the dog.

I started using shaping games with Miles after he had his teeter meltdown.   These games have literally saved our team and have taught Miles that it’s fun to learn and okay to make “mistakes”.  For more info on shaping, check out stuff on the web about clicker training.

Most of the shaping games that I play with Rue are just silly things like shaping her to get on a stool, get into a laundry basket, put her back feet on a box, etc.  Most of these things are not leading to anything specific, but are just teaching her how to learn and that learning is fun and I can be trusted.  All of the tricks she knows have been shaped to include “shake”, “down”, “high five”, “gimme the other one”, “beg”, “stand”, and “spin”.  I feel that shaping works much better than luring for most but the simplest behaviours (ie. sit) as it engages the dog in the learning process.  When a dog is lured, it may appear that they’re learning quickly, but often times once the lure is removed you find that the dog doesn’t have much understanding of the task.  I did do a lot of luring with Miles in the beginning and he learning many tricks that way, however the ones that were taught using shaping are much stronger and tend to hold up to generalization much better.

One thing’s for sure, this little girl learns VERY fast.  Last night in about 10 tries, she was offering to back up across the garage!  She’s so cute too because everything she does and offers is done with such gusto and such heart.  I am just amazed with her each and every day.

Of course we’re still waaaay behind my role model Silvia Trkman’s puppy Bi.  Bi and Rue are almost exactly the same age and Silvia’s had Bi about a week longer than we’ve had Rue.  Here’s a video of little Bi at 12 weeks and all of the tricks she knows.  Holy moley…I have some work to do!!

APS of Mebane ASCA Trial 10/26/08

Woohoooooo!  Miles is on a roll as we got two Q’s in two consecutive Jumpers runs yesterday!!  ASCA stands for Australian Shepherd Club of America and they have their own agility rules which pretty much follow old NADAC rules.  There are only two ASCA trials held here each year, Spring and Fall, at the APS in Mebane, NC.  Last March we participated in this trial and things were not so hot.  It was our first time trialing away from where we train, so that was tough for both of us.  We had entered two Jumpers runs last year and Miles was obviously stressed.  He would stay with me for a few obstacles, then go off and sniff, then reconnect, then sniff.  All in all considering the new location, however, I didn’t think it went that bad. 

Fast forward to this trial and what a difference 6 months can make!  Miles’ confidence has improved exponentially.  I measure this by several things:  speed, lack of (or extremely minimal) sniffing, ability to celebrate with me in the ring after our run, ability to do tricks on the start line, and desire to play with me near the ring.  We still have a long way to go, but each and every time we have a success like this weekend it puts more weight into the confidence bucket.

The first run yesterday was at 8:45am…I arrived at 8:40…ahhh!  It’s always a crap shoot when you try to guess the start time.  I got there just as they were walking the Novice course and missed the Judges Briefing.  Good thing because the judge at this trial was less-than-pleasant and it probably would have made me too nervous (he was in a rush to catch a plane, apparently).  Anyway, the course seemed flowy enough.  All wingless jumps, no tunnels or anything.   I was having a difficult time with the first part because it was going to require a rear-cross as I couldn’t find a smooth way to do a front.  I’ve lost him to sniffing before when I’ve had to do a rear-cross at the end of a line of jumps.  I planned to start with him and try our PB&J (push back and jam) to see what kind of response I got.  In practice this really fires him up and it held true here too because Miles’ took off like a rocket.  Jump, jump, jump, jump, uh oh rear cross and I push him around the jump–dang it!  Slight bow of the head to sniff but I get down low and say “haha!” and he comes right back to me and we finish the course fast and clean.  Q and a 2nd place by .3 seconds (darn the rear-cross).

During the break, I worked on playing with Miles and his ball in different areas around the ring.  I’m trying to ping-pong the distances to slowly get him used to playing in all locations.  We actually were able to play in the warm up area about 20ft from the gate–yay Miles!  Of course he was much more interested in the pepperoni I was carrying.  I tried Melanie’s advice of working on some more difficult tricks, but it didn’t go so well as we were probably too close to the ring for that yet.  So we did easy ones–nose touch, kiss, high five, shake, other one, etc.  I tried to get him to “saddle up” which he did but I had to lure him.  Not bad.

The second run was similar to the first.  Open and flowy with all wingless jumps and no good place to do a front cross, ugh.  Oh well, Miles seemed to be moving out fast enough that I thought the rears might be okay as long as I cued them well enough in advance.   Once again I was rushed into the ring, but I tried to remain calm and took my time getting MIles set.  We started together again with the PB&J and off he went like a shot!  Completely perfect for the whole run.  Fast and happy, he played with me as we collected his leash and headed out to give him the rest of his breakfast and to find his ball.  Q and a 1st place by 4 seconds….yeah!!  When I got home I calculated his yards per second for each run and his second run was 4.75yps.  The best he did on the flat that’s been measured was 7.9yps and with 5 jumps 6.1yps.  Must continue to work on speed, but I’m definitely happy with these results! Here are some pics from the trial–there are only 3 and notice Miles hamming it up for the camera in the second photo! Photos.

Oh and not to go without mention, Rue did perfect too.  She was an angel in her crate and happy to come out every time.  We worked on attention heeling and simple tricks.  She still wants to visit every dog she sees, but she’s getting better about asking (sitting and giving me eye contact).  I didn’t get to play any tug with her near the ring because everything was going so quickly that I just didn’t have the time.  We did play fetch with her frisbee in the adjacent field which was surrounded by barking shelther dogs though 🙂

Next up:  AKC at Teamworks November 7th and 8th and NADAC at PBH November 9th.

Elbow Dysplasia

Back in the Summer we decided to go ahead and have Miles’ hips and elbows x-rayed and sent to OFA for evaluation.  The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals is an organization that aims to research and prevent orthopedic and hereditary diseases in animals, namely dogs. They focus a lot on hips and hip dysplasia, but they also have guidelines for testing and rating elbow disorders.

Miles is neutered and therefore never going to be bred, but we elected to do these tests because a) he’s an athelete and b) he came from a rather dubious breeder (our mistake). So off we went to our vet for radiographs.

Great news first, his hips rated OFA Good. From the OFA website:

Good (Figure 2): slightly less than superior but a well-formed congruent hip joint is visualized. The ball fits well into the socket and good coverage is present.

Bad news, his elbows were rated as Grade 1 Dysplasia with DJD in both. The only grades involved are for abnormal elbows with radiographic changes associated with secondary degenerative joint disease or arthritis. According to the OFA, Grade 1 means there is minimal bone change along anconeal process of ulna (less than 3mm).

So I guess this doesn’t sound so bad until you think about where the dog carries most of it’s weight…on it’s front end. And then you think about most of the forces incurred doing agility and it’s mainly on it’s front end. CRAP! Into panic mode I go.

I pulled it back together and started to gather information about how to handle the diagnosis and prognosis of Grade 1 Elbow Dysplasia in my 76lb agility dog…..76 POUNDS!  Oh nooooes!  “Miles is chunky” says an acquaintance.  “He’s about a 6” says our vet.  “He has no ribs” says my trainer.  My healthy raw-fed wonderfully active jogging partner is FAT. 

Ok first step, weight loss.  I cut back his food to about 1.25lbs per day from about 1.5-1.75lbs per day.  At the advice of several folks I spoke with, to include the wonderful breeder that we were awaiting a puppy from, I also increased his salmon oil and added a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement with MSM and Vit. C.  I also cut back on his road running and now do mainly trails off-lead now or at least have him run in the grass on the side of the road. 

Fast forward four months and Miles is down to a slender 63lbs, but could still stand to lose a few more.  He’s doing great and while he never was symptomatic, I want to protect his front as much as possible.  I will never push him to jump full height in any agility venue except NADAC and CPE where the jump height for him is 20″.  So he’ll never get a MACH or an ADCH…oh well.  Did I really think he’d get those anyway?  Probably not.  I’ll be happy with a few titles and a dog who’s happy to play and lives a long active life 🙂

USDAA trial PBH 10/11-12: Miles earns his PJ1!!

WAHOOOOO!!  I never ever thought we’d get a title, but by golly my boy ROCKED!  To see him be able to even perform during a trial is an amazing thing and to be able run fast, clean and happy?!?!  Wowsers.  To earn this title Miles had to Q (qualify) three times on a Level 1 Jumpers course under at least two different judges.  Coming into this weekend we had one Q from an earlier trial over Labor Day also at PBH.  He needed to run clean both days in order to get his title–yikes!  Obviously there was no real pressure because we are in no rush, but there are no more USDAA trials until at least next February so I really was hoping for the best.

We only signed up for the Jumpers run on Saturday afternoon.  I debated about entering him in another run before that to give him an opportunity to have a fun no pressure run prior to Jumpers, but decided to just give it a go.  It was a lovely day in the high 60’s and overcast, no wind or precipitation.  The judge was 17yr old Blake Stafford from Lousiana who had made a really nice course.  I walked the course with purpose and planned out everything hoping for a fast run.  Of course I also walked it a second way in case he was not moving out too fast. 

The Performance class was running first “small to tall” so I watched a few dogs go before I went to get Miles out of the car.  Folks were running it a variety of ways with mixed success.  As I hustled back to my car I tried to visualize the course and where I needed to be at all times to help maximize his speed and confidence.  When I got to my car I was met by a very happy boy who couldn’t wait to get out to play.  I grabbed him, his special ball, and the rest of his breakfast (raw beef) and headed back to the field.  We did attention heeling to the top field and then did a bunch of tricks and worked on “speak” to chase the ball (our new and motivating game).  As they changed the jump height to 22″ I decided to make my way through the gauntlet of barking dogs, EZ up tents, and crates to the gate area.  Again we did various tricks for raw beef and “speak” for the ball.  He was happy to play and only the slightest bit stressy.  Miles was up!  We walked into the ring together and happy.  I left him on a stand-stay and led out just past the first jump in order to get him into the tunnel and me into position.  I tried a game that my instructor, Melanie, has used for her shy dog Regan…I told Miles as I left him at the start “Wait.  You wait.  Waaaaaaaaaaaait.  Waaaaait.  OK!” (even though he would never break a stay).  He seemed to get more interested with each “wait” that I muttered–yay 🙂  The rest is history as we ran our fastest and best run to date!  He came in 1st and 12 seconds under course time.  The pressure was on for tomorrow….

Sunday morning I woke up to think “oh geez, what should I do?!”.  I was nervous because I had signed us up for P1 Standard and P1 Snooker along with the Jumpers course that we needed.  I knew that there was no chance to Q in Standard as Miles still doesn’t teeter in public.  I wanted to sign up to do it to give him more exposure to doing contact obstacles and such in a trial environment.  At our last trial over Labor Day Miles did GREAT in Standard as we ran by the teeter and he only refused the chute as it looked completely different from any chute he had ever been in.  He recovered from that refusal to continue over the dogwalk to a double to a rear cross weavepoles and finished strong.  Of course that was in the big ring, the one we train in, the one he’s most comfortable in.  This run today was going to be in the small ring.  I debated for a long time and then just decided I’d head out to PBH and see what the course was like and decide at that point.  I got there just as they were about to walk for P! Standard–whoa good timing.  The course seemed doable, so I decided to keep him in it.  Today Champoinship went before Performance and it was “tall to small”.  For some reason I totally timed it wrong and got Miles out way too soon.  I tried to keep him “up”, but he was very stressy to be hanging out for so long.  Not to mention it was very windy so the flapping of the EZ ups and the signs around the field were getting him nervous.  It also had come to my attention that the really scary teeter was being used in the small ring this time which was unusual.  Miles reacts to the noise of it which I’m trying to countercondition by giving him food immediately after the sound.  However, it was the combination of that plus the flapping and him being out too long that was not boding well for us.  As we got up to the gate, they called us to go in and in we went to be met by a loose dog (the previous dog running the course) who they couldn’t control and we were sent back out.  I should have known that we were doomed by this point, but I tried to get Miles back and focused on me which he did somewhat.  I have to admit I was just a bit flustered by the goings on in the ring too.  By the time we got to the start line I had to reset him 3 times (not a good sign).  I did a small lead out to set him up for a nice entry into the poles.  “Wait, waiiiit, you wait, OK!” and off he goes over the first jump and enters at the 2nd pole (crap now what) so I pull him out to try again (mistake).  He enters correctly but then refused the chute.  At that point I just ran him out over some jumps to make it fun and left the ring.  Dang it!  Now I’m really nervous about Jumpers.

We had a really long wait before our next two runs so I had time to reflect back and come up with a strategy.  I took Miss Rue out to play and to socialize.  She did awesome as usual.  Extrememly focused for such a little sprout.  She had fun working for food and tugging.  We also discovered her new favorite treat….roast beef!  Cool.  After a brief period with her, I brought her back to her crate in my car and took Miles back out.  We played fetch in the parking area for awhile then walked down closer to the ring and played there briefly, then he went back.  Good job buddy!  I decided that I was just going to forget about what happenend this morning and make like it never happened.  I was going to do the same routines as before and just see what happens.

Next up was Snooker.  It appeared to be a doable course as well….no teeter, no weaves, just jumps, tunnels and the a-frame.  I planned out a course to be as motivating as possible and headed out to get my boy.  In the past Miles has been a bit leery of the Snooker flags that they put up and with today being windy, I was less than encouraged.  Again we played the same games before heading in.  He seemed more relaxed this time and off we went.  He did great and if it weren’t for the off course to a red just as we were about to start the sequence we probably could have Q’d.  Oh well, he was happy so that’s all that mattered. 

Jumpers was up next and by now Doug and the girls had gotten there–yay!  Miles is much happier when they’re around.  I guess he feels more protected or something.  Since this was a small trial and his was the very last course of the day, folks were starting to pack up their stuff (uh oh, EZ ups coming down, crates being folded, much chaos ensuing indeed).  I tried not to think about that and went out to help build the course and then walk it.  It seemed pretty good.  Lots of space to open up and run fast, so I was excited to try out some of my new skills (run like heck out of a tunnel, dump and run after a jump kind of things).  Same warm up and start line routines and off we go!  Beautiful amazing wonderful super job!  He started out a bit slow and just before going into the second tunnel I guess someone moved a crate and made a noise.  Miles hesitated for a split second and then decided what we were doing was more fun and absolutely flew after that point.  We came in 1st again by 5 seconds and under course time by 15 seconds!  My boy has a TITLE!!!!