Monday, May 5, 2014

Tyler's Journey - My first K9 Partner

Born in 2000, Tyler was one of two pups left in a litter of 6. She and her brother were the only two black and white siblings in the GSDs “Free to a Good Home” advertised in the local paper… I was living in North Carolina. My last dog, Keisha had run off after letting her play with Jeff’s dog at their house. His was tied, I was naive. And I learned my lesson.

So, I wanted another dog in my life. I wanted a GSD. Never had one and always wanted a big, rough, fuzzy friend…found this ad and drove an hour or so to check them out…but only the two were left. Seems the in-house Shepherd, a female named Gretchen, was a former police dog. Gretchen’s owners, for some reason didn't know her old commands when they adopted her…not sure how that worked, so I asked her to sitz…she did, at attention! She platzed too. Seemed surprised that someone knew her language.

Meeting the two pups, there was a black one with a lil white stripe and there was a black and white one that was all wiggles and smiles… she ran to me and curled around my legs…and my heart. She was 5 months old when I put her in the back of my first Trooper.

Home life was frustrating as she’d not been properly house trained…like at all. So, it was about 6 months of clean up and frustration. Took her to work with me at this little pet supply store where she was the mascot and greeter…great socialization. We went on walks around a local lake doing off leash obedience in Cary, NC. At home, I brought pigs ears to a nearby church and began swiping them along the ground as I walked then hiding them among the little old tombstones….then I’d go get her, let her go and she’d follow the trail all the way to the treat every time! I was amazed at her intelligence and tenacity! This was way before I knew anything about SAR, mind you.

Once at the store, she opened the back door to go pee herself… I never knew anything till after I was done helping a customer, I couldn't find her…she was outside the front door. She had let herself out, peed, walked around the whole strip mall and was waiting at the front glass door to be let in!! Shit!! I let her in and asked her if she went outside? She took me to the back door that had one of those swing handles on it, jumped up and smacked it…going right out before the big heavy fire door hit her butt….whoa. I knew I was in deep with this girl.

Another 6 months or so and I moved home to my parents’ place in Central California. I don’t remember what I was thinking, or what spurred me to do it…there was no Word from on high. Just emailed the local contact for the California Rescue Dog Association, Norma Snelling. Met with her and a few others in their training group and Tyler ran a short trail…Norma said, “well I think you got a trailing dog there”. I was elated. And we began going to training weekly. 2 hrs from Exeter to Madera Co. I had two days off a week from my little security gig. I drove up Wednesday evenings to our typical search area…camped at Bass Lake, trained Thursday morning then drove home that afternoon. Did this for 2 years. (Those of you that bitch about 30 minute drives to training and not having “enough time”? If you WANT it, you’ll find the time)

Tyler was a low to medium drive dog. I didn't know that then nor did it matter. Like most newbies, I still wanted to work her cause she was my dog…we could keep her at a medium level, but as I've learned there is SO much work in keeping a dog’s drive up…when that energy could be spent in other areas. Tyler was no Dascha…but I am glad to have had Tyler as my first dog…my teacher.

After a couple years in CA, I moved my parents home to IL to retire. Tyler came with me and was a great training partner and helped introduce SAR to many interested in the Southern IL area. She was always with me and I loved it. As she got to about age 6 I decided to look for a new dog. Younger, more driven. Tyler was retired and helped raise three other search dogs in my home. Teaching them appropriate play behavior and manners in the house. Strong maternal instincts in this mutt!

In 2010 I moved in with a girl I’d been dating. Tyler chose this time to sleep outside. No reason why, just always wanted out…and she’d lay on the porch, content. I got her a dog house and she was good. No tether, she didn't wander far, just to the edge of the property and back…each year getting slower and slower, but always quick with a bowowow at strangers that pulled up, or a tail wag and hobble over for a scratch when I got home. Always faithful.
This last year she has taken on the look of the old dog, had a stroke (I think) about 5 months ago. She was immobile for 4 days, not having use of her hindquarters. Got “better” but started losing her appetite, strength and mass and I could feel her time was nearing an end. Two days ago it happened again. I couldn't let her life decline in stages.  All things, good and bad, come to an end.

A friend reminded me today, they are a small part of our lives, but we are all of theirs. And I thought, we outlive them, but they out love us.

14 years she has loved me. She’s seen me come and go, do right and wrong, listened to me bitch and moan, and laugh and cry. I've camped with her in the Sierras, on the coast in N. California, on the Snake River in Oregon, splashed in the water off the Pacific and watched her swim out to sea, chasing seagulls! I watched her break up fights at dog parks and nuzzle newborn bunnies. We flew over Fresno in a helo, and ridden together in ATVs for training. We watched fireworks over Bass Lake in CA. Trained at the K9 training facility on the NASA base. She’s been with me longer than any woman and more faithful than some. She’ll always be a part of me and I hope that I've been the kind of person she deserved.

Don’t post sorrys or apologies. Today is not a day for your sorrow. She had an AMAZING life. And I’m proud to have had her as my best friend for this long. She’s taken some risks and always come out on top and by my side. She’s a good dog. And now she’s Free. 

Monday, March 10, 2014


One of the most common problems that people complain about with their dogs is the inability for a dog to not jump up on somebody they meet.

Whether it's a little kid walking into the room, the owner coming home after work and walking in the front door, or meeting people on the walk through town. These issues are merely of the dog's misunderstanding of training. At some point it found that it was rewarding to jump up on you. Or on somebody that you were meeting. And it continued this behavior and what's your first response when it happens? We yell "OFF!"

By yelling "off" we're not telling them its ok to do something, but were telling them that it's unacceptable to be doing what they are doing. Well, at least that's what we think we're doing, and that makes sense in our head. In the dog's head they've already completed the behavior. And what you are wanting is to give a command for the next behavior which is to go from the standing up with my muddy paws on somebody's chest position to a four feet on the floor position.

While this is the intended goal of getting the dog off of somebody, what we would really like is for the dog never to jump up. So why do we not train this behavior instead?? Exactly the question that leads to the next and more appropriate way of training.

As opposed to waiting for the dog to rush up to somebody and jump,  next time, walk up to somebody that is remaining calm and quiet, being non-stimulated, and have them stand there while you put the dog into a Sit. Once the dog is in a sit, then, have the person reach out and pet the dog's head.

To begin with,  this is all you need.

Walk towards someone with the dog on leash. Have the dog sit just before it would normally begin to get ready to jump up, you'll need to watch your body's dogs body language to understand when this is about to happen. When they sit, have the person pat the dog on the head with little or no fanfare, so the dog gets a reward for it,  but there is low stimulation, keeping the dog from feeling the need to jump , and then the interaction is done.

Continue this until the dog is comfortable and used to sitting every time they approach somebody. Then they can have a little bit more freedom. If any time they began to jump back up, go back to the non-stimulating, slow introductions. You'll find your happy balance. And you'll also find happier interactions with people you approach!

Happy training!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

High Value Food Rewards

re▪ward    riˈwôrd
noun: reward; plural noun: rewards
1. a thing given in recognition of one's service, effort, or achievement.
"the holiday was a reward for 40 years' service with the company"
synonyms: recompense, prize, award, honor, decoration, bonus, premium, bounty, present, gift, payment; More
a fair return for good or bad behavior.
synonyms: recompense, prize, award, honor, decoration, bonus, premium, bounty, present, gift, payment;

There are various types of rewards that you can provide for your dog for good behavior. Toys, treats and praise. For this discussion I'm going to only focus on food rewards. Most of the discussions I have with clients revolve around food or treat rewards.

A reward can come in many shapes and sizes. Chunks of hot dogs, dry biscuits, kibble from their normal food, bacon, slices of chicken, various dog treats, it's up to your imagination as to what type of treats to give your dog.

What's not up to your imagination is the value that the dog puts into the rewards that you have chosen for her (For this discussion, the dogs will be referred to in the female gender).  The same can be said for anyone that you meet on the street. If you take a packet of bite size carrots and walk down the street and hand them out, first of all people are going to wonder why you're giving out free carrots, second of all not everybody is going to eat one. I myself can't stand carrots. So if you had hand one to me I would thank you for your kindness and then either return it or throw it away. On the other hand someone else may love them and gobble it up. The same can be said for chocolate, however there seems to be very few people that would turn down a bite of good chocolate. But they're out there! And you never know until you ask.

Now viewing this from the dog's perspective, we buy treats for dogs, usually erring on the side of lower prices. But, even though the dog may eat them, what ever they happened to be, is it the thing that she love the most? Is the drive is get more valuable than the food on your plate? Or her own dog food? We have to take this into consideration when we are asking them to do they're obedience training. If the reward that were offering isn't as interesting or valuable as going to the food bowl and getting the last few pieces of kibble out, then we need to reevaluate what we're trying to reward with.

You can easily view this as considering yourself and your employer. If your employer was to walk up and say that you would get a $5 bonus for working on your day off, would you do it? What if it was a $500 bonus? Ah, so there's more incentive there yes? The same can be said for your dog. If I hold a dry biscuit in front of their nose,  they may go after it, but in my other hand if I have a piece of cheese, or bacon, more than likely their interest will go to that hand.

So my question is, why continue to try to use the treats that you have been using up until now instead of turkey, chicken, bacon, cheese? You're not feeding this as a regular meal, you're merely using it to reward and behavior and then that treat is put away. It is a tool to make a behavior more consistent. Not something to do for the rest of her life or as a full meal.

Buy various types of treats when you're trying to work out what works best for her. Cook a few different things, drained as much grease off to possible of course, and then make small baggies. And over the next few days use different treats when doing your obedience. See what works best. I know some dogs that go crazy for those carrots we mentioned earlier. I'm working with a dog currently that loves banana chips. However, if I cook up some bacon, I can 99 percent of the time get a great  response from a dog during training.

Don't limit yourself to what works at the moment only, or what kind of works, or what's  "healthiest" , or what's cheapest. If you want the best behavior out of your dog, find the best treat for her!

Happy Training!