Obedience Classes #2 – Finding a good instructor

March 29, 2008

I love obedience, so it’s probably not really surprising that I tend to keep my dogs in classes *most* of the time. (At one point, I had dogs in classes ALL the time- we usually had less than three weeks each year that we weren’t attending at least one class every week, although my current club and curriculum don’t allow that). A *big* part of what makes it enjoyable, though, is finding the right instructor.

Dog training is not a highly regulated field. Anyone can put out a sign and advertise themselves as a dog trainer. Some states have, I believe, restrictions on certain terms (such as behaviorists) but I don’t believe Texas is among them. (Since I consider myself a trainer, and refer serious problems such as aggression and resource guarding to more experienced folks, this doesn’t really affect me). This can make it pretty tough for consumers, though, to find just the right person to work with.

One good place to start is with the APDT – the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. A professional organization for dog trainers, their requirements for membership aren’t all that strenuous, and membership alone doesn’t guarantee a person’s ability, education, or training philosophy. But it can be a good place to search for trainers in your area.

Another overlooked resource is your local kennel club. You can find out about local clubs at the American Kennel Club site (for AKC events and breeds) and UKCDogs.com (for UKC events and breeds- there are fewer UKC clubs by a large number, but they can be a great resource if you have them.) Not all clubs offer classes- and some use methods that I’m not a fan of- but it’s worth checking out. Even if they don’t offer classes, club contact people are, by definition, dog people, and may be able to give you a suggestion about where to look or who to ask next.

Some people recommend asking your vet. I am generally not a fan of this approach- I love my vets (I have three- a ‘routine stuff vet’ (who I like best but isn’t terribly nearby at the moment), an emergency vet (has been our family vet for years- her brand new practice is in a very expensive part of town and I’m slowly phasing her out- more on that in another post), and a repro/testing vet who is the most highly recommended by reputable breeders locally for health testing and reproductive issues.)- none of them are behaviorists or have much background in the way of dog training, although vets #1 and #3 *do* maintain good lists. (#2’s list is the one I want people to avoid, much as I like her otherwise!) It really depends on your ability to evaluate the information- true of all the approaches, though.

When I’ve got some names, the next thing to do is set up an initial meeting. It doesn’t need to be all that long, and typically I’ll ask if I can attend a class without my dog and observe. I want to see a trainer who is NOT heavy handed, and uses positive reinforcement with both dogs and students freely. I want to see one who has classes of a moderate size- no more than 12 people, and if there’s more than 8, I’d expect to see an assistant. If there’s reactive or aggressive dogs in the class, I want to see that the trainer manages them properly, keeps an eye on the owner who may or may not be all that well equipped to handle them, and sets them up to succeed by NOT pushing them over thresholds repeatedly.

I love clicker training, but a good generic positive trainer is, IMO, better than a poor clicker trainer. (The clicker is NOT equal to praise, and we have a few local trainers who use it that way.) And I’d rather take a traditional (leash correction, crank & yank) class run by an instructor who gives good feedback to handlers and manages the dogs and space effectively than n overly permissive trainer- but I’m assertive and protective enough about my dogs that I won’t allow anyone else to manhandle them and have the confidence (at this point :P) to do my own thing in a class setting- this is NOT ideal. So attending a class is crucial- see how the instructor handles things. See how the dogs react to him. See how he or she interacts with the dogs- does she approach respectfully and appropriately to each individual dog – straight on with confident dogs, but sideways and slower with cautious dogs? How about petting? Is she a head-patter (most dogs HATE this) or a chest thumper (which big dogs generally enjoy, but most small dogs don’t unless it’s done very gently.) Ask for references and follow up on them.  If you’ve done your research and background reading, and have trainers whose training models you particularly respect or think will work well for your dog (mne at the oment, are Leslie McDervitt and Emma Parsons- but I will also ask what the trainer thinks of Karen Pryor’s work, Jean Donaldson’s, Carol Lea Benjamin- and the last is a red herring, as she’s more old-school than I prefer for my dogs) But most of all? Be an educated consumer. Use your gut. And don’t be afraid to walk out of a class that makes you uncomfortable.

“Overpopulation” or, why mandatory s/n won’t work.

March 25, 2008

(As promised from yesterday, but I didn’t have time to finish this until this afternoon (Tuesday))

The law that is currently proposed here in Dallas (which doesn’t have a draft version online), requires all people who are not approved breeders (and there are no criteria for approval, just that they will be approved or disproved by an employee at local animal control, who may or may not have any actual qualifications as to understanding what constitutes a responsible breeder) to spay and neuter their cats and dogs. Responsible owners spay and neuter, right, so where’s the problem? I really don’t think it’s going to help.

Walk throughs of the Dallas City shelter are depressing- especially in the old building on Forney Road. It’s dank, humid, lit with bare flouresent bulbs. The runs are 4×4, with a few 4×6 at the back of the building. They’re cramped, with concrete flooring, a built in feeder, and metal panels between each run so dogs can’t see each other to fence fight. The staff does their best to keep the runs clean (and I have to say, I’ve never seen poop in a run go unscooped for more than 15-20 minutes, which is unbelieveable given the size of the facility), but the dogs IN the runs are depressing. Most of them are large mixed-breed dogs- lab, pit, chow, husky and shepherd mixes predominate. Small-breed dogs generally get snapped up by rescues or make it to the few adoption kennels here, unless they’re visibly old or have obvious health problems. These dogs are not the products of intentional breeding. They’re the oops puppies from friends and neighbors- whose new owners didn’t care for them once the new and shiny wore off. It’s a GREAT (if dismal) place to adopt a dog- I’ve known many wonderful dogs that came from there, the staff work VERY hard to do their best by the animals, and are generally polite, courteous, and helpful (one woman stayed late for me to bring in a hound mix that had been found running loose- at the time, I lived in no pets housing and couldn’t have gotten away with hiding him overnight, not with that voice- he DID have a microchip, we got hold of his owner, and I dropped him off on my way home.) But the breeders aren’t the problem- it’s pet owners who won’t alter their dogs, and won’t take responsibility for making sure the puppies end up in an forever home, not just a home for a few months. Mostly, these people never bother to vaccinate or register their pets with the city- they won’t be affected unless the conditions are so bad that they get reported for cruelty and the city presses charges.

Dallas also has a puppy mill problem- but they aren’t in city limits. They’re in the many surrounding rural towns without any animal control at all- Wilmer, Red Oak, Mansfield, Lake Dallas, Bowie. This law won’t affect them at all.

Who this law WILL affect is people who are already obeying the laws. These include responsible pet owners and responsible breeders. (I have to admit, I am not responsible at the moment, I haven’t renewed Mal’s license for the year or licensed Lizzie, since I was planning to be moved out of Dallas by the end of this month. I will renew it when he gets his rabies shot next month, though, and license her- since I have to go down to the office to do it, I don’t want to make two trips.)Pet owners who give regular vet care have something like a 95% compliance rate as it is when it comes to spaying and neutering their dogs (only 70-some percent for cats, which may explain the GIANT feral cat population problem.)

This law won’t stop the dopes who breed Sadie, the dog who lives in their backyard, so the kids can experience puppies just once, or because she has PAPERS and they think they can make a couple hundred dollars off the litter. In general, these people aren’t even aware that they need to license Sadie. Their vet may tell them, if they take her to a vet.

This won’t stop people who get a cute kitten off Craigslist to be an outdoor (or even indoor outdoor) cat and don’t bother to have her altered. Kittens are cute, and they’ll find homes for them, right? If they can catch them, that is. And those people may or may not alter them. The feral cat problem is overwhelmingly huge here in Dallas, even though dogs (and puppy mills and BYBs) get more attention.

We need to stop irresponsible ownership- not responsible breeding. And the laws for that are already on the books. Dallas has a leash law that isn’t enforced for lack of officers to do it, and it’s usually at least a day before they can send an ACO out to catch a stray, if you can’t catch it and take it to the shelter yourself. We need to increase enforcement and the AC department’s budget. Offer more free spay/neuter opportunities, with better hours and accessability for people who work long hours and lack transportation. We need to offer more humane education in the schools, so kids learn that pets aren’t disposable. But banning breeding isn’t going to do it.

This law probably won’t affect me, immediately. I will probably live outside of Dallas city limits before it passes, if it does.But it’s a wrong law, and it’s a nasty trend. If you love a purebred animal-wherever that animal came from- or appreciate dogs who are bred for health and temperament and not just cuteness or profit? You need to learn more about this type of legislation, and how it hurts the health of dogs as a whole.

It’s totally not Spitz related – but…

March 24, 2008


Katie, who blogs at Underdogged.net, adopted Harvey one year ago today. Harv is a little black senior pit bull who, by all the statistics, shouldn’t have made it out of the shelter. Katie is a really wonderful person (and a gifted writer) and I think she and Harv are pretty darn lucky to have each other.

Harvey sounds like SUCH a character in her posts. You should all go read them. 🙂

Heads up! Mandatory Spay Neuter Ordinance in Dallas!

March 24, 2008

Crossposted because I’m lazy – a real post on this topic today. If you live in Dallas, PLEASE contact your city council member TODAY!

From Responsible Pet Owners Alliance, the reasonable voice regarding animal issues in Texas.
Responsible Pet Owners Alliance is an animal welfare organization, not “animal rights” and, yes, there is a difference. Permission granted to crosspost.

March 21, 2008
Action Alert for Dallas, Texas!

After being told repeatedly that nothing was in writing yet, Responsible Pet Owners Alliance finally received a copy of the Chapter 7 Animal Ordinance Revisions under an Open Records Act Request. As we notified you previously, this was unanimously approved by the Dallas Animal Shelter Commission in January — exactly one month after passage of the onerous San Antonio ordinance. It must have been in the hopper … waiting. The Revisions are tentatively scheduled to be presented to the Quality of Life Committee for consideration in late April but that date could change at any time. We have no objection to the Dangerous Dogs Section as it appears to be well written with due process provisions. However we do oppose the sections
below because they are not in the best interests of the animals nor their owners:

  1. Pet Limits. (Dallas has no pet limits now.)
  2. Mandatory Spay/Neuter Requirements and Breeder Permits ($500 per animal, not allowed in residental areas) for dogs and cats.
  3. No Tethering or confinement of less than 150 square feet
  4. Miscellaneous Section which includes a Fine Schedule for violations and criminal and civil penalties which are “per day per dog.”

This ordinance means fewer homes for pets, more animals killed by Dallas Animal Services and mixed breeds will become extinct among other concerns. People will be forced to buy only registered dogs and cats the Animal Services director decides can exist which could lead to breed specific concerns.

Mandatory Spay/Neuter and Breeder Permit Ordinances are proof of the “animal rights” agenda to end all use, breeding and ownership of animals – if you had any doubts. Just follow the legislative trail all over the country. It defies all reason and understanding that elected officials do not see that if all pets are sterilized, where does the next generation come from? And who could afford to buy one if they can find it? It’s up to us to tell them!

To help Dallas animal owners please go to our web site for the Action Alert: www.responsiblepetowners.org

Click on the yellow blinking Action Alert button (lower left) and under “Dallas” you’ll find links with talking points and contact information to write, phone and/or email all city officials. There are also links to each of the Chapter 7 Animal Ordinance provisions. Be sure to scroll down on each one provision as they have multiple pages.

Responsible Pet Owners Alliance
900 NE Loop 410 #311-D
San Antonio, TX 78209
Phone: (210) 822-6763
Website: www.responsiblepetowners.org
$15 Annual dues (January – December)
To share information, subscribe or unsubscribe,
e-mail rpoa@texas.net.

Obedience classes – not optional!

March 23, 2008

Lizzie had her first obedience class with the Dallas Obedience Training Club last Monday (I meant to blog about it during the week but have been busy getting Mal ready for a show in Fort Worth this weekend.) I know I’ve posted about her OTHER first class (puppy agility) but this one was still a ton of fun. She’s coming in already knowing all the stuff the class will cover (sit, down, a basic recall, not jumping, ‘go to mat’, walking on a loose leash), and her puppy agility class has given her a great basis for learning to focus around other dogs rather than spend all her time hoping to play with them. So why do obedience classes?

Read the rest of this entry »

Shiny white teeth…

March 19, 2008

One of my friends (a Pom person) asked me recently how I got Lizzie to tolerate me messing with her mouth so much- she’s the only dog in her handling class of the table breeds that allows the teacher acting as ‘judge’ to really mess with her mouth, and this lead into a discussion about dental care (Lizzie figures any time you touch her mouth, she’s about to get TOOTH PASTE. Dog toothpaste is, as far as I can tell, liver-flavored baking soda. It smells foul and dogs love it. UGH.)

Although food companies like to tout the abrasive teeth-cleaning properties of kibbles, most kibbles are full of carbs (sugars) and not actually all that abrasive to teeth. While chewing does dislodge food particles to some extent, try eating grapenuts and see how much it really does to clean your teeth! Then imagine a diet of nothing but grapenuts for years on end. In the wild, wolves (and feral dogs) die when their teeth get bad. Luckily, eating bones and hair *does* do a fair bit to keep teeth clean. So providing chew things- raw bones are best, rawhides and booda bones, nylabones, and greenies are okay too- helps, but doesn’t totally prevent teeth from needing help to stay clean.

The real truth is that good nutrition and general vet care (combined with kibble) means that more dogs outlive their teeth all the time- so senior teeth cleaning is in MOST dogs’ future. Brushing their teeth a couple times a week can prevent this- but most of us aren’t as diligent as we should be about this.

Small breeds- mittelspitz among them- and brachycephalic breeds (bostons, Frenchies, etc) are especially prone to dental problems. They’ve typically got largeish teeth crammed into less space than other dogs with more moderate structure, and (especially in the case of the toys), they’ve often got teeth that are VERY shallowly rooted, which means that infections in the gums can move into the bones of the jaw scarily fast. From my reading, spitz aren’t prone to this any more than any other small or medium breed- but I want to make sure Lizzie’s got nice sharp white teeth as long as possible. 😛

Mal, on the other hand, would like her defanged. She plays dirty when they wrestle….

*Edited to fix an error- I originally wrote this to address a specific person. 😛

Crufts, 2008

March 15, 2008

Crufts has been over for just over a week and people are still talking about the German Spitz (Mittel) results for this year. A beautiful cream dog, CH DRUITZ CORNCRACKER FOR TEAMSPITZ JW SHCM, won the breed and made the cut in the group (a first for the breed), but an American Eskimo Dog, AM/POL CH HOWLINGROCS SEXN THE CITY, won 4th in the Open Dog class.

In the past, American Eskimos have been recognized as German Spitz by FCI under the understanding that this was the American name for the breed. However, AKC has accepted the German Spitz itself into the Foundation Stock Service- which would imply the breeds are NOT the same. The breed standards have distinct differences (eye shape and foot shape are directly contradictory, the shape of the skull and proportion of muzzle to skull are different, and of course there’s the color issue) and a dog that is correct for one shouldn’t be able to achieve a championship under the other. Complaints have been filed with the KC and FCI has been approached about recognizing the Eskie as it’s own breed. The whole thing is a big mess- but a very interesting one.

Living in Texas, Crufts is half a world away- I’m very glad for the internet, as I can’t imagine having been a breed fancier of a such an uncommon breed in the days before email! 🙂 I’m hoping to attend Crufts next year- if I’ve got any British readers, got any tips?