Yeeha! Barrel racing is rodeo for dogs

Barrel racing

Lola rests on a barrel while planning today’s mayhem.

The most surprising thing we did this summer was barrel racing. I had to google it to be sure that the dogs do not somehow have to power the barrel around a course like a hamster in a ball. The sport is a direct steal from rodeo where horses are ridden in a clover-leaf pattern around three barrels against the clock. Having discovered this I took pains to ensure that Lola knew her way around a rubbish bin in the park, some trees and a post.

barel racing cloverAt the start of our barrel racing session held by the Ichthus Canine Centre I was asked if Lola could do both clockwise and anti-clockwise circuits. Ummm. Turned out that Lola’s turns are like Lola’s ‘roll over’ – one way only. I hadn’t noticed until this point that Lola is happiest going clockwise. Typically for her, learning a new direction would probably take around a week to be reliable. As if this were not handicap enough, Lola chose this moment, our first run-through, to be totally distracted by a horse which was being ridden past a hedge two fields away, and sprinted away barking her head off. My only solace was that having reached the far hedge to find that the exciting visitors had gone, Lola came bounding back through fields of (stationary) heavy horses on a single command. I experienced a strange, contradictory combination of mortification and pride. My feelings shifted sharply towards mortification during our second attempt around the barrels. The Centre has a lot of volunteers who come to help out at the weekend, many of them young girls. A few ponies were being moved to another field and the girl leading one of them dropped the reins and her pony made a break for it. Off went Lola for a speedy re-run. Although it didn’t take long for order to be restored I couldn’t afford to have Lola practise this reckless behaviour for a third time, so we ended the session on-lead.

What I like about barrel racing is that it needs minimum equipment and only a couple of commands. Instead of barrels you can use cones, bags, bins, or conveniently placed trees, so it’s an activity you can practise wherever you happen to find yourself. We have continued to practise in the park and Lola has now mastered anti-clockwise pass now and we are trying to build a little speed.

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Lola’s Tricks

Lola waits for ball

I have a video featuring my first dog – a Poodle x Jack Russell puppy who prematurely came to a very unhappy end. I write that lightly, but the event itself was the most upsetting thing that has happened to me. More affecting than the death of close relatives. Friends in the park have told me how sad the film is, so I promised to make a happier one featuring my current dog.

This is Lola’s showreel of many of the cues she knows. I’ve used clicker training to shape or lure her towards a behaviour, then when she can do it reliably I give the behaviour a name. Sitting was a good easy one to start with. Once she knew what I wanted her to do and did it repeatedly I linked the action to the word by saying ‘sit’ just as her bottom hit the floor. Once she did it at home, we tried it in other places with or without the lead on. ‘Sit’ came really easily and she was pretty reliable from 9 weeks old. ‘Roll over’ took longer and it was a whole year before she did it anywhere but at home.

Videoing these was a good way to see what she knew well and what needed more work. The leg weaves had briefly been very good, so I’m not sure what went wrong there and I’m surprised that ‘go to crate’ worked so well as we never use it.

Don’t expect fireworks – she’s not a flashy dog. We’ve just done the basics and a few that are more fun. It’s a way to have fun together and use up a lot of treats.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1aJ_PgfywM

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Our first Level 1 Graduates

I am very happy to announce that the first two dogs have passed Level 1 and earned their certificates. Nicola Barton’s Jiang and Tess Callaway’s Cicco were proud to receive their awards last Sunday 6th October.

level 1 group

Solke with a barely visible Freddy, Nicola is holding little Mia, Tess shows Ciccio where the camera is
and Jiang is too cool for school.

Level 1 is a foundation course for both the dogs and their owners. By starting to learn some basic good behaviour the dogs will find it easier to learn new things in the future. Their owners get a grounding in how dogs learn and how to deliver a treat with precise timing so that the dog knows exactly what it did right.

Jiang and Ciccio are now able to ‘sit’ and ‘down’ on a single verbal command or visual signal. We tested them on the verbal command by making sure they performed perfectly even when they couldn’t see their owners face or if Nicola or Tess were lying on the ground. Sometimes when dogs follow a command, they are picking up on body language or environmental clues without really understanding what the word means.

Level 1 dogs also begin to learn the command ‘leave it’ and are able to ignore a treat held in an open palm. One of the most important things a dog should do is come back when called. This is such a difficult thing to do when there are distractions around that at this stage we only require that they play a game of running between two people for treats. They also learn to follow outstretched fingers and touch them with their nose. I use this to re-position Lola when we are traveling on the tube, or if we’re in a cafe, but its a good skill for dogs training in obedience or agility.

certificatesComing up in Level 2: Ciccio and Jiang learn ‘stay’, ‘watch me’ and a party trick of their choice.

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Fun at the dog shows

Lola ribbons

Lola-dog poses regally with her rosettes.

I entered Lola into her first Fun Dog Show when she was 9 months old. Seemed like it might be fun. At that stage she was eligible for the Best Puppy category and I thought I could also rustle up a fancy dress costume.

On the day I was surprisingly nervous. There were so many puppies entered that separate rings were provided for the male and female pups and there were 40 entries in each. We were a bit late, so I ducked under the rope and found a space to show off my freshly washed puppy. Looking around I could immediately see we were doomed. There was a beautiful husky with blue eyes, tiny fluffy spaniels and leggy, winsome labradoodles. Lola never stood a chance as she wasn’t classically ‘cute’ – she’s always been a bit too independent and aloof. By the time the judges (the local vet and his assistant) came to us they’d used up all of their small-talk on the little blond kids and their tiny canine best friends, and we exchanged only a desultory handful of words. As soon as they moved away to the next pair we ducked back under the ropes and wandered off. It’s one of those character-building experiences to be reminded that everybody’s puppy is the best puppy.

And as we continued to attend these events that’s not all we learned. The loose rule of fun dog shows is that: “you can’t win against a child handler or a 3-legged dog’. This I learned after a 3-legged dog took home every rosette from a show in Hyde park. The ‘child handler’ bit explains itself. Somehow, these are always the entries I end up standing next too. The most obvious lost cause was during the summer of the London Olympics when I found myself alongside a retired police sniffer dog with crippling arthritis, whose wheelchair was decked out patriotically to represent the British murderball team. I chatted to the dog’s owner for a while, then sighed deeply and put on my best beauty pageant smile. Lola and I did not make the cut.

Most fun, companion, or novelty dogshows run through the summer from May to September and it’s a great way to spend a summer afternoon. Share the experience with friends, or take a picnic. If the event is also hosting a breed show the classes can be a lengthy drawn-out process as judges wait for handlers who are attempting to show in two rings simultaneously. Take something to sit on, snacks, water, grooming tools for your beautiful dog or props for your clever dog’s tricks and maybe something shady if it’s very hot. Lola never entered a show as a puppy again, but she’s won rosettes for being pretty, trying to march, catching treats, doing tricks and being slightly more obedient than some  other dogs. I think we have enough now. We will continue to enter competition obedience shows though, and maybe one day earn a ribbon in a recognised dog sport.

If you live in London one of the best ways to find shows and other dog events is the London Dog Forum, a website with a lot of useful information for dog owners. A Yahoo group called ‘Fun’ Dog Shows lists companion shows on its database and Cobbydog (a dog food company) have a similar list, although few of these occur in London.

For those who are wondering what Lola’s fancy dress costume was like, here she is, resplendent as Brian the snail from The Magic Roundabout.

Lola as Brian2

This is Lola as Brian the snail from The Magic Roundabout. Or possibly “Dougal dresses up as Brian the snail”.

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How about a little Heelwork to Music?

Lola and pony

Lola says hello to a pony at Northcote Heavy Horse Centre

Lola and I were lucky enough to take part in a dog activity weekend recently, allowing us to try out a variety of dog sports. We experienced a jamboree bag of doggy activities including agility, Competitive Obedience, Rally Obedience, Nosework, Flyball, Barrel Racing and Heelwork to Music (HTM), all run by Ichthus Canine Centre and hosted by the Northcote Heavy Horse Centre in Spilsby, Lincolnshire.

One of the leaders of the weekend, Christina Oxtoby, specialises in Heelwork to Music (HTM) and competes at an international level. I’ve always been resistant to this particular canine activity – too mentally scarred by images of handlers dressed in cowgirl outfits moving awkwardly to country and western music and rolling around on the floor. When I looked back at the history of the activity I was surprised to find that it originates in the world of Obedience. The story goes that the great Obedience handler, Mary Ray, was asked to demonstrate her dogs’ talents to an audience and devised a routine to fit the length of a particular piece of music. At that point the display consisted purely of various types of heelwork, but over the years the sport has developed to include more freestyle moves. Happily it is only the handler who dresses up; the dog needs no embellishment.

Like most dog activities, HTM requires that your dog has a basic level of obedience. She should be able to follow instructions such as ‘sit’ and ‘down’ and move around in heel position (at the left side of the handler). Using a good supply of dog treats Christina started us off with simple movements, getting the dog to turn in an anti-clockwise direction whilst in heel position. We progressed to a couple of different leg weaves and an attempt to make our dogs walk backwards away from us. This was much more my kind of thing! After telling Christina how I’d been trying to perfect Lola’s play bow since Christmas, she showed me a way of luring it which worked really well.

If your dog already has a few tricks up her sleeve you can build on them to develop an HTM routine. If she will ‘shake hands’ you can encourage her to cross paws by cueing this trick when she is already lying down. Lola can already jump through my arms, but I’d love to get her to jump up and vault off me. Christina’s dog does this beautifully.

I  still have no plans to put what I do with Lola to music, but I am very encouraged to continue working on the individual moves with her. Getting her to sit up and beg will be great for her abdominal muscles and I plan to jump her over hurdles (gradually increasing the height) to build her overall strength.

A session like this is very tiring for the dog, so when all the handlers and dogs had reached their limit, Christina ended by showing us elements of her latest routine with her Border Collie Eze (Ezekiel).  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-503TIqpkXU

If after watching the video you’d like to learn a little more about HTM, Good Boy Dog School in Barnet is hosting an Evening with Mary Ray on 31st October 2013.

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Camping with dogs

Camping 1

“It’s wet out there!”
Bring enough towels to cope with a wet, muddy dog.

Wild camping is a rare thing to find in the UK. Most of the time we are on organised camp sites with clean toilet blocks and hot showers so we don’t have to worry about finding enough clean water to drink or kindling for a campfire. If you manage to find one which also allows you to bring your canine friends, you’ll need to pack a few doggy necessities as well.

Even dog-friendly sites do not welcome dogs off leash, so you’ll need a way to tie out your dog so he is not off raiding other campers’ kitchens. Well-seasoned campers will often fence out a ‘garden’ using wind-breaks or netting. On a lesser scale you can purchase a purpose-made plastic covered cable and spiral stake which will withstand the chewing of a frustrated dog. I’ve found that the cable works well but the stake can be hard to fully screw into hard ground and will be totally bent out of shape by a lively, excited dog. On my last couple of excursions I have lashed together a couple of leads or used a long line attached to a plastic tent peg walloped hard into the ground. This was especially effective when used on sandy ground on the north Norfolk coast.

Next, Fido will need somewhere to sleep. If you’ve ever camped, you will know that a lot of cold comes up from the ground and night temperatures can plummet as soon as the clouds clear. Despite providing a lovely memory foam pad for Lola, she still chose the middle of my sleep mat to nest in. Luckily the extra roomy sleeping bag allowed us to snuggle up for warmth.

We’ve managed to get out to a couple of sites without a car, which means packing fairly light, but never with anything smaller than a 3-man tent. You will need some extra space for those times that your dog is wet, muddy or having a mad moment.

Here are some other ideas to consider.

  • Make sure your dog is chipped and that your phone and address details are up to date on the company’s database.
  • Make sure you have the contact details, opening hours and out-of-hours number for the local Veterinary Surgery.
  • Dog mat and bedding.
  • Dog food and treats.
  • Food and water bowls.
  • Water bottle for excursions.
  • Of course your dog will be wearing a collar and leash, but a spare leash is useful.
  • Tie-out cable and stake.
  • Dog towel and grooming brush/comb (for getting rid of burrs). I find disposable micro-fibre cloths very useful for squee-geeing off excess water before toweling.
  • Dog toys and chews (rawhide or stag bar).
  • Dog coat or jumper, depending on the weather. If your dog is lying quietly outside for long periods he can get cold.
  • Lots of poo bags.
  • Tick tweezers are useful in areas where Lyme disease is a danger.
  • A water carrier is a good idea for rinsing mud and sand off your dog if the campsite does not have a hose handy.
Camping 2

Lola sporting that jumper and harness combo. Other vital items in the picture? Dog toy, tie out leash and poo bag!

Camping 3

A friendly pup can also be an asset to other holidaying families.

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Holiday Time

Big nose

First I have to say that there will be no Dog Training on the 1st and 8th September. One of the reasons is that Lola and I will be on a dog activity camping holiday. We’ll be having a go at tracking, competition obedience, rally obedience, barrel racing, heelwork to music and agility. We will also be camping. Last time we camped I got a bit concerned about Lola being cold in the night as the temperature can drop really suddenly the minute the clouds clear. One change I’ve made is to swap from a body-shaped sleeping bag that made me feel like a caddis-fly larva, to a pod shaped bag which allows plenty of room for us to snuggle up together. My self-inflating mat is really comfortable, but not wide enough to allow room for Lola – she ends up draped over my legs. I found a 24×36 inch offcut of memory foam on Amazon for £12.50, which should be big enough for most dogs. I cut mine to a 2ft square with a serrated knife to fit the pouffe she spends much of the day on. Then it needed a cover. You could use a single duvet cover, but I had some hibiscus fabric donated by a friend and my experiments with printing fabric through my inkjet had yielded an image of Lola. A little bit of free embroidery on the sewing machine and….  Well, Lola likes it.

Bed lola pic

Bed embroidery2

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Pug

Hip dysplasia (HD) is one of the more common causes of joint pain in dogs. It is usually associated with larger breed dogs such as Mastiffs and German Shepherd dogs, but is also surprisingly common in smaller dogs including Bulldogs, pugs and spaniels.

Hip dysplasia means that the hip socket is poorly formed and does not make a tight smooth fit with the head of the femur (thigh bone). It may be that the socket is too shallow, or an irregular shape, making the joint unstable. This can lead to abnormal wear and tear to the cartilage lining the joint and the hip not supporting the dog adequately. Despite the cartilage attempting to repair itself, a cycle of inflammation, pain and further damage sets in. The dog can suffer anything from mild pain to crippling disability. In order to reduce the pain the dog will attempt to move the joint less, or move both back legs together resulting in a bunny hop, especially when climbing stairs. Dogs suffering pain may also find it difficult to get up from sitting or lying down, suffer stiffness which is worse after exercise, or find it painful to be touched in the hip area.

If your dog is diagnosed with HD, your first responsibility is to ensure he is not overweight as weight control will decrease pressure on the joint and reduce inflammation. Therapies such as acupuncture, massage and hydrotherapy can bring relief from pain, reduce inflammation and preserve muscle strength to support the joint.

Nutritional supplements can have a profound effect on a dysplasic or arthritic dogs. Some of the most effective ones are Glucosamine, Chondroitin and Turmeric. Yumove is a supplement made by Lintbells containing Glucosamine, Chondroitin and Green lipped mussel extract. Many dog owners have seen a new lease of life from their elderly, arthritic dogs after using these tablets. An alternative is Seraquin, which again contains Glucosamine and Chondroitin, but also curcumin which is extracted from the spice Turmeric. Curcumin has been found to be an effective antiinflammatory arthritis treatment for humans as well as animals. Turmeric is a bit of a super-food as it is a natural antiseptic, reduces cholesterol and combats parasites such as roundworm. You can simply add the powder to food – about 1/8 to a 1/4 teaspoon per day, for every 10lbs of dog weight. If your dog doesn’t fancy that, mix it into some peanut butter.

Your vet will be able to help with diagnosis and a treatment plan. It is most likely that non-steroidal antiinflammatories such as Metacam can reduce pain to preserve your dog’s quality of life but it is possible that surgery may help. Whichever course you choose, give it enough time to work. Cartilage does not have a blood supply and repairs very slowly. Allow at least 6 weeks before deciding whether the therapy you have chosen is the right one for your creaky canine pal.

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Local and special vets

Bandage dogThe majority of us use whichever vet is closest and most convenient, unless at some point some more specialist service is required. The nearest Veterinary Clinic is Goddards on Kennington Road, part of a group which has clinics throughout London. Out of hours service is provided by  Stone Lion Veterinary Hospital in Wimbledon.

Only slightly further away is Andrew Kirby Vets on Grange Road, which is also open on Sunday mornings. In an emergency they advise that you call the surgery first to let staff know you are coming. Emma Styles runs a clinic from 10am to 2pm each Tuesday and on some Thursday evenings offering acupuncture, Tui Na massage and Chinese herbal medicine. It’s best to contact her directly for information or an appointment.

Visiting the vet is often a highly stressful event for both pet and owner. TV vet Bruce Fogle comes highly recommended by a number of dog owners who needed a more tailored approach to annual vaccinations. His manner in dealing with people and pets is warm and he is responsive to individual requirements. Bruce works from The London Vet Clinic in W1 which boasts a number of specialists in areas such as Dermatology and Diagnostic Imaging.

For those who would like to try a herbal approach to pet care Barrier Animal Care Clinic in Charlton SE7 offer a monthly clinic with Veerle Dejonckheere who is qualified to treat animals using Acupuncture or Herbal Medicine.

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Recommended Books

There are lots of great dog books out there, these are just some that I’ve found useful.

The first one I bought, before my first puppy, was The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey. It answers a lot of basic questions about things like house-breaking and avoiding biting and aggression. It’s a very reassuring book for new puppy owners and covers just about every problem that may come up. There’s even a socialisation programme right at the back, because exposing puppies to new people and places is vital for producing a confident dog. I didn’t read it cover to cover but dipped into the relevant parts and it was good to have on hand as a reference. There are lots of great photos in there – one of the puppies used is a Huskie who used to visit GMH Park.

An interesting free resource is a pdf by Dr Sophia Yin – Lucy Learns to Earn. This is a set of instructions written for her father to train his new puppy. It is well illustrated and gives a step-by-step guide to potty training, crate training and basic good manners. The ideas are expanded in her book Perfect Puppy in 7 Days (Kindle edition) along with information on puppy body language and how they develop before they come home with you.

On days when bad weather makes dog walks less appealing, a good way to engage with your dog and tire her out is to teach a trick or two. 101 Dog Tricks by Kyra Sundance shows you how to train a wide range of tricks and tells you what to do when things don’t go to plan. You may not need to be told how to get your dog to shake hands, and she’ll probably never need to imitate a hockey goalie, but your dog will learn something you can both be proud of.

A classic of dog training theory and practise is Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot The Dog. It provides a thorough explanation of behavioural training that can be used to train animals or people. The book isn’t very big, but it’s densely packed with information about operant conditioning and how dogs (and people) learn. I keep going back to re-read bits because there’s such a lot to take in. All of the jargon of modern dog training is explained along with the mechanics of how to go about changing your dog’s behaviour. It’s just a pity that my copy met a flask of hot coffee in the bottom of my bag before I got a chance to read much of it.

These are some of the first books I bought – along with Sue Ailby’s manuals mentioned in an earlier post. I’ll post up a few more when I have time.

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