Category Archives: Training

Polar Vortex: The Stuck Inside Blues


It’s winter here in Michigan.  It’s expected to be cold, snowy and blustery but the last few days have been absolutely arctic with temperatures hitting 30+ degrees below zero with the wind chill.  According to a few articles I’ve been reading, this has been one of the coldest Artic outbreaks in two decades for Midwest, South and East Coast.  These cold temperatures have been brutal for animals that do not live in homes and there have been cries across Facebook and other social media sites in an effort to rally to help provide sufficient shelter, warmth and care for those animals whose owners cannot afford or are unwilling to bring their animals into their homes – even for a few days while this winter anomaly runs its course.

We have been, of course, stuck in the house predominantly.  The dogs have been miserable being unable to be outside and actually doing things.  Their frustration is almost tangible – especially when they are racing back to the house bouncing from foot to foot from frigid snow balls between their pads because of the unbearable temperatures causing the normally minor annoyance to become acutely painful.  They’ve been limited to treadmill time and basic and trick training in the house for the last week and we’re all counting down the time until this frigid weather breaks – hopefully in time for the snow pull this weekend!

If you’re stuck inside like I am, there are many, many things you can do to keep yourself and your dogs entertained without venturing out into the cold.  Here are a few examples:

  • Frozen Kongs – Use your favorite Kong recipes and then toss them in the freezer until frozen solid.  For many dogs, this will allow them time to work them out.  The quicker thinking the dog, the more complicated the layering in the Kong should be.
  • Puzzle Toys – Nina Ottosson makes some absolutely AMAZING puzzle toys but those aren’t the only variety out there.  The old standby of a Buster Cube is around as well as the Tug-A-Jug and other awesome, food dispensing toys.
  • Nosework GamesHiding food in boxes (shoe boxes, postal boxes recycled from the holidays, etc.) can get your pooch thinking and is a good ground breaking tool if you ever intend to get into K9 Nosework competitions.
  • Obedience Refresher – Work on basic obedience cues with nice, high value treats.  Keeping your dog on par with their commands means an easier to live with companion who isn’t a total pest when company comes to call.
  • Relationship Games – Play games like hide and seek that build and strengthen the bond between dog and owner.  These games also have a hidden capacity to reinforce good obedience and manners as well.

Dog Tolerance and Aggression: The Ugly Realities

dogs_snarling_at_each_otherDog aggression and reactivity is a reality facing many of today’s dogs.  It’s not pretty.  It’s not fun to deal with.  It can be downright dangerous in the hands of someone unable to handle the situation.  The worst thing of all?  It’s a common trait in many dogs and many breeds, especially in the breed that I love and cherish – the American Pit Bull Terrier.  Many people want to sugar coat it, deny it and avoid talking about it like the plague however, burying one’s head in the sand doesn’t do the dogs who have this trait any justice.  They aren’t bad dogs.  They just don’t necessarily want or need other doggie friends.

Dog aggression toward other dogs isn’t, as I said above, necessarily a breed specific trait but it is incredibly common in the American Pit Bull Terrier and related breeds.  Why?  Well, this breed was specifically bred for the specific purpose of being a canine gladiator many moons ago.  Often people want to deny the actual history of the original bull-and-terrier crosses and the associated breed traits but the reality is there.  They were bred for battle against another animal and/or another canine.  They may have performed other duties in home and often times, pit dogs were fine until actually put into the pit as they knew their job and one would have never known the dog had the abilities it did unless one was in attendance at a dog fight.

That being said, there are varying levels of a dog’s sociability toward other dogs.  These levels,pitbull-training originally posted by BAD RAP, describe a dog’s level of tolerance toward other dogs and can range greatly from dog to dog and breed to breed.  These tolerance levels have been classified into four different levels: dog social to dog tolerant to dog selective and finally to dog aggressive.  These levels can be influenced heavily by handler involvement, environment and level of training/handling of that particular dog and is one of the key reasons it is important with dogs who border on more extreme levels of reactivity to be continually supervised and never set up for failure by throwing them into chaotic situations like visiting a dog park. (I’ve already ranted about dog parks here.)

Most pit bull-type dogs tend to fall in between dog tolerant to dog selective as maturity sets in, as is the case with many dogs.  They get fed up with the shenanigans from puppies and other dog social dogs and prefer dogs that they match in temperament and behavior – just like many human beings!  Unfortunately for many pit bull-type dogs that end up in shelters or euthanized, their owners failed to recognize or accept that Fido didn’t love every other dog out there, got snarky and unmanageable and, ultimately, failed by his human being for having traditional breed traits and no one to set boundaries or reinforce good behavior and how to behave even if they’re in a situation that could lead to a reaction.

dogbite_photo2That being said, dog reactivity/aggression should not by any means to be confused with human aggression.  Human aggression is one of the worse offenses dog kind can commit because it brings into play human laws and human emotions and will often lead to the ultimate solution – euthanasia.  I, personally, do not tolerate this type of action from a dog.  If a dog shows serious injury causing aggression toward a person (adult or child), then there is only one fate in my book.  With so many stable-minded dogs of all breeds available, one who harms a human being should not exist in this world because the risks associated with it do no one any good – least of all the dog or person involved in such a vicious attack.

Ultimately, in the end, it will be up to the person to maintain their dog in a situation.  They will need to understand, accept and acknowledge breed traits and tendencies and react accordingly.  Setting up a dog for failure in any circumstance is simply unacceptable and irresponsible.  This act of irresponsibility will lead to other consequences for those who pride themselves in being responsible for their dogs through breed specific legislation and other regulations that are aimed at being reactive to situations of owner failure.  Thankfully, there are many, many resources available out there to help and educate on all things breed specific on the Internet by trusted resources like BAD RAP and DINOS.

The Nose Knows


Scent detection has been around for years with detection, search and Schutzhund work but the sport of canine nose work is a fairly recent activity that is sweeping across the canine sport circles like a wildfire.   I remember when a friend who was in the PNW had mentioned about it and how fun it was.  I was very, very interested since we’d tinkered around with various aspects of scent detection from the inexperienced side around home and the dogs loved it.  Sadly, there weren’t too many options open to me here in Michigan that gave us the opportunity to learn this phenomenal activity – until recently.

My friend Missi, one of the co-founders of the phenomenal rescue group Detroit Bully Corps., had mentioned she was going to start taking a nose work class pretty local to her.  I, of course, had to know the details because the closest thing I’d found was in Lansing and that was well over an hour away from us and not exactly feasible for extended classes (though I had still contemplated it because I wanted to do the sport pretty badly) so she spilled the details for me.

The Intro to Nosework class was to start on May 2nd through Pawzitively Positive, LLC.  The cost was only a hundred dollars for six weeks of fun and learning and a chance to do something I’d wanted to do for quite some time.  I was so in and rushed to find out by emailing Terry Jacobus, the instructor/owner, to find out if there were openings in her class to which she gave me the answer I was hoping for – ‘yes!’.  The rest is obviously history.

We’re on week two of class right now – well, just finished it last Thursday.  It’s been one of the most wonderful classes Ryker and I have done together (since he tends to be my guinea pig for learning new things in regard to dog sports) in a long while.  Ryker’s doing incredibly well and absolutely loving every moment – well, I hope so anyway since he practically drags me to the search area every time it’s our turn – and I’m having a pretty good time too since Terry is positively wonderful.  (I tend to get REALLY nervous and hate feeling like I’m looking idiotic, even in a class so this is a super good thing!)

This coming Thursday, we will hopefully graduate into closed boxes (no scent other than hot dogs just yet!) since Ryker is zooming through even very hard box placements with the open boxes.  Once we do that and get that down, we’ll get to start adding scents like anise, lemongrass, clove, birch, etc. to the menu after that and who knows where we’ll go after that or what games or tasks he can learn after that with ordinary smells, etc. outside of competitions through groups like C-WAGS, K9 Nose Work, possibly even through the UKC as a potential recognized sport (or I’ve at least heard rumors it may be happening there – can anyone confirm?) and many other organizations.

That being said, this activity is a great bonding experience and the Roo and I are having a grand time and I personally look forward to Thursday evenings and training class.  (If you’re in the area, I highly recommend Terry and Pawzitively Positive for her force free training methods and she does way more than just nose work too!)  The possibilities are endless and I can’t wait to see where we’ll go as a team and once I get the hang of it would like to start introducing the rest of the pack into this phenomenal sport.

Ryker in week two of class.

Do Over Dog: Back to Basics

I’m sitting at my laptop after a pretty darn successful weekend at the Cinco de Mayo NWDA pulls that were held this weekend locally to me and thinking about how far I’ve come as a handler, a trainer and a dog owner.  I brag all the time on Ryker and all of his successes but in reality, he was the easiest dog in the planet.  He’s biddable and willing to work.  He’d do anything just to do things with me.  He and Luna spoiled me on trainability and success.  Anything I’ve asked them to do, they’ve done and done it well.  Then Lyric came into the picture.

Lyric wasn’t that easy dog I was used to.  She was stubborn and incredibly determined to do things her way when she wanted to do them.  Sure, she loves me and wants to be with me (well, up my ass would probably be the best definition) but as far as doing something because I asked if it involved not running at warp speed 24/7?  Forget it.  She’s a true free spirit and she utterly loathes being restricted.  (It’s pet peeve numero uno in her book.  Seriously!  She told me so.)

She loves flirtpoling, lure coursing, agility (when I’ve tinkered with her on obstacles) and things that allow her to do her thing without being hindered by a leash or strict rules – especially if they involve food or a rousing game of tug.  Those are fun for her…weight pull, yeah, it definitely wasn’t her thing.  At least it wasn’t initially.

I pushed her in weight pull.  I figured if I worked her like I did Ryker and Luna, I could convince her that it wasn’t so bad.  I used the same methodology, the same training, the same everything and I did it so incredibly wrong with her.  I seriously almost ruined her for weight pull (and many other sports too!) by forcing her to do something she wasn’t comfortable with and when she wasn’t ready in a manner that wasn’t conducive to her learning. Yeah, she got her United Weight Puller in UKC but she wasn’t happy while she was doing it (and I have the photographs of the looks of death I got for it as a reminder too!) and it bothered the living daylights out of me because I detest doing something that upsets the bond I have with my dogs.  They’re my buddies and their happiness and wellbeing is paramount in my book.

I put her in pseudo retirement from weight pull after she earned her basic weight pull title in UKC.  I told myself that she’d never make a weight pull dog.  It wasn’t her “thing” and we’d find something else that she loved to do or keep doing things she loved – like showing.  (Seriously, this dog has a thing for flaunting her little terrorist self in a “look at me” fashion and it helped in finishing with a Best of Opposite in ADBA to earn her Championship!)

Unfortunately, Mother Nature nixed our show career in ADBA when she developed pyometra.  It sucked immensely.  All the hopes and dreams of getting her Grand Championship in ADBA went poof since they don’t offer altered classes like they do in UKC.    I seriously had to sit down and ask myself what we were going to do to keep her zero to warp speed brain mentally stimulated and allow her to shine when she couldn’t do the one thing that she loved more than the flirtpole or fighting me on a tug.  I had a LOT of time to think since she had to heal from her emergency spay.

After months of healing (and driving me batty!), I decided to go back and give weight pull a try.  I figured it wouldn’t hurt and we could do some light drag work once she was into it to keep her in good physical shape and tire her out a little so she wasn’t so bounce-off-the-walls-and-drive-mom-nuts kinda crazy.  We went back to the beginning.

I came to realize that this was where the real start to our problems had happened.  It was the part where I, as a handler and trainer, had failed her.  I had compared her to my two super stars and their distinct “Throw another at me!” fashion.  I realized then that I had to go slower with her or I’d mess up again and likely do irrevocable damage to her as a sporting dog.  I couldn’t and I wouldn’t let myself fail her again and so we quite literally started from the puppy basics – the introduction and positive association with the harness.

It’s been a slow couple of years.  We’ve been doing drag weights and a few competitive pulls here and there but nothing really big.  We’d pull one weight and handler withdraw and then work her through one more just for practice.  I never let her fail.  The second she started to get frustrated, I had them push the cart.  I never wanted her to think she couldn’t do it.  I had to let her think she was free and the almighty queen of the track.  It worked.  I couldn’t believe it, but it worked.  Lyric had finally decided weight pull wasn’t the bane of all things and she stopped looking like she was a poster child for the ASPCA commercials.

This weekend she proved it to me again that she was still the little hellcat that could.  That she was willing and ready to do things if I showed her that they were pretty darn awesome and that she was pretty darn awesome for doing them.  She’s worked past all the hang ups I’ve had and she keeps improving each and every time I put her on the track and the best part?  She wags her tail the WHOLE time.  Today was no exception when she broke her personal best not once but twice – first in the morning with 1,374 pounds for 35.23 times her body weight of 39 pounds (and taking a 2nd place with four dogs in the class!) and then once again in the afternoon by pulling the next increment up of 1,442 pounds for 36.97 times her body weight and another second place!  (We’re a LONG way from being competition for the first place dog – Team Puggle – in that class, so it was a good spot!)

I’m still in shock, honestly.  Had I been asked if I thought she’d come this far years ago I would have A) looked at you like you were crazy and B) told you it would never happen in a million years.  I was dead wrong and it took a lesson in humility, a life changing situation and a phenomenally wonderful dog to show me that sometimes change is the best thing to happen and that starting over isn’t so bad.  It also reminded me, once more, that you don’t get the dog you necessarily always want but you always get the dog you need.

Thank you for proving me wrong, Lyric.  I am so unbelievably proud of how far you’ve come and so excited to see how far we’ll go.


Lyric at a previous NWDA weight pull with her tail waggin’.

Two Weeks: Give ‘Em A Break

* The two week shut down is geared to teen to adult dogs . Puppies do need a bonding time with their new humans, a whelping period so to speak, but they have a different requirements than a more aged dog . It is important to fully vaccinate and de-worm your puppy before venturing out into the world. I suggest strongly getting your new puppy to a veterinarian for proper de-worming and vaccinations. But note the shut down period is not recommended for young puppies as they have crucial needs that are special than older dogs in proper development and socialization.

Kosmo Starting Shut Down

The Action:

  • “I have a new dog!”
  • “I introduced her to 15 people”
  • “He was a bit leery but seems to like my other 3 dogs”
  • “She went everywhere with me ” …

All in the first few days of the new home….. (!!!)

The Reaction:
In about two weeks later we get the call back to the rescue;

  • “I think we will have to rehome the new dog.”
  • “The new dog barked and nipped at my kid”
  • “We had a dog fight”
  • “What do we do?”

Ok, folks, here it comes, the big secret to many foster homes success with a new dog that came from unknown or even not so good homes!

Doggy shut down!  A “get to know you “ time! Giving the new dog, post finding, adoption, buying, etc, time to adjust to you  and your family and the dogs in the new environment.

Why The Two Week Shut Down?

The Two Week Shut Down is a time familiar to a dog’s mind, as it mimics the whelping box when first born, as the puppy’s eyes are not open and it relies totally on the mother’s ability to take care of it.  By smelling, sensing, listening the puppy starts his journey into the new scary world.

New adult dogs come into our home the same way, “a journey into a new and scary world”

By giving the dog a “time out” the dog can learn its new world, its new people and begin to relax and blossom under the care of the new care giver.

Why we all want to run out with our new dog, show everyone our new pet, we forget that even an adult dog is now back to a puppy newborn like mind, all is new, the voices speak a new language, cars might be new, leashes and handling under nice people might be new.

Even petting and acceptance of a pet is stressful on a new dog,. “Who are you?  Where did we come from? Where are we going? What is expected of me?” –the dog thinks!

Just like a new born baby we wouldn’t rush out and pass the baby from person to person, we set up a stable and save environment, our new dogs are just like that , our newborn baby.

Step back for a minute, and think how you might feel if you were never going to go back to your “home” and that you were expected to live with new people who didn’t understand your language. What if these new people took you to all sorts of different places expecting you to greet everyone happily and feel comfortable with an overload of attention all at one time? How might you feel after all of that, to have to go to your new “home” and interact with a bunch of strangers? It’s very likely that you’d feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and wanting  to retreat, but really have no place to go to. You might begin to act out  at people for pushing you into these situations and insisting that you do this and do that.

Well, many dogs are put in the very same position and the only way they know how to get their point across is to act out or “misbehave.”  The dog may act out by nipping at children for he didn’t understand them and was corrected harshly before knowing how he was to be around them! Growling, like when being moved off furniture –“ he didn’t know he couldn’t be here. What is expected ? Where am I allowed ?”  Starting fights with the other animals in home – it may feel that the new humans are not leaders or beings to look up to for help in decisions , The dog begins to think “I must defend myself!”  “Who IS this new dog?”

How To Do The TWO WEEKS – “shut down”

For the first two weeks, (sometimes even longer) a dog takes in the new environment, who is the top persons, dogs, who ARE these people!

A great way of thinking of this time is; “this is the dating period NOT the honeymoon”

When you first met your “mate”, you were on your best behavior, you were not relaxed enough to be all of yourself, were you?

Just think of the things you do physically once you get to KNOW a person, you wouldn’t run up to a stranger and hug them and squeeze them!
Imagine, if on the first date, this new person, was all over you touching you and having their friends hug you and pat you on top of the head, and jostle your shoulders, then he whisked you off to another stranger’s home and hey did the same thing.

Would you think this person normal and SAFE?

 Would you feel invaded and defensive and begin to get a bit snarky yourself?

Wouldn’t you think to push these people away for obviously your date is out of their mind and they aren’t going to save you from these wierdos!!

Yet we do this to our dogs, and then get upset or worried that they aren’t relaxed and accepting of EVERYTHING instantly!

*Why do we expect a dog to accept a situation when we ourselves could not?

By shutting down the dog, it gives the dog TIME to see you, meet YOU, hear and take in the new sounds and smells of your home.

  • Crate or keep  the dog in a room by itself if possible.
    (Believe me, dogs are sensory animals, they know more than you think without seeing it
    This allows the dog to take in the new world and not feel assaulted at the world coming AT him visually).
  • Leash (so I don’t have to correct it ..I don’t have that right yet!) This also teaches the new safe zone for the dog is around you and the humans in the home.  Leash the dog right to your belt or under a piece of furniture.
  • No obedience like training at all, just fun exercise and maybe throw some toys for fun, leash the dog if you don’t have a fence outside. But I DO NOT leave my yard, AT ALL in this time.
  • No car rides, no other dogs, (unless crated beside them), no pet stores, no WALKS even, nothing but me, my home, my yard. (Unless of course the dog needs to go to the veterinarian.)
  • Don’t go crazy petting and handling the dog! Even petting and being “out” in the home puts pressure on a dog, as everything is so new.
    Allowing the dog time to absorb and the decision to come to YOU for pets and affection can do a lot in taking pressure off a new dog.
  • Exercise – but in your yard!  All dogs need to burn off energy. Do fun toss the ball games in your yard or on a lunge line if no fence.  Remember to just have fun, let the dog run and explore .   Exercise is a great stress relief so we don’t want to add stress to what is an out of energy.
  • Again- no walks yet!  Walks are stressful for there is so much coming at you.  Being a new person to this dog you have no clue how the dog is reacting to the walking environment. The dog may react to something and we start correcting it with the leash and we just installed a VERY STRESSFUL moment to the dog in what should be a fun and happy walk.

TEACH the dog by doing the shut down, that YOU are the one to look to, that you are now here for the dog! He can trust in you and look to you as its new leader!!

Then on walks you will see the dog look to you when he sees something like a kid or a dog to see what your reaction is, lessening his mind about having to defend or control the environment, he has YOU , the dog now can relax and enjoy the walk more.

*In the house I have the dog out only for about 20-40 minutes post exercise/yard times. And ALWAYS on a leash. Then PUT THE DOG AWAY. Let it absorb and think.  Even if just for a little bit.

A few minutes of “down time” allows the dog to overcome things that we may not of seen triggered anxiety or fear in the dogs mind, and allows the mind to be fresh for more “new” and adventures in your home and life.

If the dog goes to his crate on his own, he is telling you “I need a time out” allow him this time.

By having the dog out for long periods of time we are forcing the dog to keep accepting all new things , by putting the dog away we are asking him to accept a few things, then go think and absorb, when we get him out later we introduce a few more things, so the three new things are three new things, not 3 x 3 x 3 – possible shut down from the dog.

  • No new buddies !  Do not introduce the dogs for these two weeks, they can be side by side in the crates, (not nose to nose for they can feel defensive). Some dogs will bond instantly with the other dogs if we don’t bond FIRST with the dog, and this can lead to some other issues, as the dog will look to the other dog(s) for guidance and not YOU!  A good way to meet dogs POST the two weeks is each dog have a handler and go for short walks ON LEASH. Walking helps relieve stress and worry.  Each having their own human gives control to the moment. Do not allow them to be close enough to touch.  But near each other, side by side if possible. Then later in home and again, use LEASHES!  The easiest way and calmest way to control a dogs movement!
  • Ignore Bad behavior – Ignore crying and/or barking. If you run to the dog each time they bark, whine, or cry, you are teaching the dog that doing those things gets your attention. The dog must learn to be secure when you are not there.  Use the leash to softly correct jumping, exploring counters, etc.   Most dogs I have taken in will “cry” in their crate/room for about 2-3 days. Its just their way of stressing . Its hard, but let them cry it out.  If we go to them each time they cry/whine or bark we might be setting up for separation like behaviors.  We want our new dog to be able to be “alone” and still know its SAFE.
  • Praise Gently Good behavior – ex. Dog is sitting nicely next to you, touch or softly pet the dog “good boy/girl”  let then know you appreciate GOOD behavior.  This makes naughty behavior not so fun if you ignore THAT but praise the good!

Literally in two weeks you will see a change in the dog and begin to see its honest and true personality. Just like a house guest.. They are well behaved and literally shut down themselves these first few weeks, then post this time, they relax and the true personality begins to shine thru!

So, please, if nothing else for your new dog, give it the time to LEARN YOU as you are learning who they are!

This method works on shy dogs, confident dogs, abuse cases, chained dogs that come in, rowdy dogs, all temperaments!  And it works on all breeds from little dogs to big bully dogs.

Kosmo Post Shut Down
Amazing, isn’t it?
Article originally published on Pitbull Forum by Luvnstuff/Stacie Sparks Vredeveld who is a volunteer for Pound Buddies in Muskegon, Michigan.

Dog Park Dangers

Many years ago this article would have never been written.  I used to firmly believe that dog parks were an excellent way to expend the energy of a drivey, happy-go-lucky dog – more specifically, our pit bull Luna.  (No, folks, I do NOT encourage bully breeds in dog parks and we lucked out with having a pretty dog social pit bull but they aren’t all like that.  BAD RAP has a GREAT article on dog parks for bully breed owners.) The allure that they were a great place for dog-dog socialization was there and perhaps the initial purpose behind dog parks had this thought but it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

We used to attend one of the many in the Metro Detroit area like it was going out of fashion – we’re talking about nearly every single day no matter what.  Luna loved it.  She would romp with her doggie friends and we’d chat with other dog owners while they frolicked.

When Luna was about eighteen months old we stopped going to the park.  Our work schedules had changed and we were unable to go to the park with any real frequency and started looking into other options for exercising her – like dog sport classes and hiking.  I didn’t think much of it until I went back with a friend’s dog a couple of months back – a cute little lab mix with boundless energy.  Let me tell you, I was absolutely shocked at what had changed.

  • The amount of feces that was left behind after a dog pottied.  Owners just seemed to walk around it or ignore the fact that their dog had just left a pile behind.  I silently worried about things like coccidia or other parasites that a dog could be shedding in those piles.
  • The owners all gathered in one spot near the entrance despite the fact that there was an acre and a half completely open an unsupervised with dogs running amok.  Many were chatting or on their cell phones(!) and not paying any attention to their canine charge.
  • There were TONS of out-of-control dogs with no manners, no recall and no direction.  Many of them often bullied other dogs and their owners thought it was adorable or were completely indifferent about what was happening – like the intact pair of male Labradors that humped everything they could wrap their paws around and the more the other dog fought back the worse it got.
  • Those same out-of-control dogs seemed to be attached to equally out-of-control owners (I got a taste of that when I pulled the two labs off of my friend’s young dog for the millionth time and got told NOT to touch his dogs.  My reply wasn’t very politically correct, to be honest, because I was sick of seeing this happy, exuberant dog get shoved to the ground by two jerk dogs but I got the point across and those dogs left soon afterward, thankfully!)
  • The wrong type of equipment was being left on dogs (pinch collars, harnesses, choke chains, etc.) that could have caused severe injury or even death to a dog if a fight broke out or a dog’s jaw got caught while grabbing a hold of another dog in play.

We spent a total of about 45 minutes there and I have to admit, it sucked.  I couldn’t believe how much things had changed and while some dogs may be phenomenal at a dog park because they have been well-socialized and have owners who are on top of everything and not about being social divas, I personally don’t think they’re really a good thing for the vast majority of dogs out there – especially since most people sadly use dog parks as a way to cheat the system and not take their dog for a walk to expend energy.

There are a plethora of other options out there instead of visiting your local dog park to expend that boundless energy – especially if you have a bull breed like training classes, hikes or even a fenced in baseball diamond or tennis court with just you and your dog or a couple of like-minded owners and their dog-social dogs.

Afraid Of Life: Duo’s Tale

Duo’s Petfinder Photo – Formally “Snoopy”

Every day is a challenge with a difficult dog. This seems to be especially true when that dog comes to you as an adult with a freight liner loaded to the brim with baggage. Living life with a dog like this is difficult at best and pure hell at the worst. I have had the joy (-insert mass quantities of sarcasm here-) of learning this first hand after we were charged with the lifetime of canine care after Duo became our foster failure.

Duo came to us at three and a half years old in May 2009 as a temporary resident while a friend got things in order to have him. Our first few days were uneventful (and looking back I wish they had stayed that way!). He was rather shell-shocked from being moved around so much in such a short time. (Duo came from a boarding kennel to the friend’s house and then to ours. If I had been uprooted that much, I would have been the same way!). We knew it would take some decompression time to see what kind of dog we had.

When reality finally came into focus, we realized we had a very, very sweet dog who was very scared of the world. Whatever had happened in his life before he came to us had left him with a heaping load of emotional baggage. Men, particularly those with dark complexions, were beyond scary. My poor husband, Bruce, couldn’t even reach into his crate and guide him out when he had jammed himself in there without causing Duo to urinate everywhere. (Bruce, the saint that he is, was incredibly frustrated and upset by it since he normally can get through to any dog.)

We spent the first month working on his confidence (and our patience!) toward the things he was terrified of – men, loud noises, the car, etc. – through counter conditioning and basic marker training when he approached and item he was scared of. He gradually began to accept them (but it took a lot of time once he realized we weren’t leaving him and we wouldn’t let these things eat him finally allowed his confidence to start blossoming.

Unfortunately, this growth in confidence was like a double-edged sword. While he got confident in the world, other hidden issues began to bubble to the surface and the biggest one was being incredibly leash reactive to other dogs. Duo wasn’t one of the “invade my little bubble and suffer my wrath” types (oh, no…that would have made it much easier!) He was (and is!) explosive. His bubble? Yeah, that is 20+ feet in circumference. Minimum.

I can’t begin to tell you how embarrassing it is to have to apologize for him being such a vocal asshat. I wanted to pull all of my hair out when I was trying to redirect his focus onto something other than the “offending” dog. The frustration from both of us was just about tangible. (To give you an idea – RYKER is an easy dog compared to Duo and he is a snot too!).

My GOOD dogs just didn’t do this. Duo wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Boy, was I ever wrong on those thoughts! I had to remind myself that I promised I wouldn’t ever give up on my walking, snarking jerk of a dog when we signed his official adoption paperwork because we were his last hope.

It was now been three very long years since the spotted hell hound came to us. He has gotten better and continues to improve every single day. He has frustrated and amazed me every step of the way. He has made me look at myself and forced myself to consider the consequences of every action before I do anything with him. I don’t want to take two steps forward and fall backward and down three flights for a simple mistake. I have learned some very hard lessons and felt some real and very personal failures when something has gone awry.

Do I think I’ll ever have a normal dog with Duo? Not by a long shot. I wouldn’t change him for the world – even when I get horrid looks because I failed him and didn’t stay on my A-game by allowing him to have a meltdown on another dog because I wasn’t watching and being vigilant.

I hope that one day Duo will realize that he can trust the other end of the leash to be his voice and anchor his confidence down to be able to go out in public and not think every dog is going to get him when the leash is on – but it might take until he turns fourteen! Oh, well, another seven years of adventures!

Here’s to many more adventures, buddy.

Reach For The Stars: A Positive Outlook

Duo is a very reactive dog.  He was worse years ago when we became a failed foster for him knowing the only option for him was likely euthanasia. Well, no…I think we just got used to the Duo-isms and quirks, though I’m not totally sure what honestly happened.  The simple (and sad) fact is that he has been reactive from the start.

Duo’s reactive behavior varies somewhat but it is usually focused on other dogs (although he did blow up at a tank of feeder fish this weekend… *eye roll* ..’cuz those fish were totally going to massacre him!) and usually if there is a barrier that allows him to act like Billy Bad Ass.  The facade he puts on really isn’t all that great.  He puts on a good show – especially with my parent’s old and obese Labrador who sees through his bluff every. single. time.  You would think he would learn, right?  Nope, not Duo.  He keeps trying and gets a good what for for his troubles.

Taking him to my parent’s house is one thing.  If he blows his top there, they know he is all bark and no bite.  However, taking him into public…yeah, that’s a whole different can of worms.  We usually end up getting a lot of looks.  People stare and then walk the other direction while we work to bring him out of his meltdown.  It really isn’t a pretty sight and he looks absolutely evil when he does it.

Thankfully, he came to us with a relatively firm grasp on the basics of obedience – sit, down..come…okay, maybe not that good on recall!  That, thankfully is even starting to improve with patience (a lot of patience!) and time.  If he hadn’t come with the basic skills he would have been an utter nightmare.

That being said, he is utterly terrified of overly harsh training methods. Corrections on a pinch collar that any of my other dogs would take and go “That all you got?!” causes him to hit the floor with his tail tucked between his legs. You can also forget about an electronic training collar (even with the tone or vibration feature) because his fear becomes an almost tangible beast at the sight of it.  It’s honestly the most pathetic thing I have seen in a long time.

We don’t know what exactly happened to him before he came to us in May 2009, but it scared him pretty badly. It has taken us almost three years to build up his confidence enough to really begin to touch on his fear-based barrier frustration. (We had originally thought it was dog aggression/reactivity because of what we think his breed history might be until we realized he was fine with other dogs unless a leash, a fence or even a crate door was blocking him.)

Now that we have eliminated what doesn’t work with him we are going to give something semi-new a try – clicker training. Duo will be re-introduced to the clicker again and we will work from the ground up once more to see if we can get him to be civil in public versus the rabid honey badger he currently is so he is able to enjoy more liberties like the rest of the pack.

Along with a more positive approach, we are going to give the Freedom harness a shot too. Our friend Liz over at Pit Bull Zen swears by it for her own reactive girl, Inara. With knowing how much work Liz has put into Inara and seeing the results in person, I have no doubt that we are making the right choice for our rescue ragamuffin.

With time, patience and work I have no doubts we will get him where he needs to be – even after all he has been through. The only direction we have left to go is up and we will aim for the stars.

Amazing what time and patience does.
Left: Rescue intake photo | Right: Two year anniversary with us.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Weight Pulling

With the amount of interest and emails generated due to my last post, I sought out my friend Cindy over at The Nut House to use an article she wrote almost two years ago on weight pull.  She allowed us to republish it for anyone interested in getting into weight pull.  Enjoy!


What is Weight Pulling?

Weight Pulling (WP for short) is a new and growing sport for all breeds of dogs from the smallest Chihuahua to the largest Wolf Hound. What it involves depends on what organization you get involved with. Overall in all organizations it involves your dog pulling a certain amount of weight on a Sled, Cart, or Rail system a certain amount of feet in a limited amount of time.

Maddie the 4 POUND poodle doing weight pulling.
Photo Credit: Lindsay Rae Photography

What Organizations can you pull with?
There are a lot of weight pull organizations that you can join with:
United Kennel Club (UKC) – All breeds can pull here as long as certain rules are followed. Your dog if not already UKC registered, must be spayed/neutered, and either much have a Temporary Listing (TL) number or a Limited Privilege number.
International Weight Pull Association – All dogs are welcome, all you need is a Weight Pulling harness and the entry fee (it’s $5 more if you’re a non-member)
American Pulling Alliance – All dogs are welcome, just show up with a harness and your entry fee
National Working Dog Association (NWDA) – Their main page has not been updated but all show up, and pay an entry fee.
There are other clubs you can join but they are only for certain breeds of dogs (Mainly the American Pit Bull Terrier) like the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) and the All American Dog Registry (AADR). (Both of these clubs do not allow all Pit Bulls to pull except at fun shows. You must have a UKC/ADBA/ABKC or BFKC registered APBT or AB (American Bully) to pull with these clubs.)

Ok, so now I know about the clubs, what do I need to start pulling?

First off all before you even start pulling your dog, you need to make sure your dog is old enough to pull. While most clubs allow your dog to start pulling around the age of 1 year, it’s not wise to start pulling large loads until your dog is done growing. (But it’s good to start young) If you really want to get into WP, even consider having a vet x-ray your dog’s hips and elbows to have a look for things that could cause your dog(s) health issues in the future. Your Vet will be able to tell you if WPing is OK for your dog or not. Some dogs with slight hip issues are fine pulling while some aren’t.

The first thing you’ll need is a weight pull harness! There are many different websites that offer harnesses for weight pulling, and I’m listing the one’s I have personally used, so I know the quality of the harnesses and how they work.

Brown Dog Designs – This is my favorite Harness maker ever. If you are going to be doing weight pulling for a while, and really getting into it then you want to break down and buy a BBD harness. They quality of these harnesses are the best. It’s kind of like buying a pair of shoes, you’ll be happy with the $25 shoes, but when you decide to splurge and but the $100 shoes once you realize what you’ve been missing. Her harnesses aren’t made to be pretty they are made to work, and work they do.

CD Pits – I’ve used CD Pits in the past. They are wonderful, many different looks to them, and are strong and durable. They are perfect for beginners and advance pullers alike

Tablerock – Nice harnesses, quality made with strength in mind. I love Tablerock because not only do they sell the WP Harnesses but they also sell wonderful quality drag sleds (I’ll explain those later) Table rock has GREAT training harnesses that allows it to grow with your dog. This is perfect for training a puppy to get use to a harness

Stillwater Kennel – I’ve never used their WP harness but I know people who have and they love them. Stillwater has adjustable harnesses though for 20lb + dogs that are perfect for WP training in younger dogs.

*NOTE* Many dogs ARE scared of the harness when you first try to put it on them. Use chicken or other high prized items to get your dog use to the harness before attaching any sort of weight to the harness. Take your time getting your dog use to the harness and make it a positive experience for them. Even think about putting your harness on your dog for walks at first (use a collar not the harness for the leash) but don’t rush it.

Second thing you’ll need is a collar. A simple belt or buckle collar for this is the best; you want it to be loose enough for your dog to breathe easily but tight enough to not fall off while training. Depending on what venue you decide to pull in depends on what type of collar you can use while your dog is pulling.

Third thing you’ll need is either rope or chain. I personally like chain because chain causes noise when it’s dragged and helps prepare the dogs in the long run for the noises that the carts make with weights on them. Starting off with either or is fine though. Rope is actually easier to tie the weights with for younger dogs, while chain is better for bigger weights for attaching (I use a spring snap to keep the weights on the chain).

Lastly you’ll need weight! For beginners, just start with an empty milk jug with some rocks in it. You want it to be easy and just help get your dog use to having the feeling of some resistance on their harness. As your dog gets older and/or more confident then start adding more weight. What to add depends on your dog. A larger dog say 50lbs you can easily add 10lbs without too much issues while a dog that weighs half that may only need 2 to 5 lbs added on. You could also buy a drag sled or make one if you want too. A drag sled is just a small sled that allows your weight to be evenly distributed. It’s not necessary but it’s a nice thing to have.

Ok, I have everything I need, now what?

Now comes the fun part, slowly working your dog up to pulling things!

Nubs the pit bull practicing.
Photo Credit: Dark Moon Photography

You only want to start pulling your dog 10 to 15 yards at a time. Right now you only want your dog to get use to the feeling and noises of the weights behind them. Hook a leash to your dog’s collar and stand in front of them. Call them to you and start walking backwards SLOWLY. Encourage your dog to pull the weight to you and praise them as they do. If they start to pull but stops as soon as they feel resistance, call them again, if that doesn’t work then LIGHTLY give your leash a tug to get your dog to move, and the praise like mad. Only work your dog for about 15mins the first time out. You don’t want your dog to get tired, bored, or frustrated. Do this for about a week before going onto the next phase, adding weight.

A question many people ask at this point is about reinforces (treats). Honestly if you can, refrain as much from food or toy reinforcements as much as you can. Why? Because in most USA organizations food and toy reinforcements are not allowed in the chute. It’s better to train the dog from the very beginning to pull for you and for fun. Adding toys or food is a great way to force your dog to do more then it can do which results in harming your dog. I have used food to get the dog use to the harness and for focusing on me, but never for pulling.

Once your dog is getting confident with the noise and weight behind them, it’s time to add some weight. NEVER SET YOUR DOG UP FOR FAILURE! You don’t want your dog to stop liking to pull. Don’t try to rush how much weight your dog is pulling. If your dog is pulling 10lbs just fine but at 15lbs he starts faltering, then go back to 10 lbs for a few more days then try 15lbs again. How much weight to add depends on your dog. If your dog is only 10lbs, then adding 1 lb of weight is a good starting place, if your dog is 50lbs then 15lbs is a good starting. If it’s really easy for your dog to pull GREAT but do not add more weight, at least this time around. You want it to be easy right now. This isn’t about building mussel but more about building confidence in your dog. You want your dog to feel great about what it is doing, and enjoy it.

Keep working your dog over weeks and months until your dog is at 1 ½ time its own body weight. So if your dog is 50lbs, it should be able to drag 75lbs. At this point your dog is ready for another step, working a cart. At this point you should be working with a mentor or looking for a mentor for help. They will have weight pull cart or rail system set ups or know where to find them. My local WPers have gatherings at one person’s house to work their dogs on his cart and to give each other tips on how to work their dogs better and how to be better themselves.

Just remember to have FUN with weight pulling and fun with your dog. Too many people forget this step and I personally think it’s the most important step of all.

Fore more information or to see the original post, click here.

Small Steps: Competing with Dog Aggression

I don’t claim to be a world renowned dog trainer or have umpteen years in training dogs (though I’d like to think I’m pretty good and always willing to try something new…).  The reality of the matter is I’ve only had a passing interest in canine sports in the last seven-ish years or so.  I’ve done my share of pet obedience prior to that and always had easy dog … one that was compliant and had no real issues to speak of.  That all changed six years ago when I was given Ryker.

Ryker started off as an easy dog.  He got along with everyone.  He has drive in spades.  He enjoyed learning and being challenged with new tasks and goals.  He is also dog aggressive/reactive.  For anyone who’s ever had to deal with this issue, they know what a challenge it is doing competitive sports that involve being in close proximity to another dog.  The worry that passes through you when you’re training – especially in off leash scenarios with a dog that is relatively reactive can be excruciatingly nerve wracking.

For years I was terrified to compete in competitive obedience with Ryker because I was worried he’d go after another dog.  We trained and socialized and then trained some more.  I was never quite comfortable enough to take the plunge into obedience.  It caused me to falter on more than one occasion.  I would fall up short when working with dogs that he was comfortable around because they’d get too close and I would tense up and then he would react.

The reality was becoming more and more apparent that it wasn’t so much a dog problem.  It was a handler problem.  I was the issue.  My body language and reactions set him up to fail when he knew exactly what he was supposed to be doing.  After all, we’d done this all for years and he was a pro at this and so was I.

With the help of some very close people in my life (you guys know who you are), I finally gave in and we attempted our first leg to obtaining his United Companion Dog (AKC Companion Dog equivalent).  We NQ’d during the off leash heeling pattern.  Why?  Well, a previous dog who’d run the course before us had hiked his leg on a pole and having an intact, domineering brat of a dog…well, Ryker had to follow suit and let that dog know it was his turf. (Little did I know that this little action would come back to haunt us at other obedience venues too.  *headdesk*)

Yes, they really did take a picture of him doing this.

My heart sank because I knew I’d NQ’d.  The judge, however, allowed us to continue through the rest of the trial and he was beautiful – even the recall over the jump that we’d only done once prior.  We finally got to the part that made the butterflies start fluttering around like they were on crack in my stomach – the group sit.  I wanted to run to the bathroom and throw up my lunch.  My hands were shaking and I reflexively kept changing positions on the leash.

My friend Jen and her boy, Icon, were with us and I continued to nervously eye up the Novice A – both of them had NQ’d also when they blew off every off leash exercise known to man.  Neither of them wanted to stay when their handlers left them.  It smelled like trouble in my book.  The judge, seeing that neither dog wanted to listen to the handler, asked them both to remain with their dogs – on leash.  I let out a big sigh of relief.

We did our group exercise.  Ryker was placed in a sit/stay next to Icon – a dog he had trained with for many hours and was comfortable with – on one side and a very calm Novice C dog who completely ignored every attempt at stink eye he shot at the strange dog.  We finally left our dogs.

It seemed like an utter eternity standing across the ring willing Ryker to keep his furry fanny firmly planted on the ground and to not get snarky with his neighboring canines.  It was finally all over.  The judge released us to return to our dogs.  My boy had done it.  He finally did it.  I was elated.  I was beyond proud of him.  I didn’t care that we’d screwed up and didn’t actually qualify.  He had done what I felt to be the impossible.  He had helped me overcome the biggest gap in the bridge of our training – my fear.

I knew, right then and there, we could do it and get his UCD.  I knew that all that we had worked for, trained for, socialized for…it was all a reality.  It could be done.  Above all else, I was proud of my dog.  The dog I never thought could do anything that involved having another dog in the ring.  I knew that he -the dog that looked at another dog and puffed out his chest and barked his fool head off at – could do it and that I helped him get there even as much as I’d held him back.

Consequently, there was a second trial that weekend.  I signed us up for it.  The butterflies returned but not so furiously.  Now they were big, beefy beasts that were proudly strutting their stuff and proclaiming that we could do it and they were my cheerleading squad.  We were on a mission and we went in and owned the ring.  We managed to wrangle in our first qualifier – even if we squeaked by with a 178.  I was on cloud nine.  We had done what I thought was the impossible and made it possible.  I truthfully owe that small victory to the dog who never failed to amaze me and the people who knew we could do it.

It’s not much, but we did it. We’re still battling with his loathing of other dogs but each small step makes me realize that we will get through it and we can do anything we set our minds to with a little bit of elbow grease and a good old-fashioned kick in the pants from friends when I start to doubt our foundation as a team.

Now we have one down and two more to go.  Here goes nothing!