Agility: Not just for high energy dogs

sleepy4I used to watch agility trials on TV back when I had cable.  Back when I had time to relax on a weekend morning and watch stuff on the “boob tube.”  Basically, back before I had a dog.  Before I even imagined I would have a dog.  It was sort of a pipe dream of mine to do agility with the dog I would have someday.

And then I got a dog!  A Border Collie/Golden Retriever mix.  A dog who would surely be suited for agility.  But as it turned out, she looked more like this than this.

So I put off the dream.  For two years whenever anyone would say “I thought you wanted to do agility” I would say “Have you seen my dog?”  She was a slow, deliberate girl far more interested in getting belly rubs than running and jumping.  Her idea of a good walk was a stroll in the park where she could sniff everything, not a run around the neighborhood so she could burn off energy.

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Adopting from a shelter: My plan

7816112236_e486a6148e_cNow, I will begin this with a bit of a caveat: In the end, I did not get my dog directly from a shelter.  I had a list of shelters in hand, ready to head to as soon as I was ready to adopt a dog.  I had been looking at dogs on for ages.  And then I went on a transport and met a dog who was traveling from a shelter to a rescue and realized I had found the right dog (a wee bit too early for us, but I’ll tell that story in a later post).

So with that in mind, here was the list I had come up with prior to finding Dahlia:

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Fluffy Go Home: Snake Season in Dogland

I just recently moved to Southern Arizona, which means that the amount of stabby flora and and poisonous fauna in my life has increased exponentially.  Since coming down here, I’ve encountered a lot of slightly unnerving critters when I’ve been out walking the dogs: we’ve seen black bears, a lot of coyotes, these huge wild peccaries called javelinas (some of whom dwarf my 65-lb dog), several cranky scorpions and a couple of coatamundi (admittedly, those are only unnerving because of how much my dogs want to eat them.)  Until recently, however, I had not seen the one thing that everyone told me I needed to watch out for: a rattlesnake.  I am pretty sure that I’ve heard them way off in the distance when we were out (though several species of lizards, frogs and bugs have adapted to make the same kind of rattly sound, since it’s remarkably effective in backing potential threats off); I hadn’t seen one with my own two eyes, though, and I was glad of it.  July and August are when all of the rattlesnake babies start coming out for the first time down here, though, so frankly, I knew it was just a matter of time.

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Raising Bean, 15 weeks: Reward what you want.

Just sittin' on the couch, eatin' yer slipper.

Just sittin’ on the couch, eatin’ yer slipper.

I can’t believe how quickly little Bean is growing up. He is fifteen weeks old already!

I also can’t believe how loud he is.

In a lot of ways, he’s a really great puppy– he’s fun, he’s very tolerant of all things regarding handling, no resource guarding, loves to learn, loves to interact, comes when called.

But he’s an amazing, incredible barker.

The whole litter is this way. They’ve been screamers since the start.

Bean’s new favorite game is demand-barking at me for meals.

I do not want this. At all. It’s obnoxious, and I don’t have a particularly high tolerance for barking to begin with. So I have tried my best to jump on correcting this ear-injuring obnoxiousness the best I can, as quickly as I can. Continue reading

Small, Soft, Stinky and on Sale: How to choose a good training treat

There’s a reason I usually go through the self-checkout at the grocery store. Okay, a lot of reasons. I’m pretty anti-social and I like to do things myself. The other day, though, the self-checkout lines were way longer than the cashier-checkout, so I hauled my cart over to the first illuminated aisle and unpacked my cart onto the conveyor belt.

I stood near the card-swiper as the charming cashier scanned my items and bagged them, staring off into space like I normally do. As she approached the deli and refrigerated stuff in my order, though, I could sense her slowing down between scanned items. What was the problem? I was just stocking up on our usual groceries and stuff for Cerberus – you know, turkey necks, chicken parts, training treats.

She held up a roll of Koegel-brand Braunschwieger, an unappetizing cylinder of pink putty-like liver sausage.
“Do you eat this?” she asked curiously.
I wrinkled my nose and laughed. “Oh, no. It’s for my dog.”
“Ohhhhhh.” She sounded relieved and wrapped up the rest of my order without comment.

There was a time in Cerb’s life when I thought we’d never be able to use food as a reinforcer when we trained. He has always been insane about food – I mean, “totally gone crazy in his head”-type of insane. He’s never wanted for food in his life, so I’m not sure where his food drive comes from, but it’s there. Oh, boy, is it there. So when Cerb was younger and I was a relative stranger to positive reinforcement training, I figured treats were just out of the question – the mere appearance of a delicious morsel was enough to blow. Cerb’s. mind. He would get so excited that he could barely control his body, let alone think through what I was asking him to do.

The end-result of Doggie Zen: No chocolate* for Cerb!
(* Neverever give your dogs chocolate. Ever.)

It was only later, after I’d learned more about the point of positive reinforcement and played fun games like “Doggie Zen” that I realized how lucky I am. These days, I look at Cerb and I wonder where the heck we’d be if not for his food drive. His willingness to work for food makes training a snap and food rewards are so easy to deliver while in motion, like through a rally course. Of course, there are always those who make disparaging remarks about trainers who use treats, calling them names like “cookie dispensers” and telling us our dogs won’t work unless there’s food involved. All I need to do is point to Cerb’s titles in weight pull, his CGC and his progress in Rally to prove that that’s not the case – you can’t take food into any of those competitions and yet Cerb still excels. Proper R+ training is not bribery, because bribery stops working the minute you take the bribe away. Instead, R+ training creates a give-and-take relationship between the trainer and her dog wherein the dog trusts that if he performs well, he will eventually be paid. Maybe not right at that instant, but perhaps after the whole string of behaviors is finished or the competition is over. It’s a method of training that results in your dog offering – yes, performing of his own accord – the behaviors you’ve taught him will be rewarded. I absolutely love it.

He doesn’t sit like this for freakin’ carrots, okay? Where’s the beef?!

Treats are fantastic training tools and positive reinforcers, but not all treats are made equal. When I first started R+ training, I showed up with a box of Milkbones. Dogs like those, right? Cerb sure seems to enjoy crunching them up! They make pretty messy training treats, though. First of all, they’re so hard that your dog will need to chew them a few times, which is fine at the end of training but can really slow you down when you’re moving at a fast pace, like when you’re training your dog to heel or to pull a cart. Secondly, they’re just not that exciting. If someone offered you a plain piece of toast or a cupcake, which would you prefer? In distracting training environments, you’ll want to arm yourself with the stinkiest, most delicious treats you can find, because they have to compete with all the natural distractions your dog might experience. If someone offered me a piece of toast to do a handstand, I’d probably pass, because handstands are hard and I’d rather just sit down and enjoy the sunshine. If someone offered me a cupcake, though… now we’re talking.

Of course, I can’t have a whole cupcake every time I do a handstand, especially if I’m trying to train the perfect handstand and I have to do twenty in a row. Obesity is as much a health issue for pets as it is for people! When you choose a training treat, make sure it’s something that can be broken down into teeeeeeeeny pieces. I’m serious. Smaller-than-a-thumbnail pieces. When you’re training a new behavior, you’re going to use a really high rate of reinforcement and go through those treats pretty quickly. If you’re feeding whole cookies, your dog will probably get really full and really fat really fast!

So what makes a good training treat, then? What’s soft and easy to swallow, delicious and delectable to fight distractions, firm enough to be cut into tiny pieces, and – importantly – affordable? When I go treat-shopping, I like to remember my 4 Ss: Small, Soft, Stinky, and on Sale! I surveyed Team Unruly members to see what they had to say…

Koegel’s Braunschweiger. Product image from Koegel Meats.

First off, I’ll offer my own opinion. Cerb has great food drive but is a clumsy chewer, so I need something soft and non-crumbly so we can keep moving when we’re training. We also train for long periods of time with a high rate of reinforcement, so it needs to be something firm enough to cut into tiny pieces. On top of all this, Cerb has various food intolerances that pretty much rule out most commercial dog treats, even the stuff that markets itself as having limited ingredients. When we train, we use Koegel’s Braunschweiger, a brand of liverwurst sausage that can be kept frozen for longevity and then thawed and cut into strips, slices or cubes. I’ve tried other brands of Braunschweiger but they tend to be really mushy and pasty. Koegel’s has the texture of soft bologna, so it keeps its shape even when you cut it into tiny bits. I also like cutting it into strips so I can constant-feed Cerb when we’re working in a really high-distraction environment (like when I’m trying to help him associate passing dogs with Good Nom Times). Braunschweiger is all meat, no grains, so it works really well for Cerb’s food allergies, and it’s not full of sugar either! Another treat I really like is the Happy Howie’s Gourmet Meatroll(sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?).

Happy Howie’s Gourmet Meatroll. Product photo from Happy Howie’s.

These can be hard to track down – I drive over an hour to get mine at K9 Specialties in Warren, MI. This product is a little bit firmer than the Braunschweiger and can get a bit crumbly if you’re rough with it, but Cerb really likes it and it’s easy to cut into small pieces. If I don’t have Braunschweiger or Happy Howie’s, I’ll just use shredded, cooked meats (chicken, turkey, beef, lamb) or bits of cheese.

Kelsey also likes to use cheese for Lucy and Nellie. She’s also had good luck with the Natural Balance food rolls, dried liver, and chopped-up hot dogs. As far as other commercial training treats, Kelsey recommends Zukes Mini Naturals (Cerb likes these, too!), ZiwiPeak Good Dog Treats and Nature’s Instinct raw bites. Kelsey’s criteria for good training treats include small size, high protein and low calories. She also likes stuff she can chop up and freeze in advance so she can just grab what she needs whenever it’s time for a quick training session!

Sarah’s Frankie loves Pet Botanics Training Rewards.

Katie and Merissa both love cut-up Pet Botanics food rolls and treats. These treats need to be kept in the fridge and used quickly or they’ll dry out, but they smell delicious to dogs and they’re soft and easy to swallow on the run. Katie’s eeeeevil red dog Luce and Sarah’s long-dog Owen also enjoy tuna fudge, which sounds disgusting but is apparently dog heaven. I found a recipe here, along with some other cool cook-at-home training treats! Making treats at home is a really good way to know exactly what’s in your dog’s food – very important for those of us with allergen-sensitive dogs!

Mmmm, lickable noms!

Sarah also likes the TreatToob by PAWW. This isn’t a treat itself, but a gooey-treat dispenser. You can fill them with all sorts of lickable treats – in this photo, Owen’s enjoying a mix of one part peanut butter to two parts non-fat Greek yogurt, which makes a high-protein healthy treat he can lick on the go! Sarah tells us that the TreatToob is way less messy than the usual squeeze-tubes she picked up at the camping gear store and recommends this method for delivering high-value treats during training sessions.

Dahlia loooooves turkey hot dogs!

Sarah, Ren, Michelle and Merissa all stand by tried-and-true favorites like diced-n-sliced hot dogs, cooked chicken, and string cheese. String cheese is particularly useful for luring behaviors because you can palm most of the stick and just expose the tip to be nibbled on as a reward. Hot dogs are great for cutting into itty-bitty little pieces and they do well being frozen and thawed – Kelsey likes to cut up a whole bunch at once, then freeze then and just scoop out what she needs at the time. Cooked chicken and other leftovers are great, too, as long as you’re careful to make sure there’s absolutely no cooked bones and not too much salt or other flavoring on the meat. Cooked meat is great because you can tear it into shreds as you train and it can smell really delicious – plus, it’s affordable because you were likely buying it for yourself anyway!

Got some more ideas for the perfect training treats? Let us know! We’re training all the time and always looking for the next great thing to pay our hard-working dogs!

Pet Photography Tip #2: Lighting

Now that we’ve talked about the ‘book smarts’ behind taking good pictures of your dog, let’s start getting into some of the technical stuff that goes into taking pictures of your pet. We’ll start by discussing something that every aspiring photographer has to deal with… lighting. In most circumstances, there is not a lot you can do to control the light in a given situation. Unless you have a fancy studio set up (and let’s face it, most of us don’t) you kind of have to work with what you’re given. When we get to talking about your camera settings, I’ll cover more about shooting in low light and tricky situations. Today let’s just talk about the basics of lighting. In the mean time, here are some tips on working with what you’ve got! Continue reading

When Good Dogs Go Bad

I arrive home one day from work and am greeted with a happy wiggly dog.  As she dances around me I keep catching a glimpse of something.  Finally she settles a bit and I can grab her around each side of the face so I can take a closer look.  That’s when I notice it.  Right there in the middle of her face.  Smack in the middle of her nose.

The Cut.


Oh Dahlia, I think.  Not again.  You see, I have many such pictures like this.

There was the one from March 2011. And the one from December 2011.  And yet another one from back in October 2010.  In fact, I have photos dating back to at least October 2009 showing this very same phenomenon.

How does it happen?  What does it mean?

The first time I had no idea.  I remember speculating that she cut it while sniffing the rose bushes down the road.  Or maybe she scratched her face with a dew claw.

The second time I didn’t quite make the connection between the nose cut and what I discovered later that evening as I crawled into bed.

The third time I realized there was a pattern.

I would arrive home to the cut on the nose.  In the bedroom I would see a pattern of bloody nose splotches on our sheets or comforter.  Those bloody splotches would lead me to my pillow.

And there…

Beneath my pillow…

I found it.

The butter.

That’s right…that wonderfully salty creamy substance you can’t quite imagine dogs going crazy for.  It was still in the wrapping, though it showed much evidence of being chewed on.  There, tucked safely away until I crawled into bed and noticed the blood leading to it, it sat waiting for her to dig it back out and enjoy the remainder of at a later date.

Unfortunately it was discarded immediately.  The Butter Thief was thwarted! But she has vowed to return again and again to find that stray stick of butter accidentally left out on a counter.  And maybe someday she’ll even find a way to do it without leaving behind the #1 most incriminating evidence: the cut on the nose.


Feeding Raw Made Easy: A Review of The Honest Kitchen

On July 26th, Ren posted a wonderful write-up about feeding raw food to your dog. Sometimes, the idea of raw feeding can be daunting – there are percentages to figure out – “How much food do I actually need to feed my dog per day?” to figuring out the meat-to-bone-organ ratio needed for proper nutrition, and, “Do I have to add fruits and veggies?” Sometimes, preparing the grocery list just for your dog can be frustrating.

Or, maybe you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to even mess with raw meat.

Or, maybe you have a weirdo dog like my American Pit Bull Terrier who doesn’t want anything to do with raw meat (“Ewwww, gross!” he thinks, and turns up his nose at a bowl of delicious raw meats and bones), but want a similar option for your dog.

Since I have the weirdo dog who won’t touch raw meat, and I wasn’t about to continue half-cooking his meals for him, I sought out other options. For us, The Honest Kitchen proved to be the best. When we added our Toy Fox Terrier, Rikki, to the family, it just made sense to continue feeding THK – I mean, he only eats a tiny bit of food, hardly enough to make a dent in our grocery bill. It was easy to make and I loved the philosophy of the company:

“All of our recipes are made with 100% human-grade ingredients that you’d recognize from your own kitchen. Our recipes are prepared with care and uncompromising attention to detail, so you can serve them with confidence.”

Rikki says, “Where’s my dinner?”

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Product Review: Fetch-A-Passion Pet ID Tags

Recently, I decided that Jax needed an ID tag. He had been wearing a cheap generic one I had purchased from a random eBay store that simply had my name and number on it. My plan with these “bulk” tags was for me to put one on every collar I owned because I hate dealing with those rings, and every clip I bought that would allow me to have interchangeable tags for my collection of collars always broke. I lost a few nicer ID tags that way.

I had my eye on a couple more expensive tags, more popular tags, but I kept looking. I wanted something unique, but I didn’t want to spend and arm-and-a-leg for it, either.

While browsing Etsy one night, I found Fetch-A-Passion Tags. And, while browsing their store, I fell in love with the look of their tags. So, I took the chance. I bought one. Continue reading

Adopting From a Shelter: Go in with a Plan!


Chloe, a former shelter dog on her way to a new beginning.

You have finally made the decision.  You’re going to get a dog!  The first place you head out to is the local shelter and there you are confronted by dogs of all sizes and shapes.  Any one of those amazing dogs could be yours just for the asking!

A tiny older Chihuahua huddles in the back of his kennel, looking up at you with big eyes.  “That one!” you think.  “I would love a small lap dog.”

In the next kennel, a young pit bull jumps up against the bars when you get close, his whole body wiggling with energy, his tail going a mile a minute, flashing you that great big bully smile.  “That one!” you think.  “I love his energy.  I’d love to come home to that sort of excitement.”

In the next kennel, a small Border collie mix is turning in circles, barking madly.  She hasn’t even noticed your arrival.  “That one!” you think.  “She’s beautiful and has so much energy!”

In a kennel further down sits an old Lab, her muzzle grey, her eyes rheumy.  “That one!” you think.  “She’s so sad.  She needs me.”

Each of those faces, so very different from one another, are just some of the dogs you’re likely to come across in a shelter.  There are dogs of every size, breed, and mix in shelters in America.  There are purebreds and mixed breeds, puppies, adults, and seniors alike, all looking for a great new home, all hoping you’re going to be the one to take them home and love them for the remainder of their lives, whether it’s 16 years or 6 months.

I will say this about shelters: It is very easy to fall in love there.  But it is also very easy to fall in love with the wrong dog.

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