Friday, 30 April 2010

dogs who can sniff anything

Sheila has a new dog-related cartoon on her site. She says, of exaggerated resumes,
It’s such a fine line to walk when trying to impress a potential employer…

The cartoon reminds me of the man I met recently who has two beagles that are trained to sniff out termites. Now they have a right to boast about their resumes! I'll bet they've saved householders a packet of money.

(I have her permission to post the cartoon here.)

persistent little dog solves a problem

On PetPlace there's a link to a funny video clip of a little dog trying to carry its soft toy through a small gap. I thought it was lovely.

Reminds me of Penny trying to get a long stick through one of our doorways.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

nasal spray for kennel cough vaccine

Hsin-Yi has a video clip at YouTube that shows Honey the Great Dane having the nasal spray for kennel cough prevention.

If you'd like to read what Hsin-Yi said about it, her comment is on my previous post.

Thanks, Hsin-Yi!

yet more about kennel cough in dogs

Penny seems to feel a bit better today from her current bout of kennel cough, well enough to do her door-guarding duty, but her barking is not up to scratch, because she has to pause to cough and sneeze.

I've been told to get her out in warm sunshine, if possible, but wouldn't you know it, after months of unseasonably dry and warm weather we've been gifted with proper wet, cold autumn weather. Wait a minute. The sun just came out...

Okay, back inside after ten minutes in a the sun. An informative site at Lowchensaustralia says that if the infection runs a normal, uncomplicated course, there's no need for antitbiotics. (That's what the vet at the animal clinic told me the other night.) A couple of points that surprised me, however, were that it is actually possible for this bronchitis-related disease to pass to humans, and that dogs can shed the virus, ie pass it on, for up to fourteen weeks.

The vet who treated Penny at the emergency clinic said an intranasal spray is a more effective preventative than the annual vaccination, but the site at Lowchensaustralia says:
This vaccine is not without its problems. It is a very effective vaccine, but it must be used carefully and is generally only recommended for dogs that are at high risk. If your dog is not shown, boarded, or comes into contact with stray dogs, your dog is considered low risk.
Hmm... Penny spends lots of time in contact with other dogs, through canine freestyle, flyball and pet dog training with Cindy.

However, when I rang my own vet, he said he prefers the vaccination, as the nasal spray is not necessarily that much more effective as to warrant the trouble in administering it to dogs who hate having something sprayed up their nose.

pesky kennel cough again!

On Tuesday evening, when I was pet-sitting for a friend and Penny was helping me, she started coughing up froth all over my friend's loungeroom and kitchen. Quite dramatic, actually. I decided to take her off immediately to the after-hours clinic near my friend's house - humungously expensive, but worth the peace of mind.

(I did stop to disinfect the house as much as I could before we went, by the way, and my friend was philosophical when she returned, given that kennel cough is passed by an airborne virus and no amount of cleaning the floor was going to do much good.)

Having relieved my mind of the fear that Penny might have a cooked chicken bone stuck in her oesophagus - oh, why didn't we ever successfully train her not to scoff everything she sees in the street? - the vet told me she was ninety percent sure Penny had kennel cough. Okay, not so bad...

We were given a BIG bottle of prescription cough linctus and told to give it two to three times a day for a while. I asked what the point was, given that kennel cough is a virus and basically has to run its course, and the vet said the cough linctus eases coughing and prevents secondary infections developing as a result of damage from constant coughing. (I think that's what she said.)

I was surprised at how easy it is to administer the cough syrup. I just sit behind Penny, hold my hand over her muzzle and lift the corner of her upper lip, revealing a conveninetly placed gap behind her big tooth, and squeeze the stuff in. Penny is a saint of a dog, fortunately, and only squirms around a little. I was proud of her at the vet's where she had to suffer a thermometer up the backside, a lung check with the stethoscope and squeezing of her throat. (As I posted last time she had kennel cough, if you press lightly on the dog's throat just under the jaw and above the collar, she will cough immediately if she has this virus.)

Surprisingly, she didn't cough when the vet did that, but seeing she was spluttering froth around the vet clinic floor, I guess it wasn't necessary to see her cough right then.

Here she is the next day, all tuckered out, and perhaps a bit sleepy from the cough medicine.

The vet was insistent that we do other dogs a favor and stay on our own property for two weeks. Two weeks!!

However, I think it would be two weeks from the time she first showed symptoms - I'll have to check that - and if we hadn't been so silly we would have kept her away from other dogs as soon as we noticed her sneezing and coughing.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

still practising what Richard Curtis taught us

Okay, maybe everyone's tired of my enthusiasm for what I learned from Richard Curtis last weekend, but sorry, I just want to show you one more thing...

We've had a big success!!

I was taken aback to realise that dogs can't be too focused on our hand movements, because that limits what the human can do in the routine, so I made one resolution - to at least get Penny doing a counter-clockwise spin on a verbal command alone. (He calls it 'twist' but we already had the word 'spin'.)

After days and days of practising 'spin', we tried it in the park yesterday. First I lured, to get her remembering the move, then shifted the treat to my non-signalling hand, and, finally, tried it with no hand movements. Penny was simply confused, so I went back to a hand signal so she could end on a successful note.

(By the way, we're keeping an eye out for that little coughs she gives - I think it was just a treat going down the wrong way, but we're not sure.)

So, more practice last night to earn her dinner.

And, today, ta dah! Success!
Here we are in the garden, taking note of Richard's advice to practise in different locations:

I thought it was particularly interesting that she stopped herself from turning clockwise.
(And yes, we did notice that sneezing. We might have to go to the vet to see what it is.)

Friday, 23 April 2010

canine freestyle in Britain's Got Talent

Slavenka sent me a link to a canine freestyle act in Britain's Got Talent - Tina, with her dog Chandi.

It's a lovely routine, and what I find fascinating is that most of the dog's moves are relatively straightforward.

Having just attended the seminar with Richard Curtis last weekend, I'm more 'tuned in' than usual to what's going on.

Here's my viewing of the first minute and a half of the video, in terms of what I remember from the seminar:

She chose music that fits the dog's natural movements, music with changes of pace. Many of the dog's movements, like the side-step and the lifted paw, mimicked ballet positions, which fitted the music.

She gave the dog a treat before they started the routine, giving the reward from above so Chandi was looking up. (Richard made a big point of correct positioning of treats.) By treating before starting, Tina got Chandi really focusing on her amidst the distractions of being on stage.

Another point Richard had emphasised to us was to have smooth transitions between the dog's series of moves. It wasn't easy to see this in the video clip, because the camera so often cut to the judges' expressions, but I guess Tina would have put in a lot of work on that aspect.

At our seminar we were told to practise frequently with canes, because stick-like objects can represent so many things. In my group, which worked on the theme of a Native American song, we thought canes could be replaced by a lance,or even a rifle, for instance.

Tina, in this sequence, does a lot with the broom. And I was excited to see Chandi doing 'paw around the broom' more than once, yet giving a different impression each time. I can see I'd better get back to working on this one, as we did last Sunday. Here's a picture of us starting to learn it.

Richard Curtis suggested we analyse potential moves in terms of whether they are static or moving (human or dog, or both) and whether they are 'crowd pleasers'. I thought Tina was clever in this respect. She started with a static move where Chandi had her paws crossed, seemingly waiting. The crowd went 'ooh!' - and of course the judges would be influenced by this at some level.

There were other spots the audience loved, and I'm going to look carefully to see what they are. Out of interest, I might add, not in any spirit of trying to do what she did - I can't imagine anything more nightmarish than getting up on stage in front of an audience. The last time I did that I was playing the recorder and I still remember how hard it was to tone down the shakes enough to get my mouth on the end piece, let alone find the holes.

Of course, it's the dog the audience looks at, but it doesn't hurt if the human is graceful, musical and has a wonderful sense of timing. It's a beautiful routine.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

is tuna safe for dogs?

I was told recently that I shouldn't feed Penny tuna as often as salmon, because tuna has a high level of mercury. I don't know much about that, but I do know salmon is certainly a bit expensive to be a regualr part of her diet.

So I was interested to read this article on (a science and technology news site) that some species of tuna have less mercury than others.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Dogs' ears and kindergarten songs

Via The Portuguese Water Blog I've just visited a new blog, The Teacher's Pets and had a laugh at a photo gallery of dogs' ears to accompany the lyrics of one of my favorite old children's songs, Do Your Ears Hang Low?

I thought there was only one verse, but there are lots. And at least two versions.

I got to thinking about ears. Here are the ears of Scruffy, our Tuesday visitor who is sitting near my computer:

And here are the ears of our lovely GSD friend Jabari:

Expressive ears, I think. And at first I thought Penny's ears, because they droop, don't have a story to tell - until I looked through some old pictures:

Her ears can express calmness.

They can go very flat when she doesn't like the big eye of the camera looking at her.

They can fly with her.

And, momentarily, just after grooming, they can look elegant. (And show she isn't too happy about the grooming!)

Penny learns to put her paw around a cane

At the canine freestyle seminar last weekend here in Melbourne, Richard Curtis showed us how to teach our dogs to put their paws around a cane. You can use this movement in different ways when it is solid, for instance having the dog put her paw around your leg.

He taught us to hold the cane diagonally in front of us with the dog sitting facing us and ask for a paw touch on our hand. If we then move our hand further from the dog so she can't reach our hand, her paw will fall down onto the cane. We should click or mark that action and reward.

When this is established, it's just a matter of raising the cane gradually, rewardingtouches, until the cane is vertical. We can then tidy up the action by rewarding the paw wrapping more around the cane rather than just touching.

I think the following video is hilarious and shows how Penny was smarter than me at the seminar. She worked out what I wanted almost straight away and kept nudging me for her treat, but I was so focused on listening to Richard's instructions that I didn't see how well she was doing it. In the background of the video you can hear the people who were filming it for me chuckling at my silliness.

Monday, 19 April 2010

canine freestyle - Richard Curtis teaches us

'Any dog, of any age, with any handler can get involved in Dog Dancing at a certain level. It's great for bonding and training, but most of all it is hugely enjoyable,' Richard Curtis said in 2006 in an interview published by Southampton Solent University.

I think that's what appeals to me so much about this sport. I'm stiff and no longer young, but I still get great enjoyment from dancing around with Penny. I'll never be much good at it but she's very attentive and seems to love it. Probably she could do very well, but my limitations will restrict us. And basically that doesn't matter, because she's having fun every time we do it, and so am I.

One of the first things Richard said on Saturday, in his seminar here in Melbourne, was that he wanted to see 'helicopter tails'. It's something I've noticed on all the videos of doggy dancing that I've seen on the internet - wagging tails.

The mix of activities with and without the dogs was great. I've never before practised dancing without the dog, and I learned that my own movements should complement the dog's actions. Routines are aimed at drawing the audience's attention down to the dog, but the human can't be just standing around like a statue.

In this photo we were practising using canes
and making sure the free arm was adding to the routine.

Here are some photos of us using the cane in different ways:

It was interesting to listen to music clips and meet in groups to discuss what type of moves would suit that music. Because it was theoretical, we weren't constrained by whether our dogs can actually do the moves. For me that's a new way of thinking about the sport - find suitable music, come up with an overall concept and then train moves that my particular dog can do.

Here's one group's concept for a 'floaty' piece of music:

Another point is to focus on those moves that are really solid and make them the central core of the routine.

Richard emphasised the need to look at the transitions between moves. We all had a turn to link three moves, using a large space, and he drew our attention to the 'hitches' in the dogs' movements as they moved from one position to another. For instance, moving from heeling at our left to weaving between our legs. It was really obvious that I hadn't managed this well, because Penny actually had to do a skipping movement to catch up to me.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

canine freestyle seminar with Richard Curtis

Penny's asleep on her special chair as I write this, and for the first time in living memory she is too tired to have any dinner.

She's exhausted after a satisfying two days with Richard Curtis, at a seminar on canine freestyle and heelwork to music. Richard is the first person to train two different dogs to win the Crufts freestyle final, with Disco in 2006 and Pogo in 2010. I'm so glad he accepted an invitation to come to Australia.

To me the weekend was wonderful because Richard is not only a successful trainer but also a gifted teacher. At the seminar there were thirty handlers with dogs and a group of people observing without their dogs present, and I believe everyone had a great time. The sessions were highly organised and instructions clear and everyone had a chance to learn at her own level - a credit to the ability of the teacher.

I was nervous before I went on Saturday morning, because I know I am inhibited at the best of times, but more so in front of others. However, by mid-morning on that day I was feeling relaxed and successful. And that's amazing! Penny doesn't like being with me when I get tense, so my enjoyment of the seminar helped her to focus really well.

We worked in two groups of fifteen dogs and handlers, so there was an opportunity to listen to instructions and practise them straight away with the dog, followed by a time to observe the second group doing similar activities and take notes.

I think this is a great teaching method.

At one stage when my group was practising a movement and I couldn't work out my left from my right Richard was very patient. Eventually even the the people sitting along the side began trying to help me, calling, "Turn left! Left!" By this stage I'd virtually forgotten there even was a word called "left" in the English language. And then Richard put me out of my misery by standing in front of me and saying calmly, "Turn towards me."

The other thing I liked was working without our dogs, practising moves and short routines.

I've taken pages of notes, but without consulting them, the main points that I'll be looking at in my own training are:

Practise in many different places.

Save the high-value treats for the times that matter.

Practise frequently with a cane or other object in my hands.

I need Penny to be good at responding to verbal cues (especially important if she is working behind me).

Penny shouldn't be so focused on my hand, because there are many times when my hand will not be available for a signal.

The last three points became clear when Richard asked us to do a round of the room, incorporating a couple of simple moves - whilst keeping our arms folded! Penny walked beside me looking amazed that I wasn't giving any signals.

I feel so enthusiastic after the seminar that I could make this a long, long post, but I'll save more for another day.

Monday, 12 April 2010

flyball at the Ringwood Highland Games

What is it about flyball and bagpipes? Penny seems to have her best days when the pipes are playing. Hmmm...could it be because her "grandmother" (human) was from Edinburgh? Penny never met my mum, who was sadly gone before we adopted Penny, but it must be in the air in our house. Maybe it's the times when I go around humming - off-key - 'The pipes, the pipes are playing', or 'By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes'.

Anyway, she had a happy and successful day. (Thanks, Sue, for taking this photo.)

She did once again think someone in the crowd was dangerously unknown and must be watched at all times, but this only caused her to go around the jumps once, and when she was sent down again - the dog who makes a mistake can run again after her three team-mates - she ran well.

She earned a medal! Here she is standing proud and straight with it:

And I'm not listening to any suggestions that maybe she didn't have a clue about the importance of this medal and that someone was holding a treat above her head!

Here's the medal in closeup. Third place in division seven.

How many sections, you ask. And how many teams in division seven? divisions in the competition and three teams in that level.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Cindy's pet services gives us lots of fun things to do

In yesterday's post about training at night I forgot to mention the important fact that it's at Lilydale and the classes are run by Cindy.

Lots of fun in a relaxed and interestingly different environment.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

dog training at night

Penny's finding that attending classes at night in the open, in the scary, scary dark, is quite different from working inside a building.

We're having great fun, and Penny is learning that it's not necessary to throw a wobbly every time someone walks past our training spot. It's great to see that in only two weeks she's learned to deal with ambient noise and passing strangers, and can pay close attention to me as we work.

(I'd like to thank Cody's mum for every one of the photos on tonight's blog!)

The darkness didn't slow her down going through the lovely new tunnel.

But there certainly is a scary effect when dogs are photographed in the dark!

We had a race to see who could put the most toys into a bucket.

Penny would have done quite well if she hadn't made a few withdrawals as well as deposits.

I'll have to admit our opponent ran rings around us!

Sunday, 4 April 2010


Dingo photo by Michael Stirling

Recently, my eye was caught by the picture of a dingo on a small book on a display shelf in our library. The book is Living with the Dingo, by Adam O’Neill, published in 2002.

It turned out to be a fascinating book. I didn’t realise the extent to which the dingo has been hunted and killed since Europeans, with their cattle and sheep, arrived on this continent.

Being a city dweller, my only contact with dingoes has been in zoos, or the occasional one being walked in our local park, and the only thing I know about them is that they roam in packs around campsites and may have stolen Lindy Chamberlain’s baby. (Adams believes a dingo took the baby.)

I’m always careful with Penny around a dingo because I don’t trust them as pets and don’t feel safe with them near her. (We haven’t met many, but there are some around.)

Adams points out that before European arrival the dingo was a valued companion to Aboriginal people as well as being the top order predator in the animal world here. He notes Aboriginal languages had two words for this animal – one meaning domestic or camp dog and one meaning wild dog.

As I understand O’Neill’s argument, we are causing terrible damage to native animal life here by baiting (poisoning) dingoes. He believes that a stable dingo pack, where only the alpha pair raises a litter, will keep an area free of feral cats and foxes and will actually protect mid-range native animals because they won’t kill as many as cats or foxes would.

When dingoes are poisoned, the pack structure breaks down and young males breed without the control of pack leaders.

There’s lots more in this book and it’s a great read. I recommend it.

A few points I found particularly interesting were, firstly, the suggestion that feral cats have been in Australia long before European settlement – perhaps some time between five hundred and a thousand years. Secondly, O’Neill says basenjis are genetically closely related to the dingo. He worked with a pack of basenjis as his hunting dogs when he worked as a rabbit shooter at one stage. Thirdly, he believes that if dingo packs are not socially disrupted by the indiscriminate killing of pack members, there is less likelihood that hybridisation will occur when other breeds of dogs roam into their territory, because the dingoes will drive away the outsiders.

I could keep on writing about this interesting book, but I’d better go and see whether my own little ‘wild dog’ needs someone to throw a tennis ball for her.

Friday, 2 April 2010

dogs and weedkiller sprays

Yesterday's walk in Darebin Parklands was a bit scary, because the weeds had been sprayed. I was grateful that a colored spray had been used, so we could see which areas to avoid.

But of course Penny didn't know to avoid them and I had to call her away. She seemed surprised that suddenly, after five years of walking along the same path, one side was out of bounds. But she's an obliging dog, so she obeyed me. (Note that I don't say she's an obedient dog. There's a fine difference, lol.)

Luckily there were plenty of other areas where a dog could chase balls and, after capturing them, roll on them.

Herbicides can be quite dangerous to dogs, both in the short term and in long terms effects, but an article at Dogtime says of Roundup-type (Glyphosate)sprays,
Once it's dry, the chemical has been taken down to the root of the plant and the lawn is considered dog-safe.
On the other hand, Suite 101 has an article on natural herbicides that says of Glyphosate-based herbicides:
Glyphosate, the ingredient in Roundup, is toxic to amphibians. Glyphosate is safe for use near mammals, but there is some debate as to whether it is an endocrine disruptor.
Since the parklands are home to many treasured varieties of amphibians, I don't think that would be the main ingredient of the spray used.

I guess I could keep reading more and more about herbicides and just get more worried and confused. But the bottom line is that I have faith in the rangers who look after the parklands.

And I'll make sure Penny doesn't enter the sprayed areas.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

dogs reading their p-mails

An on-lead walk with Penny is a slow walk. An off-lead one is fast. You may ask why. Well, it's because she has to read each p-mail in our locality before we can move on, and if I'm attached to her by a lead, I have to wait around while she scans each telephone pole, fire hydrant, bush, grass clump or stone for a potential message.

Oh, did I mention that she also has to balance on three legs while she leaves her own comments on the state of the world? That takes time also.

So I laughed out loud when I read yesterday's Cartoon By Sheila. (Sheila has kindly given me permission to reproduce it here. Thanks, Sheila.)

(And I love the sign in the background of the cartoon.)

Sheila has set herself the challenge of posting 365 cartoons in 2010, so you might like to pop over there and see how she's going.