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The Engaged Dog
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Have you ever thought about how teaching a dog a cue could be dangerous? When I say that to my students, they often exclaim “What could you possibly mean by that?”

This is a conversation I had with my friend, Barb. So, imagine you are with us - Barb and I have been working her lovely Shepherd all day, and are now taking a break to go get dinner! Yay! Barb lives near a great Barbeque Place - The Ozona Pig. Yum.

We have had lots of impulse control issues with Shadow, she is a very drivey AND strong-willed young dog, so we have worked a lot on creating control while still maintaining all her bubbly personality that we love. So, join our conversation...


Do you have a clear mental picture of the exercise you are doing? And how about the mechanical skill set? What do YOU need to have on board to teach the dog the exercise? How about the dog's reflexes? Will that affect the work? What is timing? How can you use contrast and compare?

Enjoy this podcast where Brenda Aloff discusses these questions.


Some of My Dogs

At home I currently have a Smooth Fox Terrier, Zasu and a Mini-Poodle rescue, Trixie. I should be thinking about a new puppy coming up, but after years of too many dogs (no matter how much I adored each and every rescue dog, it was still too darn many), I find myself not wanting to "share" this relationship with any other dog. So I have some mental homework to do on this subject!

Zasu is my delight and joy and she makes me laugh every day with her hilarious antics. She reminds me that being too serious is just a ridiculous proposition. She is a hoot to do agility with because of her small size my old, rickety body can keep up with her better. She heels beautifully, retrieves like a champ and she knows lots of useless, extremely cute tricks.

Trixie, the Poodle is a superb example of the cobbler's children going barefoot! She is very uninhibited. ; ) She came into my life when I was struggling, really struggling, with the demise of my Border Collie. Trixie has a really interesting and bossy personality which makes me happy! She loves to cuddle. Zasu taught her to resource guard, so she learns fast. I knew it would work out between her and Zasu, when the first day Trixie was at the house, she and Zasu were playing tug. Zasu can be a nasty and dangerous little resource guarder, so, typical of herself, she worked her way up on the tug toy until she was nearly lip to lip with Trixie, the innocent poodle who thought they were just having fun. Then Zasu froze. Trixie looked a little puzzled by this interesting behaviour, and then mimicked it by freezing also. "Oh boy," I thought, "This may not go well." I was just getting ready to intervene before we had a death, when Trixie handled it perfectly by herself. She toppled over onto her side in submission. However, she did not let go of the toy. Zasu growled. Trixie laid quietly, with a grip on that toy. Zasu growled again. Trixie remained calm. Zasu started to look a little disgruntled. Then she said, "What am I even doing here? Why am I growling? How did we get here?" and walked away. By now I was giggling rather hysterically in relief. Trixie picked up the toy, offered it to Zasu to play and they have gotten on famously ever since.

Breanna was my first Smooth Fox Terrier. She introduced me to the terrier way of thinking immediately. She was like living with an jolly serial killer. I learned incredible things from her and will forever be grateful. Bree never, ever told me no - she did everything I ever wanted to try. She worked in Obedience, got her AKC CD title and was trained through Utility. We were just starting to show Open, and she got into a fight with my German Shepherd bitch. This did not end well, and her front leg was shattered, and poof! Just like that no more jumping, thus no more showing. Her heel work was so lovely and she put a little spin on each one of the exercises. Her energy and her mind were such a joy. In Search and Rescue work (just the work - she just could never quite give up murdering snakes and rodents while she was supposed to be searching) she always found her man. Eventually. No matter how many murders along the way. For that reason, we just played at it, and never got serious. I suppose we could have done cadaver work (not so much of a rush there). This was so long ago, there was no agility. She would have enjoyed that, too. I learned so so much from Breanna. Much of the work I do today in the concentration and impulse control genre were taught to me by Breanna. She made you work for it, but she was always fair. When I got it wrong, she would clearly say, "Listen. Go back and read your Learning Theory - page 300, paragraphs 5 and 6 - and when you can get that concept right - then we'll talk about it." And when I got it right, she always did, too.

Punch, my second Smoothie, was a character. I decided to do her training TOTALLY positive. I wasn't going to tell her, NO, I wasn't going to say a cross word. She was the most entertaining, naughty and impulsive dog I ever had! When she and I hit the Obedience Ring, everyone would desert what they were doing and come over to watch her antics. She NQ'd in unbelievable ways, always entertaining the crowd and humbling me. Finally, at age 9, she got a Freestyle title and finished her AKC CD. I could spend hours telling you of Punch's devilry and charm.

Maeve came to me at 18 months old. I was her 5th home. She had, as far as I discovered, bitten in every home. An elegant GSD, she was just as happy to take a human down as a dog. And yet, she was one of the most amazing dogs I have ever had. She was a beauty in heart, mind and soul. After 24 months of behaviour modification work, she earned her CD and was doing all of her Utility work. However, as I started raising her jump heights I noticed her twisting a bit as she went over the jump and then taking an "Owwie" step. After extensive X-rays and visits to Orthopedic Surgeons, we figured out a good protocol to keep her comfortable and working - but no jumping - therefore, no competition work. After a few mental gymnastics, I got over this disappointment. Who really cares? I still had my wonderful dog to love and have fun with. She taught me all that and how to carry on your life with dignity and loyalty. Every day she got up and said, "Well, Brenda. Today it's all about you." and all I ever had to say was, "Again?" After years of terriers, (who had their own brand of loyalty, certainly, but it was not so obvious) who often seemed to say, "Do I know you?" when they were doing as they pleased instead of as I pleased, she was an education in cooperation and trying really hard all the time to get it right. I swear, as I write this, her ghost lies by my chair, as it does all the time. Truly, when you have been touched by a great dog, you never walk alone, even when you cannot hug them in person.

Sherman was a rescue case. Another Smooth Fox Terrier. After finishing his own AKC Breed Championship, and being passed around from breeder to breeder and siring 15 finished get; somehow this dignified and proud British gentleman slid down into poverty, being used to sire puppies at what amounted to a puppy mill. When he was plucked from this cruel existence, he was living in a small, filthy run with another intact male and 3 other intact bitches. If you know anything of this breed, you know this is bad. Like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters bad. None of the dogs in this place were in good shape, but apparently during a dog fight and the subsequent "breaking up" of the dogs, Sherman was beaten and kicked. He was left in the kennel to die, as he could not get at the food and water that was left for the other dogs. When I got him, he could not walk because of his injuries. When I approached him, he looked at me with the most soulful, liquid brown eyes I had ever seen. If ever a dog had a reason to hate the human race, he did. And yet, he looked at me with hope and gently wagged his tail. He lifted his head and tried to get up, but could not. During the veterinary examination, we discovered that he had a broken pelvis (really? How hard do you have to kick a dog to break his pelvis?) and was so starved and dehydrated that he was on fluids and a liquid diet for about 3 weeks. His muscle had been eaten by his own body to live. What a noble soul! He was 9 when I got him and we had him in our family for 6 glorious years. He ran the entire pack from the sofa, mostly with a meaningful look at the offending canine. Never in a dog fight, never in trouble, only ever gracious and correct in his etiquette. Those 6 years were too short, indeed, but I was proud to have his last years to be in a comfortable and loving home.

Rylie is my dependable dog (unless we are herding, in which case I often have to query, "Whose side are you on today? Mine or the sheep's?"). Rylie is also a knee jerk resource guarder, although she is apparently not very serious about it, as Zasu pretty much ignores all of her guarding behaviours. I find this very amusing to watch - in the dynamics between these two dogs it is not dangerous or they would have killed each other many years ago. Trust me, I know the difference, having had dogs who tried to murder each other over much less. Rylie also keeps me humble when she and I play at running agility, but if I can get it right, she is like driving a very fine, fast sports car. I keep wondering how she figured that out with me doing the training. She also likes to make fools of, I mean, train, my agility students, who learn a lot about their body language when they work with her.

These are just a few of my friends, and I must stop here for a bit, just because as I sit here writing, I am also weeping, missing so many of my dear, dear friends. So this will have to do for now. And kiss your dear pets for me right now, and be grateful they are still with you.

My dogs have amazed me every day with their understanding and communication skills, and the uninhibited joy that they hand to me every day as a special gift, just for me.

My Horses

I also have two Morgan geldings that I show in Dressage competitions. Topper is 16 years old, and I got him when he was 9 years old. He is very metro-sexual, really likes his clothes and so on. He preens and looks very pleased with himself when he gets his turnout rugs put on in the winter. He is an awesome ride, even though he can be a bit hot. He has one of the most expressive faces ever and often screws his face up in disapproval when humans are not doing as he thinks they should. While I do not love him any less for it, in certain situations he exhibits all of the brainpower of an earthworm. He is one of those people with a genius IQ for "book learning" and a zero IQ for daily living. He can be quite senseless and has had two pasture accidents. One resulted in stifle surgery and he recovered from that, but it was a year off and a lot of rehab work. Apparently the strain of exhibiting good sense for a couple of years was too much and he panicked when another horse cornered him and he went through a fence, injuring his knee. Three knee surgeries and a couple of years after 24 months of rehab and too many chiropractic, massage therapist and the equine physical therapist specialist visits from the crew at Michigan State University, he is finally sound and working. And not just working - his generous nature is unprecedented. He is working half-steps and his flying lead changes. YAY!

Oliver is my 9 year old Morgan gelding. While Topper is the "clean, sensitive kid," Oliver is like Dennis the Menace or the Calvin character from the comic strips. He can smear himself with filth in a perfectly clean stall, and is always up to some kind of mischief. My horse clothing bill has skyrocketed, because as soon as he amuses himself by talking Topper into playing tug of war with the blanket he is wearing, while he is wearing it, he then begins to tear Topper's clothing off. I purchased Oliver from a video (okay, actually several and a million phone calls) and shipped him from Oregon to Michigan in January. It occurred to me the night the shipping company delivered him, during an incredible storm preventing them from even attempting my driveway, that I was going to have to lead a horse I never laid eyes on down a long, cold and icy driveway at about 11pm estimated delivery time, after said horse had been on a truck (on and off) for 6 days. I am thrilled in every way to say that while I am pretty sure Topper would have inadvertently committed a murder/suicide scenario in this same situation, Oliver was boring and sane. Yes! I fed him a carrot, he stepped off the truck into the blizzard (welcome to Michigan) and I said a small prayer to any god that would be willing to protect really stupid, risk-taking people. Then I looked at the O-Star (my husband's nickname for him) and said, "Okay, buddy, it's you and me. Please do not murder me." He squinted a little at the driving snow and then, quite touchingly, rested his nose on my shoulder and we slowly walked up the long, dark driveway together. Oliver is a really fun mix of child and adult, and he has a sense of humour that keeps me busy! He is easy going and uncomplicated - at least right up to the moment that you ask him to do something he does not wish to do or wasn't originally his idea. Once again, I have gotten an animal whose mission is to point out my character flaws. After training help from the incomparable Bettina Drummond (Connecticut), and my local instructors, Tim Wentz and Bernadette Radke, we are thriving in a way that I once despaired of. Oliver is working on his flying changes, and letting me drive.

My Sheep

I also own 15 sheep. I am not quite certain how or why, but there they stand. I got them for herding, but I lack the ambition to actually make anything of it. My friends told me once I started naming them it was the beginning of the end of letting others herd them, and, in retrospect, they were absolutely right. My own Collie was the awesomest chore dog ever and she went and left me with all these darned sheep. Since many of the sheep I got were young and/or sick when I got them (I have discovered a lot of people take horrid care of farm animals), I learned so much I never wanted to know about sheep husbandry. I am proud to say I nursed a ewe through pregnancy toxemia and this is my dubious claim to fame in the sheep husbandry hall of fame.

The Best Blessing of All

This is just a few of the twenty or so dogs I have personally owned over my lifetime, not to mention the many, many rescues I rehabilitated and re-homed. And the eight or so horses I have had the pleasure of loving. And I haven't even told you about my daughter, Abbey. She is the kindest, most brilliant, lovely child anyone could ever be blessed with). God looked at me and said, "not so sure she should even be trusted with a child" and so he gave me Abbey.


rr-is-your-dog-bored-1-200x334pxHow many times have you felt your dog was "bored" with training? I hear this, especially from my performance people.

This always brings me to a dead stop. Why? Because I have NEVER felt that my dogs were bored with training. This does not mean that they were perfect by any stretch of the imagination! My dogs make many errors and often lack judgement. To me, this is just part of training.

Why Do People Feel Their Dog is Bored?

I have queried the students who bring me this statement and this is what I have gleaned from the information they have given to me:

Read more: Is Your Dog Bored?

(this article is adapted from material I wrote for a Search and Rescue team. They asked for tips for reading dogs during evaluations.  This is also good advice if you are thinking of approaching or petting a dog.)

Friendly DogWhen you tell people your dog is friendly, it is best if you have words to describe "friendly". "Friendly" means different things to different people. If everyone uses the same definition, misunderstandings are minimized.

First of all, Friendly Dogs are not shy dogs and they are not pushy dogs. Dogs who are super active and/or try to take up your space upon greeting are not friendly, they are either anxious or pushy; sometimes a combination of both. It's the anxiety that makes them pushy...

Instead of "friendly" perhaps thinking of the word "neutral" is more helpful.

Read more: Should I Approach?

Dogs Bark for a Variety of Reasons

This is problematic when the barking becomes excessive or the owner cannot stop the dog from barking.

People expect dogs to bark, and nobody minds that they do when it is appropriate (such as, temporarily, when someone comes to the door); what all of us would like is that our dogs be still when we ask them to do so.

Much of the barking I see in my clients dogs arises from attention seeking behaviour. In agility class the dogs often bark at the handler because the dog is frustrated with the handler.

Read more: Yap-Yap-Yap... "QUIET!"