Tuesday, October 27, 2009


H/T to Patrick over at Terrierman for this post about the AKC's streamlined merchandise-handling software for puppy-mill retailers.

Seems that I remember a few years ago, the AKC hacks backed down in the face of a torch-and-pitchfork mob of breed club delegates who objected to a speshul marketing program designed to keep puppymill products on the AKC rolls, the better to profit from the money-for-paper scam that pays those Madison Avenue salaries.

What they did, of course, was just transfer the scheme to an administrative hidey-hole and quietly go forward with their attempt to re-capture market share from the puppymillers' new, no-questions-asked "registries."

Reading the PDF instructions for Petland clerks on how to instantly register "inventory" with the AKC -- a nice cut of additional revenue for the retailer, and the only way Ron Menaker is going to make his boat payment -- I was struck by this clause under "Adding a Dog to the Store."

Dogs can also be added to the general inventory by the AKC based on the AKC’s assessment of the dog’s pedigree. The store will fax pedigrees for non-AKC dogs to the AKC and the AKC staff determines if the dog is eligible for AKC registration within two business days. Eligible dogs are automatically uploaded to the inventory.

Just, wow.

The one thing that AKC could reserve for its dubious bragging rights was a claim of "purity" and "pedigree integrity."

What this meant in paperwork terms was, if an owner neglected to properly register his dog or bitch within the allotted time, if he lost the registration paperwork, or for any reason all the i's weren't dotted and the t's crossed, that dog's offspring could never be registered. Nevermind that the dog was clearly purebred, that the owner had the dog's pedigree, might even own the dam himself. Did not matter.

And puppies from unregistered parents in most breeds could not command anything like the price for registered pups.

Which is, you know, deranged. Regardless, this created a powerful incentive for owners snap to it and fill out the paperwork and send their money to Madison Avenue each and every generation.

This obedience to unelected authority has always been very important to the dog fancy set. A "reputable" breeder has his paperwork in order. A dirtbag BYB doesn't send in his registration fees.

But a puppymiller did -- until the "industry" discovered that they could make things much easier and cheaper for themselves by creating their own "flexible" no-questions-asked money-for-paper schemes.

Now I'm pretty sure that an ordinary pet owner who has a "pedigree" for his purebred dog, but no litter registration slip, is still hosed.

But apparently a pup from unregistered parents can now "qualify" almost instantly for AKC registration -- for inclusion in the "pure" gene pool of whatever breed. Just so long as it came from a puppymill and is being sold at retail from the deli case at a mall near you.

No DNA testing. No photographs. No review by experts from the breed club. No investigation into the paperwork irregularities. No punitive fees for the special case.

Because getting a cut of the profits from the living "inventory" is going to goose the bottom line this week way more than being a stickler for record-keeping is.

As for next week -- well, I guess that depends upon who finds out and what they do about it, doesn't it?

How do you dog-fancier breed-club snobs feel about the Missouri-born inventory getting an instant administrative upgrade to "pure" and "AKC-registered?"

If contemplating each puppy's mother languishing her whole life in a wire-floored crate so that the registration fees for her lifetime production output can help support your dog show habit has no goddamn effect on your conscience.

If you don't give a rat's ass about the health and behavior of these little units of inventory once they are bought and installed into your neighbor's home as "members of the family."

If you meekly accept that you are being held to a higher standard of record-keeping than Helga the Kansas puppy farmer.

Can you at least give a shit that your precious "purity" -- the last thing that your Overlord In Dogs has to offer you -- is being tossed away on the say-so of Tammi at Petland and some faceless clerk in Raleigh?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Consent and Compulsion

Please do not click on the photo link of Barry White in the second paragraph unless you are sure you want to see it. If you are easily upset by images of cruelty and animal suffering, do not look. I did not reproduce this photograph in the body of this post for a reason.

Instead, consider the portrait of Barry White as he is today.

Barry White had the honor of starring at the sentencing hearing of his former owner.

He was fortunate that he did not have to attend in person, but the sheriff's photo of him on the day he was seized as evidence glowed larger than life over the proceedings. His face screwed into a rictus of terror, eyes wide, tongue lolling and blue -- he has clocked out of a reality revealed by his emaciated flanks and pelvis (obvious even under his matted strawlike coat) and the necklace and cape of shit-and-mud pendants that must have doubled his weight.

Not long after that sentencing hearing, eight months after that photograph was taken, he and eighteen others were released from their special indenture by the judge, and I was allowed to evaluate him.

Most of our evaluations of the ONB dogs were pleasant, interesting interviews. Barry White's was not. I was traumatized by his completely genuine and inconsolable terror -- but not nearly as much as he was traumatized by having a leash hooked to his collar.

I promised his handler that day that, if it came to it, I would personally foster Barry White. She'd only recently taken him on -- he'd had several handlers in succession at ONB, and none had made much, if any, progress with him. With each failed attempt to leash and handle him, his spinning alligator reflex was reinforced and strengthened. This was not an act or contrived panic; the possibility that he would harm himself in his hysteria was real.

Parties with connections to Barry White's former owner were still planting and fertilizing rumors among the volunteers that Douglas and I were the Doggie Death Squad, "culling" (yes, that word was used) those dogs who "failed" their behavior evaluations. Handlers feared for the lives of the most regressed dogs; after eight months of repeatedly showing ourselves as good as our word, toxic slander still seeped into the hindbrains of otherwise sensible people.

I gave her some ideas for working on the leash hysteria, and steeled myself to welcome into my home a dog who could not be walked. She didn't have much time, and I didn't have a lot of confidence in the power of the few things I could suggest to work quickly.

Still, he was not an entirely discouraging case. He allowed his handler and me to sit with him in his stall and cut some of the few remaining mats from his fur. He did not seek the touch, but he didn't offer to bite us, or froth in terror, either.

And then there's his eyes. Barry White looks straight at me, and his eyes do not ask -- they require. Require acknowledgement, demand an answer, insist that I recognize him and work to give him what he needs.

A week later I watched him, leashed, following his handler willingly around the kennel of the Moore Lane hospital, where he'd come to be neutered. I still don't know how she flipped him so fast.

And three weeks after that, I opened his crate on the Barking Bus and led him out for a constitutional in my hayfield, then into the newly constructed kennel run that is his next waystation on the road to a life as a normal dog.

Every day we have our quiet time, during which we work on his willingness to approach a person and to be touched without flattening himself to the ground in surrender. And every day we have our walk, usually with my own dogs and young Cole, sometimes just the two of us. On many days, he can also follow me for some of my chores.

Until a few days ago, I held a 16' nylon long line on our walks. There was always a belly of slack dragging behind us as he followed at my heel sporting a huge dog smile, but I kept my grip, mindful of the possibility that something could panic him and make him bolt.

And there are points where he puts the brakes on. Barry White is afraid of doorways, gates, and constrictions. He still can't cope with a human being coming at him frontally at close range. At first, he tried to flee when I would pick up a tool or bucket -- anything larger than a paperback book was fearsome if it was in the hand of a human being.

When Barry White backs up or sets his brakes, I use gentle, steady, authoritative pressure on the leash to bring him through the scary space with as little fuss as possible. Since Barry White isn't interested in love and cuddles, praise, coaxing, a game of fetch, or a nummy bribe, I compel him to move through his fear.

We've never yet reprised the spinning croc. And there have been times when I've put a fair amount of pressure on him. He has the inherent ability to keep his wits, which is most of what he needs to advance towards normalcy.

Last week I took the plunge and dropped the end of the line when we are out in the pastures. And there's Barry White, sticking so close to my heels that I can't get a photograph of him unless I tie him to something and back away. I still don't have a decent picture of his beaming "go for a walk" smile.

Even though we've been doing beautifully with the drop-line on our walks and for some of the more active routine chores, it's good policy to tether the dog when one can't keep an eye on him. So Sunday, while Professor Chaos and I raked shingles out of the barnyard, I hooked his nylon line to a fence post nearby.

All was well until I walked away towards the house. I hadn't gone twenty steps before I felt a soft, familiar tap on my calf. Barry White's nose.

Barry White has determined that his Mission From God is to follow me around the farm. The leash interfered with the performance of that Mission. That Would Not Do. So he neatly, deliberately, without drama or fuss, without fear or panic, severed the leash and joined me. It looked as if he'd taken a pair of sharp scissors to it. He knew exactly what he was doing.

In other words, at any time in the past month, as I "compelled" Barry White to move through his fear, he could have chosen to opt out. He knows perfectly well how to make the leash go away; hundreds of times, he has chosen not to do so.

Barry White doesn't totally trust me; humans have been too unreliable and sometimes dangerous for him to let go of those parts of himself he has reserved. He doesn't like having his collar taken hold of, doesn't want me to reach for him. He doesn't want to be petted, though he'll allow it if "forced." He has a ways to go.

But one thing that Barry White does trust me to do is to walk him through fear and into the possibility of happiness. He can't always help himself by himself, but he consents to let me "compel" him to do so.

And now, I consent to remember what he has told me: that he makes his own choice about trusting me every moment of every day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Snapshot Sunday: Socialize

Cole was pulled from a pile of dogshit on his abuser's property when he was a month or so old. He spent the rest of his life, until September, behind the sheriff's evidence perimeter. He got to know and like a lot of people, but never saw a kid.

The first kid he ever saw at close quarters was a deranged-looking-and-acting toddler who came running right for him, face level and full-frontal. Cole backed up in alarm, round-eyed, and growled nervously and very, very softly. What the hell is that thing?! I just leaned forward to both greet and intercept the free-range house-ape, modeling what I wanted him to see.

Five seconds later, Cole's alarmed round eyes changed to astonished, and his ridiculous squirrel tail began to wiggle. Omidog, it's a tiny human! How cool is that?!

And that's how Cole's Day of Discovery went at the Audubon Society Apple Fest. By the afternoon, he was playing "needle in the haystack" with the little children as if he'd been romping with them all his life.

Absolutely essential to Cole's future as a working dog. Liking kids is not optional.

Saturday AMRG did wilderness safety programs for 600+ Cub Scouts/Parents. Pip, Rosie, and Cole assisted. Every one of the cold, wet scouts helped to "socialize" Cole.

As a donut-spare English shepherd, he has found that he heartily approves of downsized humans. Something about playing with action figures that are on the same scale.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Paper Plate Recall: The Basics

Ten minutes before this picture was taken, young Cole (far right, with his butt velcroed to the ground) did not know what the word "stay" meant.

I learned the paper-plate recall from colleague Dick Russell of Baton Rouge. Dick wrote a detailed but unillustrated article about this obedience drill. Until recently it was available several places on the web, but I can no longer find it to link to the original.

So here is my own guide to this useful and entertaining exercise, without Cajun wit, but with illustrative photographs. You can click any of them to embiggen.

My model for the photos is young Cole, my Operation New Beginnings foster pup. The photos were taken just before he earned off-leash freedom here. He had no inkling of "stay" when we introduced the exercise, little idea of "come," would sit for a lure, and was a bold, energetic pup with lots of confidence and no environmental sensitivities.

What is it?

The paper-plate recall is a training drill that very quickly provides excellent building blocks for three useful exercises:

• Come
• Stay
• Send Out

And, if you choose, is also a nice drill in which to practice the finish to heel.

When you get it right, the exercise develops a hypnotic progressive rhythm that is quite satisfying to dog and trainer alike.

What do you need?

• A plate or other target. I use heavy plastic or metal rather than paper, as we have this thing called wind in Pennsylvania. A dog bowl works fine. For dogs that like to retrieve the target, a heavy ceramic tile works well. Contrasting color/brightness to the ground is very helpful. (After you master the basic sequence, you will need additional plates in order to progress. But for the first few days or weeks, you only need one plate.)

• A generous supply of very tiny, very delicious treats -- chicken, dried liver, hotdog. Very food-motivated dogs will work fine for their regular kibble. I sometimes have two kinds of bait, one high-value and one lower-value -- see below. A bait pouch on your belt is helpful to maintain a rhythm.

• A large open training area relatively low in distractions. As smooth and level as possible, and well-mowed if it is grass. Lawn, golf course, playing field, church parking lot, driveway, beach, gymnasium. You will be walking or running backwards, so plan accordingly.

• Safety containment appropriate to the reliability of the dog -- fence or 30' minimum long light line. No retractable leads. I typically train this exercise with no containment at all on pet dogs who have a "sort of" recall, and use a long line for the first few sessions of untrained animals.

• If not using a long line, a short leash or collar tab for the first few drills (usually can be taken off after less than five minutes.)

• Dog. Dog should have some inkling of what the words "sit" and "stay" mean. I typically introduce this drill to group classes after the dogs have been practicing "stay" for two weeks. I have personally taught it from scratch to dogs who have the barest notion of "sit for a cookie" and no stay, but I recommend this only be attempted by serious trainers who have practiced the exercise successfully on trained and partly-trained dogs.

How do you do it?

1) Put your target (plate) on the ground.

2) Place one smidgen of your yummy bait on the plate.

3) Stand no more than 3' from the plate, facing it. You should be positioned so that most of the training space is behind you. You will be backing up as the exercise progresses. Variation: You can move the plate further out each time you increase the distance. We did that for the purposes of getting photographs. This makes it harder for the dog to keep track of the target. I prefer to move the dog and myself on first sessions, and then later on mix it up by moving the plate further out on the same line.

4) Put your dog, with leash or tab (or long line) into heel position. (That is at your left side, facing the same direction you are, shoulder even with your leg, no more than about a foot away.)

Cole in the start position, target clearly visible in front of us.

5) Sit the dog and tell/signal him to "stay."

6) Extend your arm towards the target and command your dog to "go out" (or whatever command you are going to use). Make your movement very exaggerated.

Cole's first sendout.

7a) If your dog immediately goes to the plate to take the bait, praise him at the moment he has it in his mouth, simultaneously backing up about two - three steps past your original position and grabbing another treat from your pocket or pouch. (Go to step 7)

Successful first sendout.

7b) If your dog looks confused when you first signal the go out, get him started towards the target with you left hand helping him with the leash and collar in the right direction, praise as he finds and takes the bait, and step one step back from your original position while grabbing another treat from your pocket or pouch. (Go to step 7)

7c) If your dog is still hesitant or confused after some collar guidance, quickly lead him to the plate, praise as he finds and takes the bait, and step backwards to your original position while grabbing another treat from your pocket or pouch. (Go to step 7)

8) As soon as your dog has swallowed the treat from the plate, give one clear command to Come. The command is Dog Name + "Come."

"Cole, Come!"

9) As your dog comes back to you from no more than five feet away, bring your in-hand treat down to his level in front of you. As he reaches you, lure him into a sit while commanding Sit. Feed him as he sits. Praise and stroke him down his back while he continues to sit directly in front of you.

Good recall to front.

10) Return your dog to the heel position (most need collar guidance to do this). Command him to Sit, and then signal/command him to Stay.

Cole is now very motivated to go out to the target, and I'm telling him to stay while I leave him.

11) Step forward and re-bait the target.

Because we can't back away from the target during the recall, I am moving the plate a few feet further from Cole.

12a) Return to your dog and put yourself back into heel position with him.

12b) If your dog breaks position, correct him verbally, and if necessary with the leash, back into his sit stay -- in the exact same position where he was before he broke. Don't allow him to gain any ground. Don't be punitive or loud about this -- just calmly replace him and remind him to stay. One he's back in position, return yourself to heel position.

13) Repeat starting at step 6. Repeat at least a dozen times the first session. Twenty is better.

Second sendout, twice as far as the first.

If you had to help your dog forward to the target and treat, you will still be standing about 3' away from the target for your second iteration. Don't back up until your dog is going out to the plate with just the command and arm signal.

If your dog went out on his own or with just a starter tug on his collar, you will have backed up a couple of feet. The target will now be further away. When you send your dog, he will have to go further. When you command Stay, you will be going further away from him. Both are challenges. You want to gain just a little ground on each iteration so that your dog gradually masters the difficulty of the longer send-out and the temptation of the greater distance from you on the stay.

But your best recall will come when you are backing up rapidly. So when you call Come, walk or run backwards as far as you can before your dog reaches you, receive him and feed and praise him, then gently swing him into heel position and walk forward to a position just a few steps further from the target than your previous spot.

If you start 3' from the target and do 12 repetitions on your first training session, backing up a couple steps on each rep, you will be sending your dog to a target about 40 feet away by the end of ten minutes. And your dog will be holding a stay while you walk 40 feet away, put food on the ground, and return to him.

Yes, in ten minutes.

I first practiced this exercise on Moe, who as a seven-month-old already had a pretty good stay and a great recall, plus an abundance of enthusiasm. In our first session he progressed to a 200 meter stay and sendout -- we had to stop when we ran out of township park. Dogs without the obedience foundation and with less drive and confidence will require much slower and more incremental progression.


Dog is hesitant to go out

This is more common than you think. Keep close to the plate as dog gains confidence. You can move around the plate in a circle in order to mix things up. Use a more tempting bait on the plate -- whatever your dog likes best. And be sure to start with a hungry dog -- don't feed him before the drill session.

Cole has become confused on a longer sendout (same session, moved outside the pen and onto a 30' drag line). He looks back for help.

I move forward a few steps and give an exaggerated directional cue with my arm. This is enough to address his momentary confusion. Cole does not lack confidence, he just doesn't know where the target is and has not learned to trust that it is on the line yet.

Success! Now I need to start backing up and preparing to call him.

As he's momentarily distracted by an uninvited interloper, I increase my pitch and excitement, and move away from Cole more rapidly for the recall.

If the dog has a great recall and a hesitant send-out, or he would rather run around on the send-out, try using a better bait on the plate than the unexciting one you use for the recall.

Dog breaks stays, tries to make an end-run around you to the bait, runs the other way, and generally makes it difficult to correct the break smoothly (insubordination rather than error)

Use a long line. If he rushes the plate, block him and correct with a strong NO for any rudeness in attempting to get around you, through you, over you. It's crucial that he never get to take the bait until he has been sent for it. If he takes off the other way and it is not because he is afraid, give him a leash correction and return him to his original spot. Keep the exercise low-key to avoid overstimulating the dog -- again, the slow progressions and ritual drill should become almost hypnotic in their ability to focus both human and dog.

If the dog is running from you or from the pressure, then close up the distance to the target, send him one last time, and end on a positive note with a good recall. Work him in subsequent sessions with smaller increments from the target. This is not insubordination, it is confusion and possibly fear.

A persistent offender on the stays should first be worked close to the target for several sessions. If the dog continues to break frequently and/or resist correction, stop paper-plate drills and spend 2-3 weeks working on Stay and Leave It in other contexts.

Dog is good on send-outs but slow on the recall, or does not recall

Start by increasing the value of the reward he gets for recalling. Use regular kibble on the plate and nummie treats in your hand. Praise and pet him lavishly when he comes. Run backwards and raise the pitch of your voice to be sure you are tempting and inviting to him. Be sure you aren't doing anything he perceives as punitive after he comes to you -- no manhandling in returning him to the sit at heel, no scolding tone to the Stay command.

If he's having fun at your expense, use a long line and drill at that length until he is coming back reliably.

Dog hits threshold where he won't go out any further, or seems to lose the target

Work the dog at the threshold distance where he is still succeeding, moving around the target in a circle so he is approaching from different positions. When he's fast and accurate on those, slowly start to increase distance.

Get down to dog level -- can you see the target? It's easy for a foot-tall dog to lose sight of the target in shaggy grass or slightly uneven ground. You can try elevating the target.

I can get the longest send-outs the most quickly in bowl-shaped terrain, where the dog can most easily see the target at a distance.

If you work incrementally, the dog will begin to take the "line" from your arm signal.

What this Drill is Not

The paper-plate recall is a food drill. It can serve its purpose without ever fading or randomizing the bait. As such, it is not a substitute for the obedience exercises done in a variety of contexts and without the promise of a cookie. Practicing this drill will help you increase the speed and precision of your dog's recalls. It will help build your dog's ability to hold a stay at a distance from you like no other exercise. And it is absolutely the quickest way to start a send-out for later advanced work. But unless you work on those commands in different contexts and without bribes, the drill practice will not jump context and translate to daily life in a reliable or predictable way.

Later we'll revisit the paper-plate recall drill and discuss advanced variations with multiple targets and directionals.

A class of beginning obedience students, third week, start paper-plate recalls with their dogs. Note that the dogs are on 15' drag lines in an unfenced area, and are working simultaneously about 20' apart. They are staying focused on their own plates and are not distracted by the other dogs' sendouts and recalls.

Lest anyone think that this is difficult to teach.

Note that dog in the center is a Jack Russell terrier.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Snapshot Sunday: Guest Blogger

While our plans for a simple, one-day, finish-by-sunset-and-grab-a-beer roofing job on the barn gang aft agley on Saturday with the discovery of rot in the base, our emphatically non-farmer nieces had to find ways to entertain themselves while Dad, Uncle Ken, Aunt Heather, and "Uncle" Bill bled money and profanity all weekend.

Fourteen year-old Brady borrowed Bill's camera, and came up with these:

Cole and Rosie: Vicious and Dangerous

Bwaaa haaa -- just kidding

Still-life with dew and turkey feather

Pokeweed after frost

Narragansett jake strutting


Ameraucana cockerel. Rooster voted least likely to end up as coq a vin this year.

The new generation of young photographers is going to be a fearless bunch -- liberated from the expense of film, able to get instant feedback on what "worked" and what didn't, and open to experimenting and accepting the happy accident. I envy them the freedom of digital, even as I'm nostalgic for the stink of developer and the pall of the red light bulb.

That said, the kid is a better photographer at fourteen than I am after almost three decades of on-again, off-again efforts -- the last six with decent quality digitals.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Snapshot Sunday: Demo Dog

Rosie and Ken, Mountain Rescue Demonstration, Pittsburgh Fire and EMS Expo.

Hanging from the ceiling of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Not our usual environs, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dat's why we had to move to New Yawk for to get a Bill o' Rights

HT to Shirley over at YesBiscuit for this story about free speech in the City of Brotherly Love.

Kori Martin is a life long, die-hard Eagles fan. She is also an animal lover; therein lays her conundrum. While gravely disappointed at the signing of Michael Vick by the Philadelphia Eagles, Martin still supports her home team but her experience while attending a home game at Lincoln Field yesterday has her absolutely flabbergasted!

While entering the arena to go to her family's season ticket holder seats a security guard told her she could not enter the arena wearing the shirt she purchased from pitbullgear.com because the anti-Vick message would be offensive to players and other people.

Seems that Michael Vick is tough enough to drown a puppy or beat a losing pitbull to death with his so-manly bare hands, but his sensitive feelings might be bruised by a lady in a t-shirt.

As the Examiner correctly notes, there was nothing profane or libelous or graphic on the shirt.

The Examiner incorrectly calls for the Eagles owner to "apologize" to this season-ticket holder, who did not know that the First Amendment does not apply to a paying customer attending a public event at a stadium owned by the City of Philadelphia and largely financed by the city and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (my tax dollars at work, thank you).

The only acceptable "apology" to football fans and the majority non-sociopathic Eagles roster is to fire Vick and let him "rehabilitate" by sweeping floors for minimum wage -- the fate of many a released jailbird who has done nothing violent, and also, a perfectly honorable job when performed by an honorable person.

Once again, TGFTO (Thank God for The Onion), which absolutely nails it with this story.

PHILADELPHIA—Michael Vick's pregame pep talk Sunday, in which he recounted the events of a brutal 2004 dogfight between his pit bull terrier Zebro and rival pit bull Maniac, failed to inspire his teammates in any way whatsoever, Eagles team sources reported.

Vick, who was playing in his first NFL game since serving an 18-month prison sentence, called the 10-minute story "really motivational," and reportedly failed to understand why his graphic recounting of how Zebro ripped out Maniac's larynx caused teammates to stagger out of the player tunnel and onto Lincoln Financial Field with their heads hanging.

We can only hope that the real players forced to share a roster with a man who finds joy in electrocuting dogs in a swimming pool also share the outlook of The Onion's fictionalized Gaither:

"The only reason the Chiefs scored in the second half was because I was still thinking about what Mike said during halftime about 'trunking,'" said linebacker Omar Gaither, referring to the practice of putting two pit bulls in a car trunk, closing the door, and allowing them to fight for 15 minutes until one is dead. "Why is this freak on my team? Why are people cheering for him? Seriously, answer my questions. Why?