Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Snow day.
This is Diefenbaker, or Dief (pronounced Deef) for short. He was my family's first dog. We did everything wrong with him because we didn't know any better.

He was another Australian Shepherd. When we first met him we had no idea what an Australian Shepherd was (uhoh). We saw an ad in a local newspaper (ohno) when we were at our cottage near Lakefield, went out to check out the litter from a pair of farm dogs with no health testing (ohmy). As we were driving up for the first time my mother mutters, "Those are the ugliest dogs I've ever seen."

We met the dam and the dam's sister, and the litter. The farmer suggested we take the tiny ball of fur chilling in the back since "he'd be the type of dog your girls could dress up." We came back a few weeks later to bring him home with us.

Cue 12 wonderful (if a bit clueless) years with this really fabulous dog. Despite doing everything so wrong, things turned out pretty right. He never learned how to walk at heel (we never learned how to teach him, more accurately), he would terrorize our cats, and didn't like other dogs in his personal space. But he was relaxed, very even tempered, and A Very Good Dog.

Dief about 5 months old.
My sister around 10. 
He was unusually laid back, especially for an Aussie. I don't think my family could have handled much more. He was also overweight (which I really regret). He was a deep chested dog with a pretty dramatic tuck-up, so again, due to ignorance and him not looking like a sausage, we thought he was just fine. A few days ago I chatted with a neighbour while out with Cohen and the neighbour remarked how fit Cohen was, and chuckled, "not like Dief!" Man, I didn't think he was that chunky. Oh my. Embarrassing.

The week he died was a strange one. He seemed fine one day, and a bit sick the next. Three days (and three vet visits) later he was put down. During those days I hand fed him his meals since he wouldn't touch them on his own. At first we thought it was discomfort from arthritis (apparently the x-rays showed that his hips were in significantly worse condition than we thought), but there ended up being a deeper, more significant issue.

My dad was out of town, and my mom had died a few years prior, so it was just my sister and I in the vet's office when he went. It was a very surreal, very sad experience. He was sweet and compliant up until the end.

The type of dog the girls could dress up.

He really set the stage for Cohen, who luckily hasn't had to suffer through nearly as much of our ignorance. I sometimes forget what it's like to just have a nice family dog (as opposed to a furry ball of energy who feeds off attention like a vampire). It's really all you need. Everything else is just gravy.

Are we having a good time? 

He's been on my mind a lot lately, so I thought I'd share a bit.

The glasses make the man.

It's probably no coincidence that in just about all my favourite photos of Dief he was wearing some sort of article of clothing. He was a funny looking guy.

Dief after an unplanned dip in the lake pre-canoe trip.
Upon showing his prowess in the water we quickly fitted
him with a lifejacket.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


No tail. Not a lot of brains either.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about Cohen's tail, or lack thereof.

The breed standard of the Australian Shepherd calls for either a naturally bobbed tail, or cropped, not to exceed 4 inches in length. These days it's largely customary and aesthetic, but historically it was meant to delineate working dogs from pets (working dogs were not taxed by the government), and to avoid fur getting tangled in brambles and burs.

As well as the dock, Cohen has had her front dewclaws removed (again, as required by the breed standard). It's done mostly to give the front foot a clean appearance, and save the dog from potentially tearing it and injuring itself. (It's not uncommon for dewclaws to be attached rather loosely, and they're prone to injury.)

While I've met many people who are upset that some dogs have their tails docked, I've never been particularly bothered by it. The dogs never seem particularly bothered by it either, and I admit it's nice to not have to worry about a wayward wag clearing off my coffee table.

The dewclaw removal has bothered me more. Cohen has two furless patches where the dewclaws once were, and the lack of fur acting as protection means that she's prone to knocking the area while running. She often has tiny scabs there. I've also read that without a dewclaw offering stability in the foot, the way the body compensates for it can lead to tendon issues down the road. And while dewclaws often seem unused, they become important when a dog is taking tight turns at high speeds. Definitely not ideal in a sporting dog.

Speaking of tight turns, dogs use their tails as ballast while running. I'm concerned that the dock automatically handicaps Cohen in this regard. I'm sure she'll perform just fine, but could it be better? I don't know. If you've watched the agility fun match video I posted yesterday, Cohen makes a faceplant shortly after she was released from the start line, as she was asked to make a tight turn into the chute. Would she have fallen if she were au natural? 

I tried so hard to follow proper Dog Purchase Protocol when I got Cohen. If I had to do it over again, I think I would have to really think about whether I was comfortable docking a potential sport dog. I think Cohen will be successful regardless, and I'm confident she'll live a long happy life. Luckily another sport dog is a long, long way off so I've got plenty of time to think about.

What about you? What are your thoughts on docking? Do you think your opinion would be different if you had (or didn't have) a breed who was customarily docked?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fun match video

Turns out I lied - I am going to post a video of our run yesterday. As I said, the plethora of rewards serve as pretty severe interruptions to the flow of the course, but we're still in the early stages of it all.

I think once Cohen has a better generalization of contacts and her overall confidence increases her speed will increase significantly. As it stands now, well, I dunno.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Yeah, we do 'gility.

Looking particularly calm in her crate at our fun match.

Unfortunately I don't have any action photos. I have some video of our runs, but since they're instructional, with lots breaks in the action and mistakes they're not particularly interesting to watch.

Today was the second trip out to Daytripper Dog Training. I sign up for their instructional fun matches -- 4 different courses with toys and food allowed in the ring, plus a walkthrough and handling tips by a judge. It's a great way to spend a day out with friends and dogs, and a fabulous learning opportunity.

The courses are designed at roughly the starters level with a few more challenging bits thrown in. It's a great prep for September's potential trial.

Today was filled with a lot more good than bad. Here's a summary:

The Good
  • Cohen is working well at a distance from me.
  • Her contacts were much (much much) improved from last time (still not perfect, but better).
  • Her focus-front is pretty good, with room for improvement.
  • I managed to shape/lure her into the pool. She wasn't a big fan, but the water kept her perfectly cool despite the sun's heat.
  • Her jump form is nice and tidy. 
  • Her teeter was great! She was almost all the way to the other end before the bang, and stuck her contacts like a pro. 
  • Between runs she was much less whiny than the last time.
  • Her focus on me in the ring walking up to the first jump is adorable -- in a perfect heel, excited and ready to go.
  • She is tugging really well around other dogs.
  • She greeted other dogs at the trial politely. 
  • Peeing on cue is just about the most handy thing I've ever taught her.
  • I'm really learning to trust Cohen more. I can simply point her at a line of equipment and have confidence that she'll take each properly.
  • Cohen's unusually focused on fetching when we're at Daytripper, and a few good throws are a great way to take her edge off between runs.
  • Cohen is a big hit there. People are always complimenting her to me: she's pretty, she's soft, she's fit, she's improving... :)

The Bad
  • Cohen got tangled in the chute and misjudged the following jump, tripping over it and knocking it around. Luckily she's pretty resilient (both physically and mentally) and suffered no lasting damage.
  • Cohen knocked a bar or two (in addition to the tumble) during the day.
  • She seems to be weaker weaving on my right side -- she popped out at the 10th pole a few times, and missed others. 
  • Her table seemed unusually rusty. She didn't seem to put a lot of effort into sticking it. Maybe she was feeling some discomfort? I need to remember to decelerate in advance as well.
  • I got lost on a few of the courses, and mis-labelled an obstacle or two. (Chute =/= tunnel)

I went up with my friend Kat and her Ridgeback Kiki. Kat's a bit newer to agility than I, but is coming along really well. She's still struggling with contacts and motivation. Sometimes I wonder what it's like to have a dog who actually gets tired.

Both dogs were thoroughly passed out on the ride home, and it's 6p.m. and Cohen is still sleeping. Maybe I won't have to walk her tonight after all.

Oh hey, more not-action photos!

Kiki and Cohen taking a break.

Could you say no to this face?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Photo Friday

Because I am lazy and haven't felt much like typing this week.

Agility fun match on Sunday. Fingers crossed that neither my dog nor I die of hot.

If you look closely, you can see an ant on the top of the stalk. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday


Her mouth is moving. Sound is coming out. This is never a good sign.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Focus, damnit.

I dearly wish this photo was in focus. 

Recallin' like a pro.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I was reading up on a few people's impressions of a recent Denise Fenzi seminar, and one thing has struck me. From what I gather from various posts, one of her take-home messages is:

silence = good

What I gather she means is that if you have a dog with whom you wish to compete in obedience you want to not have to rely on a string of reinforcement to keep the dog confident and motivated. I know I'm very prone to useless chatter when I'm pleased with my dog's performance. I've also been educated to believe that a correct behaviour should be marked and an incorrect one ignored - the dog should be able to figure out their response was incorrect from the lack of reinforcement.

The way I've interpreted what I've read is that silence, simply enough, means that the dog is doing well, and to continue. If a dog should make a mistake, it is then that a timely correction is offered.

Now, this makes sense to me on some level, but on another level it kind of throws a wrench into the whole positive reinforcement mantra that I hear repeated time and time again by my favourite trainers. It also makes me stop to ponder that:

if silence = good does voice = bad

With everything in life, I'm sure it's not such a black and white issue. However I'm curious where in the grey zone Denise Fenzi and other successful R+ish obedience competitors lay.

I think it's pertinent to be mindful of the discipline you're currently competing in. I feel strongly that agility should always be a positive experience where the dog is never wrong. I also feel strongly that a good family pet can be more than adequately trained through positive* means. Though when it comes to top tier competitive obedience I wonder when and where corrections might be necessary.** 

As always I suspect the answer is:

 it depends

I'm squeamish to think that any degree of negativity should be intentionally injected into a dog and handler's relationship.I know that even now I'm still paying for some foolish knee-jerk reactions I had when Cohen was being a no-good puppy. I don't feel comfortable thinking it justified to place undue stress on a dog in a situation that is innately stressful (stress is intrinsic to the learning process). But on the flip side, I do correct a forge during LLW with a happy-sounding "whoops" to great effect.

As of now I'm positively delighted at Cohen's behaviour. She and I are really meshing into a cohesive team, and I don't particularly plan on changing my approach. However, these types of refreshing variations in approach always make for some interesting food for thought.

* Positive means, in this context, refers to positive reinforcement.
** Necessary corrections might be things like a non-reward marker or a playful tap - not anything unnecessarily stressful or harsh.