Little Things

Some of the best lessons I have learned about dog training came from my days working with pros in the field with hunting dogs.  The first lesson I learned from my father who kept and ran hounds was to work the dogs daily even if only for short times.  Most of a dog’s day is spent resting or passing the time chewing on a bone while waiting for their person to initiate some type of activity.  However small that time together is, that dog, my dad would say, will wait all day for and will cherish every moment. They will think about the time together with their person while waiting for the next occaision. Another lesson I learned from the field IMG_7185was to always plan out your training time ahead of time.  Go to training time with your dog, with your goal in mind. A little bit of preplanning on your part will have great payoffs in the long run.  Your training sessions should be building on each other, allowing the dog to progress and develop the skills needed for the ultimate task the dog is being trained for. To build you need a blueprint to keep you on task and accomplishing what you aim for.

For example, if my goal is train a puppy for someone as a service dog with public access skills, I know I have to ultimately have a dog that is solid on all aspects of obedience under all conditions. I can build the skills the dog will need to handle all conditions they might IMG_0295encounter in public by starting with small lessons at home. Each lesson I present to the dog is designed to prepare it for more difficult lessons later on as the puppy matures and learns the basics.  These lessons do not have to be long initially. Here is one example.

Yesterday my husband Sam and I each took a 10 week old puppy to the local feed store.  It’s a small store in our town, has cement floors, sliding doors, many different smells and not too many people. This is a perfect place for the pups first time inside a building other than our house.  Before the went into the store however, we made sure they were good at riding in the car, going “potty” on command, walking well on a loose leash and knowing the sit command to be petted.  Those lessons were taught at home on a daily basis for several weeks.  At the store, the first thing we did was “potty” the pups before we went inside. Once inside the building, we each walked our respective pup around to get familiar them with the smells. I never stop a puppy from smelling but I do required them to keep up with me as we walk around the store.  Their noses never stopped but that’s OK as they are pups and this was a first exposure.  When we met a person, the pup had to sit before being petted. Each puppy met at least 6 people and I am pleased they did not try to jump on anyone.   After about 15 minutes we were all back in the car and on our way home. For pups this age, I feel this an appropriate lesson in both content and time.IMG_2292

As these pups grow and mature those lessons will increase in difficulty and the length of time we are out but that is down the road. For now, all the lessons are kept short and as positive as possible.  I get excellent results with this approach I think for several reasons. First, there is a clear objective.  In the example above the objective was to continue to build on the loose leash walking but this time with higher distractions like moving doors, people walking around, and many new and interesting smells. Second, the length of the session is short enough it does not overwhelm the puppy. They are back in their crate with a bit of down time to “think about” what we just did and hopefully retain more of it because of that down time.

Last, there is plenty of in and between training times for the puppy to play and do puppy things on their own time.  All the programs I have set up for other schools and organizations have always included a healthy portion of exercise and play time. Not only does it keep the body fit but allows the dog to decompress from any stress or anxiety from the lessons.  I believe that not all dogs show their stress when training and those that tend to hide the telltale signs of it will often play the hardest and with the most intensity. In any case, I have observed that the play time keeps my canine students happy and willing.

For those reading this who are training their own service dog that last aspect of my program might be difficult to incorporate into your training. That is a problem I am often asked about and many people think it is not as important as I am making it sound. Perhaps so, but think about this. When people bring me their service dogs to help fix problem areas with the training or to try and determine why the dog has quit working or has slacked off in their performance one of the first things I do is let them have some free time with other dogs playing in the exercise fields we have on our farm.  That one act alone has changed the attitude of many of the dogs that have come here. The rest of the issues resolve very quickly, rarely do I run into what I would call major issues.  My point here is often without the balance of down time, training time, and free time dogs will get with bored, too tired or too stressed.  When we ask them to work for us in any type of service capacity we need to always remember that it is a blessing they are willing to share their remarkable talents with us and as a result we need to respect their need for balance in their lives.  Too often in today’s society people work far too much, spend far too little time relaxing in healthy ways, and little balance in their life between work, rest, and socializing.  I can see how easy it would be to drag the service dog into that scenario. Be aware and be proactive in keeping your dog on track.  Paying attention to those little things can be your key to success.

Here are some ideas to help you try to balance the little things in your dog’s life:

  • For every hour of training have at least the same amount of play time.
  • If walking, running or swimming a dog for exercise is a real challenge for you consider getting a doggy treadmilland use it on a regular basis.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your dog’s crate (their private space) to your and their advantage. Let them rest here for 30 minutes after any training session if possible. Science has shown this does help them to retain the lesson better.
  • Brush your dog regularly whether he/she needs it or not. The connection and stress reduction effect is amazing.
  • If you don’t have a training planlook for one that is already made up for you and follow it.

 

 

Science and Dog Training.

By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved

Summer, for me, is a time to enjoy a cool drink on the porch during those relentless hot afternoons that the East coast of the United States experiences. It also gives me a chance to catch up on reading books I’ve meaning to get to. I’ve noticed a trend lately where many people are now referring to science in their writings but not always in ways that do either the science or dog training justice. I am also seeing a lot more trainers advertise “science-based” training and I feel this is a topic that needs clarification.

I was educated and trained as a research scientist and worked many years in the laboratory, and later in administration of several Federal research programs. Working in this environment teaches you to observe, how to identify things that don’t make sense or work to accomplish what it is suppose do. As scientific discoveries are made, others build on those foundations and continue to move the science forward. This is not cheating or stealing others’ work, it is using knowledge of what was discovered, tested, and shown to be a true fact and moving forward and expanding upon that knowledge. That is the way it works in science.

Certainly, many things studied in the scientific community have greatly advanced dog training, dog breeding, and overall dog ownership. While this is true, there is also misuse of this information on many fronts. The biggest misuse I see is taking a work or its conclusions out of context. Scott and Fuller were two major contributors to our understanding of socialization and its impact on dog behavior among other things. So many times, I hear people say you cannot separate

HopeBenPups_9Wks_022

Pups chasing their mom

a mom and her puppies before the age of 49 days because that is the magic number they published. There is no problem taking puppies earlier or later depending on the circumstances and the breed involved. In fact, since that early 1960s work by these two researchers, many others have looked at the various aspects Scott and Fuller established and have elaborated on it, improving our understanding of dogs even more.[1] What has not happened is dog lovers keeping up with the changes in the science.

Many trainers are so eager to try new things regarding scent training, for example, that they don’t bother to completely test their theories out before advertising that dogs can do this, find this, or alert to this or that. So many times, I have seen trainers claim that dogs are sniffing out a medical condition in a person only to test and discover that the alerting the dogs are doing is based more on their keen observations and less on discernable scent changes. I don’t feel it is proper to claim a dog can detect something by smell if you cannot properly isolate or capture the components of the scent for the condition you are asking it to alert to. How can you prove that the dog is alerting to the smell if you can’t even prove you have the stuff he is supposed to be smelling?

While on a recent trip to California to learn more about some bacteria that is causing concern with farmers, one of the first things I ask is can we get a good source of the bacteria? Will it be consistent with what is causing the problem? Also, I need to be assured before I start any new scent detection project that the sniffing will not harm the dog. I hope to be able to obtain some grant money to continue researching the effectiveness of dogs in helping to isolate this bacteria. In the meantime, I will continue to learn as much as I can about it before I ever begin to teach a dog to sniff for it.

I know the average person does not want to spend time reading through very long, dry, and often complex scientific papers to extract a few pearls of facts to use to improve their dogs’ lives and training. However, you can take away from science a few things when training your dog, regardless of what you are training for.

  1. Scientists are good observers and look at all angles of their subject. Watch your dog and observe what he does on his own. What makes him happy? How does he entertain himself? How is it different when you are in the picture?
  2. Don’t keep doing things that don’t work. If you are in a training program and your dog’s behavior is getting worse or he is extremely unhappy, stop and re-assess.
  3. Don’t be afraid to test a theory out, but get all your facts first. Ask for help from more knowledgeable people if you are out of your comfort zone.
  4. Show respect for the work of others, but keep things in context. Not all methods of training work with all dogs or breeds—and you have to keep that in mind. Most trainers are honest and will tell you they don’t work with certain breeds or with dogs that are not, for example, food motivated. Also don’t mix methods and expect good results.
  5. Build on the work of others, but remember to share what you discover so the process can continue to grow for the good of our dogs.

Enjoy your summer with your dog(s) and remember to watch for signs of dehydration and heat stroke. Stay cool!

Arthur Jr sleeping

[1]Just one example recently published is: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/dog-spies/is-dog-training-scientific/

 

 

The Dog’s Gift

By Debby Kay ©all rights reserved

As I sit to write this my last blog of 2016, there are many things happening around me that have caused me to reflect on what I value most in life. There is an abundance of talk about what gift to buy Uncle Fred or so and so friend and it got me thinking what is the best gift we can give during the holidays to those who matter most to us ? As I pondered that question my Chihuahua Boo snuggled a little closer to my leg to get warmer; that was my answer.  The gift our dogs give us is the best gift we can give others.

The gift from our dog’s is really complex from my viewpoint. There is the obvious love they lavish on us regardless of our sex, age, race, financial status, mood or temperament. Beyond that though as I share hours with my dogs doing many different activities I have gleaned how patient they are. Ranger will take many minutes to carefully examine a spot on the grass trying to decipher all the wonderful smells and their meaning. It is all important to him, he does not want to miss any detail of the information left by the previous dog.  I note to myself that I need to be more attentive to all of the words in the messages left for me so I get the full meaning of what is being conveyed.
Boo will sit for long stretches of time on the front porch waiting for the seed stealing squirrels to appear at the birdfeeder in the flower bed opposite the porch. He is still as a statue. He holds his position until the squirrel is at its most vulnerable position and then he explodes forward like a heat seeking missile to its target.  After the squirrel is successfully run off he returns to me seeking my approval. He reminds me that we all need to be recognized for a task well done.

chilbrookruebanjamesI could go on with many more examples about all the finer things I have learned and observed spending a lifetime with dogs. I think however Alexandra Horowitz said it best in her new book Inside Of A Dog;

“The more we learn of animal’ abilities, the finer we have to split the hair to maintain a dividing line between humans and animals. Still, it is interesting to note that we seem to be the only species spending any time studying other species—or, at least, reading or writing books about them.  It is not necessarily to the dog’s discredit that they do not.

 What is revealing is how dogs perform on tasks that measure social abilities we thought only human beings had. The results, whether serving to show how alike or unalike dogs are to or from us, have relevance to our relationships with our dogs.  When considering what we ask of them and what we should expect from them, understanding their differences from us will serve us well.  Science’s effort to find distinctions illustrates more than anything else the one true distinction: our drive to affirm our superiority-to make comparisons and judge differences. Dogs, noble minds, do not do this. Thank goodness.”

As you prepare the last minute things for celebrating the season in your own tradition, I hope you will consider your dog for who she or he is, a dog; noble, kind, generous, patience and full of boundless joy. They are our best reminder of what the season is all about and our models for how we should treat each other.

therapyandassistancedogs

If you have time, I urge you to watch this very well done movie on one aspect of our relationship with our dogs that is often misunderstood.

Tough Love: A meditation on Dominance and Dogs

Have a safe and happy holiday!

 

 

The Dogs of Tibet

By Debby Kay copyright 2016 all rights reserved

It took me a while to fully realize that my plane had just landed in Tibet, a place that was so far from the reality of my everyday life that it almost seemed like a dream. But here I was in this mystical land of ancient customs and spiritualism not to mention some of the tallest mountains in the world.

I was in the city of Lhasa, one of the larger ones in the region. It was a wonderful mixture of old and new architecture and technology.  That is something I admire the Chinese doing far better than any other culture I have visited. They seem to have the ability to blend the two seamlessly and retain all the great points of both without compromising either.  During my trek around the area visiting monasteries, bazaars and people’s homes I was able to catch a glimpse of the local dogs, a rare sight in the big cities of the rest of China. People do have pets in China but they are a minority and you rarely see a dog on the streets in any of the towns.  Here in Lhasa, in a few stores and then on the outskirts of the city proper, you begin to see more dogs.  I thought it might be interesting to show a photo journal I took of these dogs and some of the insights I gleaned from our interactions.

The first thing that strikes you is that no dog is on leash. Not in the city or in the more rural areas.  It is just not needed.

China_2016_offleadheel

No leashes in Lhasa

These guys have had total freedom to make choices from puppyhood and it really shows in their attitude. They don’t pester people, beg, growl, or in any interfere with people. They are just there, minding their own business and observing what is going on or interacting with other dogs. I only saw one dog that belonged to a shop keeper and one other that “monitored” by a single person who seemed to be keeping track of where the dog was as they scurried along the busy bazaar street filled with people. All the other dogs appeared to belong to no one in particular. This is perhaps where the distinction between strays and feral dogs is made. In previous studies I have read on dogs, strays were defined as those dogs who were free roaming but choose to still associate with people whereas feral dogs would have nothing to do with people and choose to keep away.[1]

The dog in this photo which belonged to a shop keeper we visited and bought a painting from, did not need to be told what to do, where to stay or how to behave. He just did all those things on his own and in perfect accord with the comings and goings of people into the shop.  Does it make you wonder if what

Tibbie

The Shopkeeper’s dog and guest greeter

you are doing to raise and train a perfect canine good citizen is wrong? Just what do these people do differently that makes these dogs such a pleasure to be around.  I think the key is in allowing them to be dogs. They are not treated or thought of in any other way. They are respected as being dogs with their own culture, this is something that I saw in the people in Tibet towards other people as well.  It was clear that many of the people from very remote parts of the steppes around Lhasa who had made the long pilgrimage to the Sera Monastery we were visiting had never seen a Caucasian before.  I was looked at with great curiosity many times. One incident that stands out in my mind was sitting on a bench and having a pilgrim join me. He stared at me for a long while and then finally reached out with his hand to touch me. I smiled at him and took his hand and shook it gently telling him I was pleased to meet him. He was simply excited at the interaction; he did not try to make into anything else. This was the same with the dogs. All the interactions were simple, straightforward and nothing was made beyond what it was.  The impact this simple interaction leaves on the dogs is what I saw in the way the dogs reacted round people, in other words with the simpler interactions there was a peaceful and pleasant mellowness in the dog’s behaviors.

Think about how you, your friends, and people in general react to the presence of a dog. There is all this fussing, overly attention bestowing behaviors and certainly a lot of chatting too, every time people get around a dog or puppy. Try taking a young cute service dog in training to a public place to work and you can barely go 5 feet before being swamped by people doting on the poor thing.  Is it any wonder dogs begin at an early age to develop excitable behaviors around meeting people?  Think about the most common interactions we see on the streets of dogs meeting other dogs walking. The usual reaction I see from people is they get tense, shorten the leash, and in anything but a calming voice, try to reassure the dog that the other dog will not attack them.  Is it any wonder where dog on dog aggression comes from?

When watching all the strays around the monastery

however, what you saw instead was dogs sleeping peacefully out of the path of the people, you saw dogs meeting other dogs with no aggression what so ever and you also saw that these dogs recognized certain individuals that would periodically offer them scraps of food. In one case I was observing 5 strays that were napping on one another in a pile when a familiar food source person walked by behind them about 8 feet away. The dog on top of the pile lifted their nose towards the person and in a split second the whole group was up and sitting politely by the old lady who produced a bag of scraps.  No one fought for the scrapes either, each dog waited their turn patiently for the bit handed to them. When the bag was empty the dogs disappeared. Not a word was ever spoken by the old woman. In another part of the monastery courtyard I saw a young woman feeding a mom and her pups and again witnessed patience and manners from all.

These dogs knew their place, had rules they followed, and exhibited a great degree of self-control. No one taught them those things, they were able to work it out themselves.  It is amazing to me the degree to which dogs can problem solve and learn when they are put in an enriched environment and allowed to make their own decisions. Seeing what these dogs were doing I am more convinced than ever that we often micro-manage our own dogs far too much and don’t allow them to just be dogs and to make dog decisions.  I know when the bestselling book Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote came out and he extolled the virtues of dogs having free choices to roam as they choose in his village of Kelly, Wyoming a lot of people were taken aghast.  But the more I see how the freedom of choice allows dogs to develop the depth of personality I was seeing in these street dogs of Tibet, the more I am convinced that we are often doing a great injustice to our dogs with the overabundance of restraints we put on them. China_2016_terrier in bazaar.JPG I realize we can’t let our dogs all roam free here but we can certainly take a hint from these guys and make some adjustments to how we interact and manage our relationship with our canine companions to increase their happiness.

Here are some take always I got from my interactions with the Dogs of Tibet to consider:

  • Allow pups to follow you without a lead in as many places as possible while they are growing up. The idea is to have a relationship with the dog that makes the dog want to be with you because you are a cool person to hang with not because he is tethered to you with a line.
  • When raising a puppy allow them to make their own choices without you interfering, for example, if they want to crawl over a log and it looks like them might fall off the other side, let them. Don’t say anything, let them experience things on their own.
  • Work on the relationship with your dog without bribes such as treats.
  • Try not talking so much to your dog, rather watch and learn their body language and learn how they talk to each other without words.
  • Quit petting your dog so much, I’m convinced dogs don’t like that as much as people think they do.
  • Don’t micromanage your dog or make your dog so dependent on you to make their decisions that it creates an unbalanced relationship
  • Install a dog door if you have a fenced yard so your dog can go there when they want. It’s not the same as being able to wander a wider territory but it will help to empower them to think and act in ways you don’t see when the dogs are dependent on the humans for everything including elimination habits.

I still can see the image of the puppy I met who was establishing his own routine and

allowed me to photograph him with nothing more than a glance.  He was full of confidence, knew what he wanted and yet was respectful of his co-existence with the humans of the village. He may not of had a fancy collar, soft bed to sleep in, or expensive handcrafted dog food to eat, but this was one happy puppy. Perhaps there is something to what the Buddhists here say about happiness.

[1] “Population Biology and Ecology of Feral Dogs in Central Italy“: L. Boitano, F. Francisci, P. Ciucci and G. Andreoli; in The Domestic Dog, Editor James Serpell; Cambridge University Press, 1995, 217-244

Super Sniffer® Puppy Program – Dealing with Fear Periods

By Debby Kay ©2016 all rights reserved

“The only thing you have to fear is fear itself” –FDR

Fear is one of the most mishandled behaviors in dogs that I can think of. Not dealing with fear properly can lead a dog to develop more severe problems including paranoia and self-destructive behaviors. Yet fear is not a bad thing, in fact a healthy fear of certain things will keep a dog alive. Where I think a big problem develops is when the pup is maturing and going through natural fear periods that many people don’t know what to do or how to properly handle the situations that may arise. This will be the focus of the second in a series of articles I am presenting on my puppy raising program.

There are generally 2 recognized fear periods when dogs are growing up. The first red lab puppyappears when they are around 2 to 3 months old. During this time you need to realize your pup is learning a tremendous amount about what is going on in the world and nature has provided this fear period to help keep pups in the wild alive. So this is a good thing in a natural world but something we must manage in our contrived world. Loud noises are something that pups at this age are particularly sensitive to. There are a couple of ways I deal with that here at my kennel when raising out a puppy but first I want to say that I deliberately breed pups that have very low noise sensitivity. If you are buying a potential service dog or a gun dog for hunting, this is something you will want to inquire about.

Prior to the onset of this fear period is when I introduce noises from recordings to the puppies while they are eating. Noise making devices, even noise apps for smart phones, are commonly available with just a little hunting around. By associating the noise with the meal it creates a positive situation and the pups will soon learn that noises (such as bangs, splashes, crashes, whistles, etc.) are no big deal, if anything it means “I’m going to get something to eat”. The noises are introduced far away at first then moved closer and closer to reduce the impact until the noise can be played over the pups while they

3 airedales at the marketplace

Dogs gain confidence from other more stable dogs

are snacking away. Another thing I practice is to vacuum in the room on the other side of the whelping room area when I notice the pups are snacking on mom at around 3 weeks of age. When I do this cleaning routinely, by the time the pups are entering this first fear period, they been so conditioned to this noise that there is little that will bother them.

So in preparing the pups knowing this fear period is going to happen, what actually happens when it comes? What I have found is the pups will respond most to sudden unexpected events not always but sometimes associated with sharp sounds. So knowing this bit of information I try to avoid those things during this time. If that is not always possible I try to take the pup(s) out with an experienced adult that is rock solid. Pups during this period should be around dogs that will create a positive role model, so be careful whom your pup sees and socializes with for these weeks.

Another fear period I see in my Labradors will occur around 9 months of age (most articles I looked at say between 6-14 months in general), which is when they are experiencing one of the last spurts of growth. If you did an analysis of a dog’s hormones at this time I am sure they would be all over the place, as this is the time I see some of the silliest behaviors. Its almost as if the dog I had been working with up to this point has gone away and has left a silly insecure imposture in its place. If I had to guess this is also the age that most people mess up pups and also when most of the pups develop the behaviors that eventually lead them to a shelter.

So what’s an owner to do? Let’s try and look at some examples to help understand an approach that helps in working a dog through this period. Up until now you have had a happy confident pup who greets other dogs with a wagging tail, goes happily along on walks where ever you take him and is not afraid to try anything new. Now all of sudden one day on a walk you have taken every day for the last 6-8 months your dog suddenly balks at the heavy metal trash bins put out by the park service. Huh? You think, “What’s going on?” If you try to force your pup past this, which is a common reaction from most people, you run the risk of frightening the pup to the point of creating a permanent negative association with the object. Don’t try and rationalize that the pup has seen this object a hundred times before, instead try this and help your pup work through the situation.

I will find the point where the pup stops and does not want to be any closer to the object and sit down on the ground right there. If I have a toy or treats I will begin to play a little game with the pup until I have their attention and engagement. Slowly I move myself closer to the object. At some point if I am lucky I will be very close and will then get up and have the pup chase me past the object ending our game with a big round of praise and some treats. Then I settle down and continue my walk. This will not always work but does most of the time.

The same thing is true with pup’s first thunderstorms. One of the biggest problems I see is people will go rushing to the scared pup with a soft encouraging voice and say “Its OK puppy”, not realizing that they are actually reinforcing the pup to be scared of thunder. Instead try what we do and continue to play games of great interest to the pup during all the booming. If you’re good they will be so engaged in playing that they will ignore the thunder, as you are showing them by your example, and just go on with their normal activities.

Fear is normal and a healthy attribute in a dog, it will keep the dog alive; as a future working dog it will be a valuable asset to have. Our job in raising puppies is to be sure those fear periods teach a pup how to handle their fears and keep them in a proper perspective.

Observations on Learning

There are many advantages to having a birthday in June, I think the best one though is the warm weather allows you to spend time at the beach. I am posting this month’s blog from the beaches along the Adriatic Sea off the eastern shore of Italy’s Marche region.   This area is noted for its natural beauty and pristine sandy beaches, with gentle surfs and relaxing atmosphere. Being a seafood lover, I have landed at the right place as Fano, the town where I am staying, is noted for its variety and expertise in preparing seafood. So far, every day I have sampled something new and different and have yet to find a dish I did not like. Dinner tonight was tender Calamari and shrimp grilled to perfection. The local wines are particularly noted here for their distinctive flavors, what wine experts call “terroir”.

Italian landscape

The Marche Region of Italy

This trip however is not about my birthday, it just so happens my birthday is at the same time as the workshop I am giving here. Snoopers and I have been fortunate enough to be invited to this great dog loving country to teach people about Diabetes Alert Dogs, a first for the Italians as these types of dogs are not known in this part of Europe. It seems that people are curious if not skeptical about the work these dogs can perform as this workshop is sold out.

It is challenging to attempt to teach people who do not totally embrace your same enthusiasm for the great work you know your dogs can do. I can understand though the skepticism of the people here about the claims of the dog’s abilities to monitor and sense subtle changes in someone’s body chemistry. When you think about what they are capable of doing it does in some ways sound like science fiction. Snoopers and I no doubt will have our work cut out for us as we demonstrate and help them to understand the process by which the dogs learn.

man working with a Labrador under the instruction of Debby Kay

Learning the basics

After decades of watching, teaching and studying how dogs learn I feel I pretty much understand the canine mind in that regards. What I find myself studying more these days however, is how the human mind learns. I have been reading book after book on human cognition in addition to learning more on canine cognition, trying to find the key elements that can make the human canine partnership work smoothly and seamlessly when doing medical alert work. The whole topic is fascinating and as I have learned with one of the books I just finished this partnership has very ancient roots.

Anthropologist Pat Shipman, author of the book The Invaders, wrote a very convincing argument that the success of the modern hominid (our ancient, mostly cave dwelling ancestors) was due in large part to the successful partnership formed with the early wolf-dogs. If you are looking for a good read at the beach this summer this is one book you will want to pick. An important takeaway from the book as well as the other literary research I have been doing so far is it is just as important for the human as the canine in any program but especially in medical alert work to learn each of the lessons. Think about that statement for a minute. Often when we are training dogs we are just thinking about teaching the dogs. What I have observed and found to contribute to the success of the medical alert teams however, is when both the human and the dog learn the key take away of each lesson together.

Let me give you an example to show what I mean. As you are teaching a dog an alert signal, some sign that there is a change in the person the dog is monitoring, it is really critical that the human learn what the dog is learning so they can understand as well, how the dog will be communicating with them. Often one of the most surprising things I have found is people are not aware of the dog trying to alert them and dogs eventually quitting when they are no longer rewarded for doing their job. I have worked to incorporate many of the subtle nuances of the learning principles I have studied into my new on line course, Sweet Snoopers, in hopes to seeing better relationships of the teams through a deeper understanding of each other.

group photo of people and dogs that attended the class

The students from the Fano Class

Caring and Sharing

By Debby Kay ©2014 All rights reserved

I cannot think of anyone better than our dogs that care and share so openly of everything. Every day my dogs are always willing to go work for me and share their joy and spirit with me. There is never hesitation; there is only a total commitment to making me happy with their presence. What a great example for all of us to follow.

This got me thinking of ways we can show our dogs we really care for them. The obvious first thing that comes to mind is caring by what we feed them. Now might be a good time to re-evaluate the food you are giving your dog. Is the protein the correct amount for your dog since you choose this formula? Have you been switching protein sources on a regular basis so your dog’s gut has the variety it needs to be healthy? When was the last time you looked at what you are supplementing with or if you are even supplementing? Perhaps your dog could use a boost with some extra supplementation. Is what you are doing the best you can afford? Are there better quality foods or supplements that you could provide that would help your dog to be healthier?

The second thing I thought of was grooming. I am probably as guilty as anyone owning Labradors for not spending enough time or effort on grooming. My dogs could use more frequent baths and I have resolved to be better at doing this. Weekly brushing is just as important though and something I do regularly. I also do a weekly 14-point wellness assessment of the condition of the dog at the same time. By methodically going over your dog every week it is surprising how many times you can pick up on little changes and catch things before they become major problems (you can read this as equaling major vet bills).

The final thing I thought of was just showing my love and appreciation to my dogs by sharing in something they enjoy; like running through the fields, swimming in the river, or playing puzzles in the evening before bedtime. They seem to beam from ear to ear when I join them in the pack games and get down and play at their level. It makes me happy to see them smile and I swear they are really smiling too.

field with many dogs running

My dogs really seem to enjoy running and sniffing in the fields of our farm

Indeed, this time of the year is one that reminds us in many ways that we should give thanks for all our many blessings. When I reflect back on my humble beginnings 45 years ago and the struggles I endured to get where I am today, I feel especially blessed. I literally started with nothing but a dream to help people and dogs communicate better through a training program focused on making it easy and fun for both to learn. I also dreamed of creating a successful breeding program of service dogs, which my Chilbrook Labradors have far exceeded my wildest aspirations. So many wonderful and supportive people have helped me over the years and I am finally in a place where I can give back and help others in a way I could not before.

From now until December 14th I am running a campaign to raise money for the JDRF, the largest non-profit supporting research for diabetes. For every sale of the set of my Super Sniffer™ Handbook- A Guide for Scent Training Medical Alert Dogs and DVD, I will donate 50% of the proceeds back to JDRF.

I have already discounted the book for the holidays from the regular price of $45 to $34.93 to help folks keep within their holiday budgets. So here is a way to give a gift twice, once to your family, friend, school, or favorite library and also to JDRF and all the lives impacted by diabetes. Just use the code JDRF at check out in the coupon code box.

Sending warm and heartfelt thanks to everyone for a joyous holiday season.