Monday, July 27, 2009

Training Methods

The good, the bad, and the evil. They're always bound to spark a discussion or a debate, and even known for people to stop being friends over the many ideas out there. Recently, a friend of mine was jumped on for apparently "abusing" her horses because she smacked them to get out of her space and use other not so "happy" and "positive" training methods. I've been to her barn, and every horse was happy and well behaved - not a mark on them and none of the shied away from someone's hand because they thought they were going to get beaten. I can't count how many times I've spoken up in a dog community about what I've done with my dog to get a result - a consistent result - which can hardly be considered abuse, and people jumped all over me with "OMG NEVER DO THAT!"

Those of you who have met Howie can attest to the fact that he is happy and well-behaved for the most part, except when the dreaded puppy-brain takes over. Do I use leash-pops? Yes. Do I stick my toe in his ribs to redirect attention? Yes. I've even been known to swing my leg out in front of him while we walk to remind him to stay in heel position. I use a pinch collar on some occasions and when I can't use the pinch, I have my "choke" collar handy - often, I have to use less correction with these than I do on his flat-buckle collars. Never once has my dog yelped in pain or shied away from me. I can stand there and wave a spatula in his face while he watches me cook, hoping I'll drop something, and he won't budge and will barely flinch.

I also use high-drive treats and lots of praise for things done right. I get all hyped up and happy when he does what I want, but I also use a stern "no" and other various noises for the things I don't want him to do. I am not 100% positive all the time, and my dog knows it. He knows to get out of my kitchen when I growl "out" and he will slink off to his bed if I get mad for him being underfoot all.the.time. I stopped trying to dodge him and started just walking into/on him, and he's learned to scoot out of my way after having a laundry basket dropped on him because he was under my feet where I couldn't see him.

I also cuddle with my dog, he gets high quality food & treats, I use a happy "yes" and lots of pets and scratches for when he does something right, I pet him for no reason at all other than the fact that I love his fat head. We play fetch and go running, and stritch his spot to make his leg go thump. I do not beat or hit my dog out of anger, but rather ignore him until I get over it - which he usually want to cuddle before I'm done being mad at him, and makes it all better. He lets me cry into his nape and lets me harass him until he's so annoyed he gets up and goes over to his pillow.

He lets me torture him by taking him on a canoe and making him sit there for 8 hours on the river.

I am all for positive methods when training your dogs (and horses) to be polite members of society, but they are capable of learning the "I did that one thing and something bad happened, I better not do that again" lesson. I do not approve of "alpha rolling" or beating the dog to get what you want; I do agree with letting your animal know you do not approve of the action they are doing.

So, to those of you who want to baby your animals and worry that they don't like the crate or can't figure out why they step on you and don't respect your space, please re-evaluate your training methods. I'm of the frame of mind that a mostly-positive routine works best, and of course, each dog is different, so you will have to take what works and throw away what doesn't for each particular animal.

Just be open to other ideas. Not everyone who isn't 100% positive is out there abusing their animals. What they do might actually be working, while you're sitting there with your toes stomped by a horse or a dog dragging you down the street.

On a happier note, I have photos from the weight pull and a The Story About the Canoe to post. It's going to be a busy blogging week!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Pit Bull at the Softball Game

This past Thursday my office participated in an inter-office softball game. This is a yearly event, with the Northville office competing against the Plymouth office in game that's all in good fun.

Howie and I attended as cheerleaders, and a couple of my co-workers brought their children. Be prepared to die from cute...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Dog Does Stuff

Tricks, to be exact. Among other things.

I teach my dog tricks because they're fun. People like a dog who does tricks, and they're a nice break from all of the heeling, sitting, downing, finishing, and staying we do; not to mention the backing up, get out of my kitchen, and leave-its that are thrown in there for good measure and well-rounded manners. My dog has a rather large repertoire of tricks up his sleeve, all of which he's learned in a handful of 5-minute training sessions - this fact I am very proud of. Not for myself, but of him.

He can roll over, spin (a rather exuberant nose-to-tail, sometimes with a bit of a bounce), speak (the ferocious pit bull bark, which he never uses on a regular basis), talk (a little "rooo"/growl noise which is oh so cute), and crawl. We don't encourage crawl, though, because he uses that to get out of his down-stays...

It's rather amusing when he gets excited, because he'll go through his whole routine of tricks before actually doing the one thing I asked him to do for his treat. Last week, he learned to jump on command. This was pretty cool!

Today, we learned "touch." Why am I super excited about this? Because I have been trying to teach him this for forever, and we just haven't been able to get it. It just never clicked. Today, it did. And someone else taught it to him, and I'm not one bit jealous. I'm just glad that he got it!

We walked up into downtown Ferndale today for Fido Does Ferndale, where the streets were lined with dogs with their people, dog-themed pavilions and vendors, and rescue groups with adoptable dogs. It was fun and great for a walk, and we met lots of fun people. One of the pavilions was some of his friends from the place where I take him for boarding and daycare. He loves everyone there, and was so excitied to see them! His tail and tongue were uncontrollable!

Howie used to have a bad habit of jumping up on everyone - it's a habit many dogs have, and we've been working on breaking it. Howie was bad, though. He thought he was boxer, and even earned the nickname of Mike Tyson (not for his ear-biting abilities) at daycare, because he'd take you out his paws. No joke. I was telling one of the kennel workers that I had taught him to jump on command and was amazed at how this has cut down on his jumping - but he still does it.

"Have you tried to teach 'touch?'" she asked.
"No. Well, yes. I've tried, but we just can't seem to get it."

She grabbed lots of smelly treats and began working with him, right there in the middle of the sidewalk. And within 5 minutes, he got it. He as doing it. My heart overflowed with pride for my smart pit bull.

We came home, and I fixed myself a sandwich, I pulled out some cheese and tried it myself. He got it! He did it with me! Even bouncing up to touch my hand.

He's a pretty smart cookie, my pit bull.

Our First Show

I was going to write a blog about "baby steps," but then I remembered that I forgot to post about our first show!

Last weekend I took the plunge and decided to enter our first show - the 4th of July weekend, no less. My parents had left that Thursday to for a bit of a road trip to Wisconsin, so Howie and I headed over there to stay the night, "house sit," and take a bit of a "vacation" ourselves. We awoke in the wee hours of the morning to get the car pack up and head out to Ann Arbor, MI. I got there with plenty of time to set up my crate, enter the show, and sit.

And sit.

And sit.

And get nervous.

I had chosen a C-WAGS show because they focus on just having fun with your dog and I thought the environment would be inviting - and it so was! We entered both "level 1" obedience classes offered, and while we NQ'd out of both classes (you either qualify or not qualify, and then placing out of the qualifying scores), but everyone was so helpful and inviting, and I loved the environment!

During our first trial, I was very nervous and you could tell; Howie could tell. It was a mess, and I was so nervous that I think I blacked out and just did the exercises the judge was telling me to do. Howie knew EVERYTHING that was asked of him, but he could sense my own apprehensiveness about the situation and just said, "Something must be wrong, so I should watch EVERYTHING else going on...just in case." The judge was very helpful and let us know where we messed up and where I should have done what.

I took the time between our first class and our second class to relax, walk around, and watch the other exhibitors. I met some great people, and got to a "post" for the figure-8 exercises in the Level 2 class. Again, meeting more great people and learning so much.

Our second class was easier, I think, because I now knew many of the people I was competing with, and I was no longer in front of an audience of strangers. These people weren't judging me, they were comrades. I was still nervous, though. Just, not as much. We still NQ'd, but it was a much better go-around than our first - which is all I can ask of my dog, who tried so hard to please me that day.

There are no "omg" stories, or "you'll never believe what I heard" tales. It was a rather boring day. Which, I think is what I would prefer - no big problems or horrible outcomes, just a bunch of dog lovers having fun with our dogs.

Out photographer for the weekend was Ray Dutton, and he caught some great shots. I have not purchased any photos from him, although there is one I do want to purchase because I love it. If you visit Ray's website, keep an eye out for the girl wearing a blue polo & khakis, working with her tan & white pit bull.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bully Breed Splash Bash

This post is late, because I was hoping a friend would upload the photos she had taken from the day, however, she's lagging on the uptake on that...

On June 28th, Currey's Family Pet Care in Romulus, MI was the host for the 2009 Bully Splash Bash. All of the proceeds from this day chock full of fun activities when to Recycl-A-Bullz (a pit bull rescue) and the Dearborn Animal Shelter (more information can be found here). There were a ton of fun activities and games throughout the day, and from what I saw, it wasa HUGE success!

Howie and I got there a tad late, but we still got to join in on a lot of activities. We had joined in the "Most Kisses in 10 Seconds" contest, but Howie was more interested in meeting and playing with the other dogs to kiss my face. We got some in, but a little puppy around 6 months old was the winner of that one. We were too busy doing other stuff for the rest of the day that we didn't get to join in any other contests - but we had so much fun all the same.

We even got to try our hand at weight pulling, which is something I wanted to do with Howie, but didn't want to start him until he was over a year old. He pulled a couple times for practice, then we decided to join in their "fun match." Howie pulled 3 times, with a total of 336# (if I am remembering correctly), which was the cart plus 5 cinder blocks which is approximately and 5.6x his body weight. According to the American Pulling Alliance, this would earn him his "Excellent" title in weight pulling. He pulled because I asked him to, and we stopped before he stopped working for me. I was so incredibly proud of him. (At left, Howie with his weight pull medal!)

We will definitely be aiming for some weight pulling events! Next APA event is in Warren, MI on July 18th & 19th.

Afterward, we took a dip in the dock diving pool. He was getting so excited watching the other dogs, I thought he would dive right off the deck. He didn't, but he got right into the pool when he could just walk into it.

He was also the "neutral" dog for CGC tests.

We both came home very exhausted and a bit sun burned, but over-all, the day was very fun. Much thanks to Currey's Family Pet Care, Dearborn Animal Shelter, and Recycl-A-Bullz for putting on such an awesome event!