So... You think you want a working dog?

You have been bitten. You’ve been bitten by the dog training bug, and you have decided to take the plunge and buy a working dog. Maybe you want to compete in Agility, or Dock Diving. Perhaps it’s a biting sport like Schutzhund, Mondioring, or Frenchring. Your ambitions are high and your enthusiasm is wide. You’ve read the books and seen the pictures. You’ve spent hours on YouTube.com. You’re confident and up for the challenge.

Stop right here! Adding a working dog to your life is a major decision! It will be a reality for the next 10 to 12 years, and it will remain a part of you for the rest of your life.

I did it. I bought a Belgian Malinois puppy. I bought a Belgain Malinois puppy from the best working stock, from the most highly regarded trainer in the United States. I bought Haiku du Loups du Soleil as a working dog to compete in Mondioring. Haiku is not only an athlete and a genius, but also an adrenaline junky. I have had her for nearly 7 years now, and have already come to some realizations that I would like to share with others considering adding a working dog to their lives:

The first question one needs to ask oneself before getting a working dog is, “Am I a morning person?” Working dogs are genetically encoded for high energy levels. These levels are called drive. There are different kinds of drives, but suffice it to say working dogs all have one drive in common – 6th gear, full speed ahead! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYnEePO3NO0

This high-octane activity starts as soon as the dog wakes up, and continues until they are put to bed (notice I said ‘put to bed’ as one of these dogs would never choose to sleep on their own accord).

As a working dog owner, you need to be prepared to exhaust your dog’s energy, as well as a great deal of your own. Do you work eight hours a day? You can easily tack on an extra four hours of dog-work (cleaning, feeding, training and exercise) just trying to care for and ‘take the edge off’ your drivey companion. Competing with your dog will comprise about 5% of your time as a dog and handler team. The rest of the time, you must live with the beast.

Exercising and training is tough to do in the house, especially if you value its contents. The second question you need to ask yourself is, “Do I enjoy the snow, the sleet, the sun, the rain, the heat, the hail, the humidity, the dry air, the pollen, and the cold?” You have invested in an energizer bunny. It keeps going, and going, and going. Your working dog cares not about the weather, so neither shall you.

Schlepping rain-gear, snow-gear, layers of clothing, sunscreen, and dog-training gear is a regular part of your day. Let us assume that you have the space (in the car, in the house, in the garage, and in the closet trickling out into the hallway) for all of this ‘dog gear,’ often lumped into the category of crap.

So, now you are full of crap, and have accepted that schlepping and working is a part of your new life because you are focused on the end-goal. Are you patient enough to understand there’s a long road in between? It takes years to master any skill, and there are two parties participating in the learning during dog training. It takes practice to perfect your communication with your dog, and your dog needs thousands of repetitions of all of the new skills you are trying to teach it.

Be prepared to work long, uncomfortable, frustrating hours with your working dog. Bernard Greenhouse, a world renowned professional Cellist at Julliard, was once asked “At 93 years old, why do you still practice Cello two hours a day?” Bernard replied, “Because I’m finally starting to see some improvement.” Studies show that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to master anything – piano, ice skating, chess, even criminal behavior. Dog training is no different. You must practice and practice and practice. Therefore, the next question you ask yourself is, “Can I make time?”

All of this early-riser-dog-work-practice-schlepping-crap stuff is stressful! It’s best to take a Freudian approach and share your misery with others. Ask yourself “What human relationships do I need to form to be successful?” Get involved with other like-minded individuals. Join a training group or a club. Most of the skills taught in any dog sport require more than one set of hands, and eyes. It is much easier to stay on track and accomplish your goals if you have some help.

Speaking of help, no matter how much you promise, or how hard you try, going it alone with your working dog is impossible if you have a family.

Aaron Myarcle put it best on a web-board “Do you have the family support? The kind of support that isn't going to roll its eyes or make snide remarks as you leave for yet another Saturday at the club, when the kid has a ball game or the spouse would rather you be doing yard work? Do you have the kind of spouse that understands that the dog is the first priority after the kids, but before seeing that new movie, or going out to dinner, or having a BBQ with the neighbors? The kind of spouse who will consider it the child's fault for breaking the ‘no running when the puppy is in the yard’ rule, instead of the puppy for pouncing on said running child? The kind of spouse who isn't going to say ‘Why do we even have a dog if the kids can't play with it’ after the ten millionth time you have to remind the kids to stay away from the dog's crate/kennel, or leave the dog alone when it's sleeping? To quit petting the dog, it's had enough? And that’s just dealing with the family....”

What about John Q. Public?
"IS THAT A BELGIAN MAL-I-NOISE? Can I pet it? My neighbor is a cop and he has one."

Sure, you can molest my bite-trained Mondioring 3 dog, no problem. You should kiss her. No really, right on the nose. NOT!!

The dogs you admire, you know, the ones on Youtube.com; Those dogs were raised by someone providing the dedication, and leadership necessary to achieve their goals. Chances are they did not allow anyone who wasn’t directly participating in a training exercise, or under strict instruction, to pet that cute little puppy. That means no playtime at the dog park, or pats by the neighbors on walks. Do you like to repeat yourself? Before you get your working dog, you should practice saying “No, you cannot pet my dog, he's in training….” about 200 times per day.

Another exercise you can practice and repeat often is reaching in to your wallet, pulling out a crisp $20.00 bill, and handing it to the nearest bystander. Let’s put aside food and vet bills for a moment, and strictly discuss the ‘working’ aspect of your new dog. Entering a Dock-Diving competition (one entry) costs $25, as does any Agility competition. A Schutzhund or Mondioring competition entry typically costs around $75. Most titles require several (usually 3) qualifying scores under different judges. Club memberships cost money. Hiring a trainer costs money. That crap you’re now full of, costs BIG money. Every dog sport has it’s specialized equipment.

Now go ahead and factor in your food and vet costs. Your energizer bunny is likely to hurt itself, as it has little regard for personal safety. Irregular heartbeats, palpitations, and sucking wind in terror are part of my daily routine with Haiku as I watch her fall, tumble, stumble, spin, spring, bonk, leap, and juke through her life, at 7 years old.

Athletes have special nutritional requirements, to optimize performance. I buy supplements, and feed a raw, all natural diet. We can split these line items between cost and the ‘crap’ compartment, as there is an entire freezer dedicated to dog food in my garage. And oh ya, that stuff is expensive!
 

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Now that you’ve really thought this through, and you have decided that you are game for early mornings, late evenings, schlepping, burning money, and heart palpitations, I leave you with a Haiku:

There once was a little puppy
Her owner thought very lucky
She spring and she sprung
She worked all day long
And she cost a whole bunch of money.

This puppy’s name was that of a poem
Her handler thought ‘Now I can show ‘em’
A trainer I’ll be
Champion Mondioring 3
Practicing day and night until I’m done-in.

 

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Posted on January 8, 2018 .

Choosing the Right Dog

"I think I am interested in a German Shepherd. Or, maybe a pug. I also like the look of a Schnauzer, or perhaps a Boxer mix. What do you think?"

Choosing the right breed of dog for you and your family will affect every aspect of your life; so to say it is 'important' is really an understatement. When looking into getting a new dog for your household, whether it be from a rescue or from a breeder, knowing your goals and the breed characteristics of the dog you are interested in can be the difference between enjoying your dog, tolerating your dog, or down right dreading coming home to your dog!

We recommend considering the following before jumping into deciding on a breed:

  • What do you envision when you think about dog ownership? What does a 'good dog' look like to you in your mind? Are you curled up by the fire? Does the dog lay in the yard among the children? Do you want to take the dog to work with you acting as the official office greeter? Do you want to take it on backcountry snowboarding trips, or are walks around the neighborhood more your speed? Are you a social butterfly and therefore need your dog to appreciate people encounters as much as you do? Each breed of dog has Breed Characteristics. These are genetic traits that cannot be trained away. Mastiffs are were bred to GUARD STUFF. Mastiffs are not a good breed choice for the office greeter position; they are more likely to prevent your patrons from entering your flower shop. Herding breeds are meant to move livestock, and while there are many Australian Shepherds who have never seen ewe, they still have the genetic desire to herd, and the energy level to keep going, and going, and going..... Be sure to research the breed traits of all of the breeds that attract you. Look for the good and the bad. Of course there are going to be outliers; Mastiffs that are incredibly social, and that neighbor that has a lazy Border Collie. Look for the rule, and not the exception. 
  • How much time do you want to spend on training your dog?   Are you interested in a competitive dog sport prospect? Working dogs like Border Collies, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherds and the like won't make a wonderful pet for your small child without some serious management and training. On the flip side, if your fantasy is to play Mondioring, an IPO prospect, Competitive Obedience, or standing on the podium at the next FCI World Team Agility Invitational, you will want that sort of pushy drive and "go" attitude.
  • Do you like grooming, and/or will you take your dog for frequent grooming appointments? Goldendoodles are incredibly popular right now, but people really underestimate their coat needs! Allowing a dog to get matted to the skin because you want to save your money on grooming costs is not healthy, or fair to the dog.
  • How active are you? BE HONEST about your own activity level. If you don't  already wake up before the sun rises to ascend 14rs now, you probably won't be doing it in the near future. If you are more of a weekend warrior, don't choose a breed that was meant to run the Iditarod. If you are a backpacking enthusiast, we don't recommend an English Bulldog as a hiking buddy. Are you looking for a couch potato and snuggle bug, or a high-octane, Frisbee-catching, ball-chasing, running partner?
  • What health and behavioral concerns are found in your preferred breed? French Bulldogs are notorious for having major health problems. Yorkshire Terriers can be incredibly difficult to potty train. Blue heelers (wait for it....) can be prone to biting at peoples heels and ankles. 
  • Is an adult dog or a puppy a better choice for your situation? If you work long hours and cannot take your puppy out for frequent potty breaks, maybe an older puppy or young adult is better for you. Have small children? Puppies are bitey, need direct supervision, and love to steal kids toys! Can you realistically monitor your puppy during their critical imprinting and potty training time? If not, consider a board & train... or an older dog. For competitive dog sports, getting a puppy is common so you can start foundation training right off the bat... but often you can find young adults that have already started training as well!
  • Do you want a breed because of its temperament, or because of the way it looks? Huskies are adorable, but their high energy and desire to roam leave many pet owners in over their heads. Choosing a dog based on the way it looks is a great way to ensure years of difficulty moving forward. 
  • When choosing a breeder, be prepared to WAIT A LONG TIME FOR YOUR PUPPY. Good breeders don't have puppies readily available year-round. Good breeders breed dogs selectively, with goals in mind, and often have a litter sold before it's born. A good breeder will ask you questions about all of the above concerns, and pick a puppy for you with the personality that fits you best. Good breeders don't let families pick their own puppy. Good breeders health-test the parents, and will be honest with you about the parents temperaments and attributes.
  • Are you adopting a puppy from a shelter or rescue? Awesome! When looking at mixed breed dogs, try to remember that the dog with the right temperament and personality is the right size and color. Watch the dogs interact with people and the other dogs. Are they timid, and hiding, or are they bouncing off of people like parkour objects? Will they ignore all of the other people and dogs if there is a toy present? Are they gonzo for food? Are they vocal? If you are looking for a nice family pet, pick the 'middle of the road' puppy, not the puppy who won't drop the ball, is barking incesently, or the one who is bouncing off of people.

    We recommend doing your research, hanging out with many dogs of that breed, and visiting dog clubs before committing to a dog. Remember, you are looking to spend over a decade with this new family member! If you need help finding the right dog, just ask us! We will help you.

 

Posted on December 20, 2017 .

The Holidays are Here! Shaina's Top Gift Picks....

When working with a client who has a destructive large breed dog, the first thing I ask is what toys, if any, they are offered during their "free time". Often, I am told that they are not able to have interactive toys because they destroy or even eat them if given the opportunity. I understand the dilemma of buying a $30 "tough" toy, only to have it torn apart within 5 minutes of bringing it home. Thus, I bring to you a list of my top 5 favorite toys that both entertain and last for large breed dogs!

1. Kong Wobbler: The Wobbler is no doubt one of my favorite treat dispensing toys. In addition to being interactive, it is quite durable and has handled being chucked against the fence frequently by my three dogs. While we have seen some very persistent chewers mangle the plastic in order to get the food faster, dogs that enjoy pushing around toys with their noses will get plenty of entertainment from this toy.

"The KONG-shaped Wobbler is an action-packed treat and food dispensing toy. It sits upright until pushed by a dog’s paw or nose and then periodically dispenses tasty rewards as it wobbles, spins and rolls. The unpredictable movement keeps the toy challenging, even for seasoned Wobbler users. The Wobbler can also be used as an alternative to a dog bowl to help slow and extend mealtime while providing exercise for your dog. Unscrews for easy filling and cleaning."

2.Chuckit! Max Glow Rubber Ball:While it looks like any other rubber ball, the Glow Ball is a huge hit in the house and is considered a favorite. In fact, we had to buy one for every dog so that each dog could proudly carry one around without stealing them from each other! The Glow Ball activates by sunlight and has a long lasting, intense glow. It has a nice amount of give which is great for dogs that enjoy chewing.

"Ready Set Fetch! Give your dog something to jump for. Durable rubber ball glows in the dark to allow the game to keep going when the sun goes down. Your dog will love this grippable rubber ball made just the right size to use with your Chuckit!® Ball Launcher, sold separately."

3.Jolly Pets Teaser Ball: The downside of this ball is that a vigorous chewer can mangle the plastic in each hole, which over time can create sharp edges. That being said, the fun dogs have with this toy is out of this world. A ball INSIDE a ball, the Teaser Ball is a blast to throw, chase, and tackle.

"HOURS. You may ask what we mean. Well, you’re dog is going to spend countless hours trying to get the ball out of the ball. No need to worry though, the inside ball isn’t going anywhere. And to make it more interesting, you can put some peanut butter on the inside ball to drive them even crazier!"

4. Jolly Pets Bounce-N-Play: I honestly can't say enough about this company. Jolly Pets has a large product line of durable toys for canine and equine families. The Bounce-N-Play is a large ball with a fair amount of give that allows a dog to chomp on the ball without puncturing it... and it floats! For heavier chewers, the Push- N-Play may be more appropriate as it is a hard plastic that the dog cannot grip with its mouth, and therefore cannot destroy. The Bounce-N-Play made it on this list because it appeals to a larger crowd (the dogs that enjoy biting the ball instead of hiking it around), but the Push-N-Play is my German Shepherd's favorite toy to herd.

"And with one giant kick the ball went flying…and the best part is you didn’t break your foot and the dog can’t deflate this ball. Shazam! Made from a super pliable material, even if your dog gets a hole in it, it will still keep its shape. Great for any backyard or lake adventure."

5.Kong Extreme: A classic, the black Kong Extreme is great for entertaining a bored dog. It can be used for fetch, for chewing, or for stuffing with your dogs favorite treats. I tend to put a couple treats in the hole, fill it with peanut butter, and freeze it over night for full entertainment value. Kong has a color scheme regarding durability, and for the strong chewers black is the way to go.

"KONG Extreme represents the most durable version of our original KONG toy. The ultra-strong, ultra-durable, black rubber compound is recommended for the most powerful chewers."

 Versailles has always LOVED Jolly Pets brand toys!

*Remember, it is recommended that dogs be supervised when given toys - particularly if they are known for picking them apart!!

That is it, my Top 5 Durable Toys for a Large Breed Dog! Have a favorite toy that I missed? Share your favorites in the comment section below!

Posted on December 18, 2017 .