Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Naughty Dogs

The past month since Riley has been granted more exercise privileges I have driven the dogs the short distance from home to access our local trails where they can run off leash.  Riley's recovery is now allowing longer time and distances so this past week we returned to walking from the house to the local trails and then back home which meant the dogs actually had to walk on leash along the roads.

Isn't it amazing how quickly leash manners can disappear!!!

My criteria for on leash walking is actually pretty basic.  I don't care if my dogs walk in front of me but I don't want to be pulled down the street.  I expect them to walk politely at my side for a short distance (crossing street, oncoming dogs or people etc) when asked.  I also don't want to stop every two paces for them to sniff or munch grass.  That first day I had dogs going in different directions to check out whatever caught their interest and either ignoring me or just pulling me along with them.

Arghhh!  I really wasn't amused but I suppose it was a message I needed to hear.  Riley is getting stronger every day and the rules have been pretty relaxed over the last several months.  I have said in the past that he was a dog that needs to be worked/trained and apparently that is something he has yet to outgrow as he approaches seven years of age.

A little bit of harness adjustments (front attachment versus back attachment) and a few days of walking with rules and reinforcement was all that was needed to slip back to our "normal" walking routine.  I will settle on an activity for Riley in the next while so that we have the needed working time together to keep us "in tune" with each other.   I might go back and do some rally with him or possibly tracking.  We also tried an introduction to nosework seminar last week which could be a fun option.

There are no couch potato dogs in this household!  Some days I wish for nice lazy breeds .... but they are good for me and I wouldn't change them for anything.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Obedience Stewarding

Recently I volunteered to be a ring steward at a local obedience trial.  I did this for two reasons.  Firstly I believe that we all need to step up and volunteer occasionally to support the sports we love.  Secondly I thought it would be a valuable learning experience.  I am new to competitive obedience and have only done pre-novice with my dogs.  I was set to go into the ring with Riley last spring for his CD but we stopped when his physical problems became apparent.  Stella could probably pass her CD fairly well currently but I have decided that I want to train more precision in her heeling and also get a good start on the Open exercises before going into the ring.  I am going to continue with Rally Obedience for now as it is fun and great ring experience.

I found my volunteering experience to be rewarding and informative.  I ended up being the table steward which meant I got to do the paperwork for all the rounds.  Our judge was wonderful, very fair and honestly wanted every competitor to succeed.  Being an "insider" means I got to see how each round was scored and also to observe the patterns and necessary setup procedures.  I find it fascinating to watch how different dog/handler teams work together and connect.  There was some wonderful working teams in all levels.  I still have a "newbie" eye and  I was working so didn't get to watch every round entirely but I picked up on the following observations:

*  Get that proper footwork on your turns.  The judge observed a lot of very bad about turn footwork.

*  Watch out for anticipating commands.  Competitors sometimes forgot to wait for the judges command and dogs sometimes acted on the judges command before the competitor cued the behaviour.

*  Be aware of your leash handling.  Competitors might not realize how much they use that leash to encourage or control but be aware that the judge does see it and it can be penalized.

*  Know and understand the rules.  Score sheets for each level are available here and have a lot of great information on them.  Understanding what type or combination of cues are permitted  (ie signal and/or command versus signal OR command) can either save or fail some exercises.  Reading the CKC Rule Book including the section on commands and signals is in my future!

*  A change of pace to fast means move it!  Lots of competitors "run" but really they aren't moving any faster than they walk and the dog doesn't shift pace.

*  Match your energy to your dog.  More and more people are using play in their training which is wonderful but realize that sometimes ring stress means your dog would prefer a gentle butt scratch instead of a muzzle push back or other high energy moves.  This is something I will need to be aware of with Stella.

It was a long day but I enjoyed it and will do it again.  It confirmed to me that my decision to wait a bit is a good one.  It also was another "brick over the head" that I need to do more video in my training sessions so I can hopefully prevent myself from some of these errors.

Saturday, 2 March 2013


My heart is happy these days because of this .......

Crappy picture but you can still see the joy.  A few weeks ago I decided to take Riley to see our vet chiro/accupuncture that specializes in dog lameness and for whose opinion I have a ton of respect.  We figured with all the surgery it would probably be a good idea to have him looked over and adjusted to help the healing.  The vet evaluated him and did some minor adjustments and then told me I wasn't challenging him enough.  He said that he was fully healed with regards to the surgery and now we need to challenge his muscles and neuro pathways to improve. 

The veterinary teaching hospital gave very generic instructions for return to activity that honestly I was already pushing because they didn't make a lot of sense to me.   They wanted confinement and very minimal activity (potty breaks) for the first six weeks and then a gradual on leash return to regular activity levels over the next two months.  I was supposed to avoid stairs and jumping for six months minimum and preferably for his lifetime.  Riley's hemilaminectomy did not involve any surgery to the discs so we were told that I could give him a bit more freedom compared to most dogs but still I needed to be very, very careful.   I had started using the extendable leash after the original six week period as I thought that pace changes and ability to move differently were important.   We were both getting very bored with those short on leash walks!  

The vet here gave us permission to let Riley run off leash (Woohoo!!!!!).  Obviously we still need to exercise common sense but he wants us to hike trails that have lots of rocks, stumps and uneven ground.  Walking just on the streets means Riley can be lazy with his hind end but the varied terrain will force him to have to pick up his limbs and be aware of how to place them.  We are also doing other rehab exercises such as rear end pivots on a perch and walking over poles.  We are keeping things to about 30-45 minutes and so far things are going very well. I did an outdoor obedience drop in class last weekend that involved a lot of sits and hind end work which he started to show some sorenesss.  He was fine the next day and it was a good reminder that his muscles are still recovering.  He has a much tighter sit compared to before the surgery so different muscles are being used.  I also continue to swim him for now one day a week which is good to stretch out and relax all those back and neck muscles.

Watching my dogs run and play on hikes is one my top ten list of things I love to do.  The first day I got to see them run together after all these months it felt like a bit of my world finally came right side up again.  There are a lot of unknowns about how his recovery will continue.  He still has some ataxia especially in the right rear and his gait is a little unusual but he is a happy dog to be running the trails again.  He may or may not ever be able to handle long hikes or some other activities but he is way more comfortable than he was prior to surgery.  Neuro improvements can take many months so I am hopeful that things will only get better!