Wednesday, 24 June 2015

This Wasn't The Plan!

Well, you my have noticed that things have been a bit quite on the Fit Dog Blog. We have been busy and unfortunately it isn't a great kind of busy.

In October, 2014 my horse Lilly got a bone infection in her foot. It was a very long winter filled with soaking and wrapping and bandaging and medication. But in January she was looking like she had beat the infection. However, it has returned. Thankfully we caught it early but the x-rays my vet did this morning aren't looking great. :(

In other news, Maizy has been thoroughly enjoying herself. She really loves stealing my medical supplies at the barn and her new favourite thing is rolling in poop. I am working on a post about our favourite grooming products and trust me, they have been getting a lot of use lately!

I'm going to leave you with a picture of Maizy smiling, because I could certainly use a smile right now. Keep your fingers crossed for Lilly!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

5 Reasons to Take Your Dog to School

When I first got Maizy, I didn't expect to take her to puppy classes. I had horses. I knew how to train animals. But then it hit me - I've ridden for nearly 20 years and I still take lessons because there is always something more to learn.

Maizy with her certificate
from Puppy School
We started with puppy classes which were an absolute blast. These classes are more about human training than dog training. A good class should also allow for lots of puppy socialization. It was amazing watching the puppies go from little monsters to good canine citizens.

After that, I was totally hooked on dog school. We took a bit of a break while Maizy was spayed, and then signed up for additional classes. We completed a manners course, a introduction to Agility and an introduction to Rally-O. Maizy absolutely loves dog school - she can barely contain herself when we pull into the facility!

I signed Maizy up for a repeat of the Manners class. While we are more advanced than the other students, it is an excellent refresher. I've gotten to know the instructors at the school quite well and they know what Maizy is capable of and where she struggles, so we can make the simple exercises more difficult (aka while practising loose leash walking, Maizy and I also worked on perfecting our rally sits).

Without a doubt, I can say that dog school is one of the best things I have done for Maizy. It has definitely made her a happier and more relaxed dog. And now that my long-ish introduction is over, here's why your dog should go to school.

5 Reasons to Take Your Dog to School

  1. A better behaved dog. This one is pretty obvious, but the impact is often undersold. Maizy is a very, very well behaved dog thanks to all her training and it makes dog ownership so much more enjoyable. Heck, I get stressed out when I see other people's dogs running wild and causing chaos, so it's nice to have a dog who listens well. Plus, the amount of of compliments I get on her training are great for my ego.
  2. A stronger bond with your dog. Dogs love to work for their human. Training brings you and your dog closer together, strengthening the human-canine bond. Whether you're simply working on your sit-stays or doing complex agility work, your dog is thrilled to be spending time with you.
  3. A more confident dog. Dog school exposes Fido to a variety of other dogs, people and situations. Your dog will learn problem solving skills and have good experiences that will carry over into your everyday routine. Maizy is happy to take on new, scary experiences because she has had so many positive encounters in the past.
  4. A well trained dog is a safer dog. It's a big world out there and the truth of the matter is that there are lots of things that could potentially hurt your dog. Imagine this: You open your front door, hands full of groceries. Fido comes to greet you but bolts out of the door when he catches sight of a squirrel. He is headed towards the road. "Fido! Come!" you say. Does your dog listen? I have been in this exact situation with Maizy and because of all our training, her recall is excellent. 
  5. It's fun! Seriously, dog school is a blast. You get to see lots of cute dogs (puppy school was seriously amazing), you get to play with your dog and you get to hang out with people who love dogs. You might even learn a little bit in the process. 
Maizy works on targeting, a skill we learned at school!

So what are you waiting for? Sign up for dog school today! 

Friday, 12 June 2015

Resource Guarding in Dogs

Does the above scene look a little too familiar? Is your dog reluctant to give up toys? Or maybe they turn into a jealous green monster when you go to pet other dogs? Or maybe they get a little defensive around meal time. Resource guarding can show up in many different ways and it is important that you recognize the signs early, before it progresses into a real problem. Before we get to the "info" part of this post, I'd like to tell you a little story, which unfortunately does not have a very happy ending.

One of my extended family members had a Springer Spaniel bitch who, sad to say, did not have a very nice personality. She was a great dog is some ways and fit really well into their active lifestyle. Unfortunately, she had some severe resource guarding issues. I remember, as a small child, being told "Don't pet the dog. Don't touch the dog" over and over again. We were absolutely not left in the room with the dog. The dog was also very protective of "her" resources, and would often not allow the husband into the bedroom or onto the bed.

Eventually, the dog's owners decided to start a family and the dog was sent to live on the farm. In this case, it was an actually my grandparent's farm and not the figurative "the dog has been put down" farm. My grandparents were very experienced dog people and were able to manage her nasty tendencies fairly well, but as the dog got older she got worse and worse. The dog was muzzled at family gatherings. She was protective of the bedroom. She was overly attached to my grandfather. She became more and more dangerous. Eventually, when she went after my grandmother for trying to get into "her" truck, she was put down.

Springer Spaniels are prone to resource guarding and this is something I am hyper aware of with Maizy. In fact, many cases of so called "Springer Rage" were likely instances of resource guarding. However, this problem is not limited to Springers - not by a long shot.

What is Resource Guarding?

Resource guarding can present itself in many ways. It can be mild or severe. With severe cases, it can often not be "fixed" but with training and management, it can improve greatly. It can be shown by a stiffening of posturing, turning away, growling, biting and other distress signs. Here are some examples:

  • Your dog growls when you approach him when he is eating.
  • Your dog turns his head away when you reach for his bone, and if you persist he moves away.
  • Your dog is protective of the couch
  • Your dog doesn't like it when you pet other dogs - he may lunge, growl, snap or bark at other dogs. Maizy does this, and it is something we are working on.
  • Your dog doesn't like it when other humans approach you.
It is normal for dogs to warn other dogs away with stiffened posture, a stare, a lip curl or even a small growl. This tells the other dog, "Hey, this is my bone, don't try and take it". This, in itself, is not a bad thing.

It becomes a problem when the behaviour is centered around humans, either keeping humans away from "their stuff" or viewing the human as "theirs", or if the behaviour becomes too aggressive towards other dogs. 

How to Handle Resource Guarding

If you believe your dog has a problem, the first step is to contact a dog trainer or animal behaviourist. Blog posts such as this one or even an article written by Caesar Milan (who, for what it's worth, is not very well regarded in most dog training circles) are not ever a substitute for a dog trainer. You may also want to contact your veterinarian for advice.

I also recommend you purchase the book "Mine! A practical guide to resource guarding" by Jean Donaldson. I love this book so much I have multiple copies - one for me and one for others to borrow. Donaldson does a bang up job of explaining resource guarding and outlines the training steps you will need to implement.

An excellent resource for all dog owners.

How I Handle Resource Guarding

I am not a professional dog trainer, but I will share with you what I do with Maizy and you can do what you will with that information.

  • You know the old adage, "Don't touch the dog while it's eating"? I absolutely, 100% do not follow this rule. However, I implemented this since Maizy was 8 week old. When Maizy is eating I reach into her food bowl and take some of her kibble. I then return the kibble and also give her a tasty treat in her bowl. This teaches her that "good things happen when people touch your food". I have lots of people do this with her. As a result, you could play bongos on Maizy's bum while she ate and she wouldn't even bat an eye. Even though Maizy is a year old now, I still do this food exchange a few times a week.
  • The Trading Game. This is a fun activity to do with your dog and Maizy will now try to trade me for high value items - "I brought you my favourite bone, now you give me that bag of chips." Basically you give the dog an item, such as a toy, and then "trade" the dog for yummy snacks like cheese or liver. You can even link a word to the action (such as "trade!" or "swap!"). This teaches the dog that giving you things means they get better things in return. When you start this game, give the dog a very low value item (something your dog likes, but doesn't care too much about) and trade for a very high value item (yummy food!). Slowly work your way up to trading for more high value items, like bones or favourite toys. This article from Whole Dog Journal explains the process in step-by-step detail.
  • Fetch! This is a great way to get your dog giving you items and allows you to work that "Drop it!" command. When we started training this - and for most dogs, you will have to actually train the behaviour - Maizy would give back low value items for me to throw again. Now that she is more solid with this behaviour, she will gladly give up the coveted squeaky Kong ball. This is very similar to the trading game, but the reward here is you throwing the ball after the dog gives you the toy.
As I noted above, Maizy can become a bit - okay, a lot - jealous when other dogs approach my boyfriend, and to some extent when other dogs approach me. While her behaviour doesn't cause any problems at this point, we are working to nip it in the bud before it escalates. For this, we are using positive reinforcement. Maizy sits quietly while another dog approaches? She gets a treat. We are going back to dog school for a refresher, and this is one of the things I will be asking our trainer about.

I'll keep you updated on our progress!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Farm Dog Agility

Maizy did a "Intro to Agility" class when she was about eight months old. She got to go on some low contact obstacles, like the dog walk, jump teeny "jumps", practice her wait on the table and whip through tunnels. She absolutely loved it and I did too. Unfortunately, a lack of money (thanks horses) means Maizy and I are out of luck when it comes to real agility training, at least for now.

In the meantime, we do what I call "Farm Dog Agility". This is a great example of using your environment to your advantage - you don't need all the fancy gimmicks when training your dog, though they are sometimes nice to have! I am lucky that I have access to a full set of equine jumps, which gives me a bit of an advantage. However, Maizy and I also do "City Dog Agility" which involves jumping over low walls, balancing on benches, weaving through trees, ect. We have even found tunnels to practice with in local parks!

Maizy's 5 Rules for Farm Dog Agility

So, you want to get into Farm Dog Agility? Here are the "rules" as described by Maizy:

1. Your human's directions are, at best, a suggestion. You may find that your time may be better spent doing the "Squirrel Chase" movement instead of the "Jump Over Things" movement. Trust your dog instincts: you know what you need to work on most. Ignore your human's yells of "GET OVER HERE" whenever possible.

Did you say "Come!?" JK I don't care.

2. You get extra points for getting super dirty. The dirtier and wetter the better.

You get extra points for being really wet and dirty.

3. The swimming phase of Farm Dog Agility should only be done in dirty water. Again, the dirtier, the better. Help your human get in on the fun by shaking off all over them - they will scream with delight.

The bigger the splash the better.

4. Jump all the things! This part is the most fun, though you do have to listen to your human for direction here. However, be sure to keep them humble by occasionally pointedly ignoring them: "Sit? I have no idea what that means. Never heard that word before in my life." If you are a Springer, be sure to excitedly bite your human after a jump, they love it. 

Don't I look adorable? 

5. The "cross country" phase also great fun. Here you get to run and jump over natural obstacles. Additional points for carrying a stick while you do it. 

Going down a bank is a traditional obstacle.

Finally, this is not a rule but rather a piece of advice. Do not let mean corgis steal your sticks. I am posting this horrifying photo so you are all aware of the danger:

Watch out for thieving corgis. That stick was mine! 

When you have completed your Farm Dog Agility course, it is important to hydrate and have a snack. Preferably your human will take to Tim Hortons for a well deserved TimBit. 

Those are the basics of Farm Dog Agility. Remember these 5 rules and you are sure to succeed.

Love and Dog Kisses,


Monday, 8 June 2015

Weekend Recap: I Have the Best Animals

I made a last minute decision to take one of my horses cross country schooling Saturday. If you're not a horse person, cross country is basically jumping over obstacles you would naturally find out and about - ditches, banks, logs, ect. But before I could go to the barn, Maizy needed her morning exercise. We headed over to the dog park bright and early. There was one other dog there, who we know quite well, and to my surprise Maizy was actually interested in wrestling with him. These days she normally just wants to play fetch. Unfortunately Maizy couldn't come cross country schooling with me, as we were trailering into a private venue. She stayed home to snuggle in bed with my boyfriend and I hit the road.

My mare, Lilly, and I are pretty out of shape so the goal for the day was to have fun and build confidence. We had an absolute blast and I could not have asked for a better horse - she was listening, willing and an absolute jumping machine. It was her first time schooling cross country so I was very, very proud of her. I've nicknamed Lilly the "Honey Badger" because she doesn't give a shit. If you don't get that reference, take a look at this classic viral video.

My other horse, Calla, can be a bit of a difficult ride and my confidence definitely took a blow during my time riding her. I've been a bit freaked out about jumping lately, but Lilly and I quickly got back into the groove. The amount of trust I have in her is off the charts. Here are some of the better pictures of the day:

Heading out to the jumps - the weather was gorgeous!

Our first fence of the day, a little log pile.

Popping over a coop - I had some problems with
Calla over this fence last year, but Lilly rocked it.
Lilly's first time over a ditch. This type of jump is
pretty scary for horses but she could not have cared less.
A small down bank. Again, Lilly was perfect.
Having a small argument about pace. Lilly loves to jump
and gallop, the bigger and the faster the better.

Our only refusal of the day was at this fence.
Second time is the charm!

Such a good pony.
Could not have been happier with her and she loved it.

After getting Lilly settled in back at the farm, I headed back to Hamilton and took Maizy for a walk. At this point I was exhausted so we spent the rest of the day napping!

Sunday was very low key as well. We went to the dog park for a total of about three hours and boy was it ever a good time. The weather was really nice, some of our favourite dogs were there and I had some great conversations. I'm slowly becoming one of the "dog park ladies", which is a group of great women with some really nice dogs. Nothing better than having a cup of tea, chatting and watching dogs play!

There was one guy who let his dog into the park and then proceeded to go clean his car while poochy caused trouble. The dog wasn't a bad dog, but just very excited and not very well mannered. The other dogs were not impressed and after we yelled at the guy he finally sent his girlfriend in to watch the dog. But other than that, all the other dogs and owners were excellent company. 

All in all, a very good weekend. I'm working on a post about resource guarding in dogs, so stay tuned for that. 

Friday, 5 June 2015

100 Followers, 100 Bones!

Fit Dog Blog's twitter account reached 100 followers yesterday. We are so excited! Maizy did a special trick in celebration. Watch the video to see! 

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Splish, Splash, Maizy Won't Take a Bath

Springer Spaniels are known for the love of water. Keeping these dogs out of ponds, lakes and puddles is near impossible. Maizy is no exception to this rule. She absolutely loves to swim and play in the water. 

Maizy and one of the barn dogs, another Springer, make a splash.
Last night was no exception. Maizy and four other dogs, including another Springer, all went swimming in the stream at the barn. It was absolute chaos - wet dogs everywhere, barking, stick throwing. I ended up very wet as well.

So what I don't understand is how my water loving dog absolutely despises taking a bath. Freezing cold water? That's fine with Maizy. A tiny mud puddle? Perfect to lay in. Birds in the water? Jump in after them.

But a clean, warm bath tub? Oh hell no. And of course, because Maizy loves pond swimming, she gets lots of torture baths.

I have tried hosing her down. This causes her to scream like you are cutting off her ears. I've tried having her shower with me, which ends with a wet dog trying to climb into my arms. The bath tub and a container to pour water over her is the best method, but you have to be on guard because she will attempt to escape. The best method is to get her REALLY tired so she has no energy to fight.

Because Maizy loves swimming, but hate baths, I figured a kiddy pool would be a nice compromise. She could lounge in the water on hot days and at least get some of the post-swim nastiness rinsed off before coming in the house. But of course, she absolutely hates that too. So much for that idea!

So it looks like I am stuck wrestling her into a bath tub while she kicks and whines (literally). Sigh!

Monday, 1 June 2015

Maizy the Party Animal

On Saturday, we hosted a large baby shower and pig roast for my sister-in-law and my brother. With friends, family and kids there were about 50 people in the house. We have a good sized backyard, perfect for this type of event. However, Saturday's forecast was rain. Lots and lots of rain.

Maizy got groomed on Friday so she could look
stunning for the party.

I was a bit worried about how Maizy would handle the whole thing. I'm not a huge fan of kids so while I do try to social her with people of all types and ages, she doesn't usually spend more than a few minutes with kids. I was absolutely not worried about her biting or anything of the sort, but she is a very... enthusiastic dog and I was worried that she would be a bit too much for the kids to handle.

I was also nervous that she would get overwhelmed. 50 people is a lot of people for one dog to handle and with the rain that meant everyone would be inside.

However, I could not have asked for a better party dog. She was even better behaved than usual and even the 3 year old who was a bit afraid of her at first was yelling "Maizy! Maizy" after not too long. She didn't jump on people, she didn't hand out too many kisses, she did not even think about stealing food. One 2 year old boy was absolutely in love with her and stuffed her full of snacks, all of which she gently took. He even fed her cake off a fork! I made sure she only got a bit of "junk food" in the grand scheme of things, so there were no tummy upsets.

The weather did clear up and the kids were able to go play outside. Maizy had a great time supervising when they were in the sprinkler. I got lots of great pictures, but as they have kids in them, I am loathe to post them. However, here is one shot of Maizy playing with the boy mentioned about, which I will share as his face is covered:

Maizy was stellar with the kids.

I could not have asked for a better dog. She took everything in stride and loved it. Once the last guests were gone, she promptly passed out - entertaining is hard work!

Sunday we were both pretty exhausted from the party. Mother Nature decided that the temperature should drop to about 8 degrees (from high 20's) and that it should rain and rain and rain and rain. When we did venture outside, we didn't stay out for long!

Soaked the bone after a very cold and wet game of fetch.
It was a busy but good weekend - Maizy and I will probably be taking the next few days to recover from the party!