Monday, March 28, 2011

It's a great training tool - IF you use it properly

After much hemming and hawing (which really translates to much research and consideration) in January I purchased an electronic collar for Bugsy. These are usually called e-collars and I associate them with hunting dogs, although they are used for obedience training and I have heard they can be used in Schutzhund too.

I really had to step up my consideration of an e-collar after Bugsy's 3/4 mile swims at the lake which were only stopped when I was able to get a boater to take me out to get him; him who was still violently chasing the geese. It had become a serious safety issue.

I had many concerns: would it confuse him with the invisible fence (which he is 100% reliable on)? was it too harsh for him? would he respond to it or would it be a waste of time and money? My husband thought I was nuts when I selected the right collar (a 1 mile radius, waterproof, & vibration/shock/sound stimulation)and said it ran about $300.
Nervously I took the plunge.

Then I spent another week reading some more.

Carefully I started the training.

I won't lie, we've had ups and downs and I've made a few mistakes but it is working well.
In fact, the momentum for this post comes from the realization that for Bugsy, this is a much more humane solution than any sort of collar or harness, which I'll lump as 'physical' restraints.
The problem with physical restraints for him is that the ones that can withstand his power could easily cause damage to him.............and have to me.
With the e-collar the momentary stimulation in no way inflicts the pain of the prong collar that he has pulled on so hard he has broken it, or a flat collar smashing his windpipe as he attempts to break free to go after prey.

Our walks have become pain free.............for both of us. My shoulders are healing or at least not aching all the time.

His neck and shoulders MUST feel better to not have to bear the intense pulling that he would do from time to time and also the normal herky, jerkiness of "what's that?" "oo over there", etc.

Now I have put two leashes together and created a hands free situation.
He can duck into culverts (which is a favorite move but before if something was in one I could not, DH could not, remove him from the ditch)and check them out. He has gotten corrections for not responding to 'here' when his head is buried in the tube, reluctantly he responds post correction; we move on and he's happy again.
And no one is harmed.

Our collar emits a sound when I turn it on; he gets a treat each time he waits to hear it and to have the collar fastened. Tail wagging as he waits.

He enjoys some off leash time that wasn't previously available to him. He gets to stretch those long legs in scent-filled fields and it brings tears to my eyes to see him so happy.

I have not proofed it on geese yet - although this will happen in the days ahead. I wanted him to fully understand and appreciate his freedom and how he has earned it and its relationship to the collar before we try it on geese. I expect that it will be a situation that we have to work on before heading to the lake with confidence. Fortunately I have a fenced in school yard to practice on geese nearby.

I will finish by saying, I know that many people feel these type of collars are cruel. I would say that for some dogs they might be.
If your dog is soft and is easily corrected or spooked; these are not for you.
If you have a dog whose power is not great enough to inflict damage to them or you with a harness or collar then you really don't need this.
If your dog is what I would call biddable - they want to be with you and near you and look to you for direction - you don't need this collar.
Work your butt off with some positive training and the vast majority of dogs aren't going to need an e-collar. I have seen them on the wrong dogs and agree it is overkill and not a good idea.
Bugsy however is a hard dog. Hard as in it isn't easy to bother him. He hasn't been 'harmed' by the use of the collar even when I made a mistake (only one significant one in which I gave a tone correction in the yard away from his fence line but that confused him) it is gone in an instant.

We've tried every method of positive training to redirect him from his prey or self-anointed focus and to walk without pulling.
And we've tried choke chains (he broke it open at 5 mos old), prong collars (broke 2 of those going after geese), sporn harnesses, gentle leaders, easy walk harnesses, & various training classes.
But when he doesn't want to listen or do as asked (or what seems more like he actually doesn't know you exist any longer) he will overpower you or any physical restraint you try.
This is where the e-collar differs. I find that just the tone seems to wake him from where he goes mentally; sometimes he will choose to withstand the shock correction but it does interrupt his focus. And that allows you back in.
Nothing else has done that.
And it doesn't cause injury or pain (I have tried the setting I use on myself).
So for us my only regret is I waited this long.
The freedom we both feel is exhilarating

But it isn't for all dogs. You have to do a lot of homework on how to use it properly and ensure that your dog understands what you are asking and when & why they will get corrected.
It is unfair to stim a dog that doesn't know what you are asking. Do that and you will surely lose their trust.

In our case it is interesting, if anything he is more attached to me, in a healthy way, for the first time I can really see him look to me for direction.
All the touchy, feely, food-based, toy-based, fun, creative, physical correction based, etc. training we have done over 5 years did not create a situation where he looked to a human for direction. He hasn't lost confidence and he isn't nervous to do his own thing he just seems to realize that we are out there together.
Its a beautiful thing!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cold tail/Limp tail and other things

Last week I decided it was time for a swim.
Bugsy was very happy about this decision even though the air temp was a bit cool and windy.
I threw his Dokken Duck into the lake and off he went.
Over and over.
Joy written all over his face.
I didn't do as many retrieves as we usually work our way up to and when he left he seemed to have plenty of energy in the tank.
In fact he drove me nuts all day long.
Late that afternoon I decided to trim his nails, no biggie, we do this a couple of times a week.
However this time when he got up his tail was limp.
To make a long story short he was once again suffering from cold tail.
Which is a bit of a misnomer although no one has determined exactly what causes it (it can happen in the middle of summer) it is clearly not only a nuisance but extremely painful.
The first 24 hours were really bad - he displayed more signs of pain than at anytime after his TPLO.
But it started to get better and I would say by the third day he was carrying it better and not showing signs of discomfort at all.
Its all honky dory now and its back up in the air and wagging furiously!

He's had this 3 times now - once a dog gets it, they are very likely to get it again.

Its a warm day today and it will be tempting to let him swim again, hmmmmmmmmmmmm
Perhaps we'll wait a week. I don't want to do that to him again!

In other news he is thrilled to have a baby cocker spaniel living next door. This is only one step less exciting than if he had his very own puppy.
They are figuring each other out and enjoying being silly together. I'm glad and fortunate that Bugsy loves puppies and loves to share!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Puzzle boy

Bugsy loves puzzles, really loves puzzles.
But he figures them out swiftly and then they are fairly useless in what I want from them.
What might that be you ask?
Time. I want them to take a bit of time.
That's all, its not too much to ask now is it??

Well a very good friend of mine gave me this toy Tornado because her dog just didn't like it.

We could hardly take the box off fast enough!!!
Typical for him we didn't have to teach him how to do it. We just put some kibble in the spots and off he went.
So we did it again with only putting kibble in a few of the compartments.
Even better, he said!

What I think is wonderful is that you can use it in so many ways. You could fill all the slots, or a few on one level, or random slots.
Or you can take the little plastic bone covers and place them over some kibble in the top slots.
This turns out to be a challenge because the beast's nose is too large to get at it cleanly so he has to wedge his face in there to get them off.
But he does.
And then he wants more.

Here's a little video of him working it

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Foster homes are always needed

A friend of mine is very active with the Best Friends Pet Adoption agency and sent me this:
We have had such a busy, crazy week in BFPA - resulting in us needing to find 6 new foster homes, for the following dogs :

Freddie - (black Labrador Retriever), 63lbs - he is a happy, medium energy loving dog that needs experienced dog owners, who understand pack leadership. Probably better if Freddie is an only dog, but would be OK if carefully introduced. He can be nervous around small children, so preferably a home without children, or with older children or teens would be better for Freddie.
Thorn (Husky) aged 8 / 77lbs (but needs to lose a few of these) is well behaved, good with everyone, easy to foster. He currently lives with Beau (below) they are very attached to each other, but could be separated.
Beau(mastiff) aged 9 / 90lbs and a big lovebug Beau can be shy - so probably needs a quieter home. He and Thorn are victims of the economy and a broken marriage.
Isis -( Shepherd mix) - 7 months old and very sweet. Good with children and other dogs. She is young, and still learning.
Jake :(Boxer) Male, 6 years old, about 63lbs. Jake is a happy dog and treat motivated. He knows basic commands -- including wipe your feet. Jake loves head scratches and the hair dryer!! After playing, Jake will settle in for a long afternoon nap. He would benefit from a home with another dog and lots of Frisbees and balls
Miki - (Border collie/terrier mix) she is an adult female, about 45lbs. Great with other dogs and cats, Miki is black and white, with beautiful blue eyes! Very sweet natured dog.

There's no pressure for you to get involved with all of this! I just thought that there may be someone out there that you know, and who might be able to help us. So if you are able to add to your log, or email this out to anyone you think might be interested, I'd be very grateful.

People foster until a permanent home can be found, all expenses are paid by the BFPA group (meds/food/flea/tick/heartworm preventatives) We need people to have a secure yard or be prepared to walk the dog on leash (i.e. no loose dogs as this is often the way we get them as strays!), they fill in an application form so that we have contact details etc. Dogs cannot be chained up outside, of course! More details on fostering can be found on the website

If you are local to the Triangle area and are interested, post a comment or email me and I'll hook you up with the right person

Oh and my friend's current foster was featured as the WRAL pet of the week