dog training Dogs

The Tale is in your Pooch’s Tail

When your dog bounds towards you with his tail wagging furiously, you’d naturally assume he was pleased to see you. Look closer, however, and that tail might be trying to tell you something very different.

While all dog tails wag from side to side, it seems they do so with a certain left or right bias depending on the message your pet is trying to convey. According to scientists a wag with a bias to the right signifies happiness, and a wag more to the left, fear. Because dogs move around so much, this often goes unseen by humans. Fellow dogs, however, are fully tuned into the subtle signalling.

An Italian team showed 43 dogs videos of other dogs whose tail wagging was more pronounced either towards the left or the right. When dogs saw another dog wagging more towards the left, their heart rates picked up and they began to look anxious. Dogs shown wagging biased to the right stayed perfectly relaxed.

Study leader Dr Giorgio Vallortigara, of the University of Trento, said: “a dog looking at a dog wagging with a bias to the right side – and thus showing left-hemisphere activation as if it was experiencing some sort of positive/approach response – would also produce relaxed responses. In contrast, a dog looking at a dog wagging with a bias to the left – and thus showing right-hemisphere activation as if it was experiencing some sort of negative/withdrawal response – would also produce anxious and targeting responses as well as increased cardiac frequency. That is amazing, I think”.

Each dog in the study was shown videos of another dog wagging its tail. Some clips were shown as darkened silhouettes to obscure features besides tail wagging that might have had an influence, such as facial expression. – Daily Mail


Dogs Retire

Police dogs in the English county of Nottinghamshire are to be given a £500-a-year pension on retirement. This is to meet veterinary and other expenses. The police dogs become the household pets of their handlers, who have worked with them for years anyway.

Nottinghamshire police commissioner Paddy Tipping says the pension is recognition of the dogs’ hard work all their lives.
This sounds an admirable scheme. It could be taken further. Should these pensioned-off police dogs not be given the opportunity, from time to time, to chase and bite retired burglars? They need their fun and exercise.

Clicker training dog training Dogs

Bending Poles and the Clicker

Agility – a combination of speed and accuracy where handler and dog must work as a team.

So much time can be wasted or gained at the bending poles, so it is well worthwhile ensuring that your dog truly understands how to perform this obstacle. Basic principles include rhythm, keeping the dog’s head facing forward, and ensuring that the dog is used to being handled on both sides.

It should be borne in mind that dogs spines do not fully develop until they are about 2 years of age, and excessive wiggle training before that age can be detrimental to the animal and could potentially cause long-term damage. Bending repeatedly through a series of poles is not a natural behaviour for a dog and could quite easily compromise the growth plates if performed too vigorously or repeatedly at an early age. Such injuries might only manifest a couple of years later, which might make diagnosis of the initial cause of the injury difficult.

There are many varied ways of teaching bending poles, such as placing restricting wires between the poles, targeting, using a leg to force the dog into the correct gap, weave-o-matics, etc. To my mind the best way (and the one that will cause least injury) consists of two elements:

Firstly, it is imperative that the dog understands the correct entry point. The dog must enter the obstacle with the first pole at its left shoulder, irrespective of the angle of approach, which side the handler is on etc., etc. To ensure that the dog truly understands this, I would train each little variation of the entry with a clicker.

Secondly, the dog needs to understand that it must run as fast and as straight as possible. In order to achieve this, two sets of poles should be set up parallel with each other, with a gap large enough between them for the dog to pass easily between them. The dog is then clicked for running down the channel created by this double row of poles. This keeps the dog’s head straight and gets a good turn of speed. The poles can then be gradually moved closer and closer together and eventually moved in to one straight stripe and voila! the dog is weaving.

In order to make the bending behaviour even stronger, and to ensure that the dog doesn’t lose concentration and so pop out of the line of weave poles before completion, the dog needs to be consistently reinforced for those last few poles. The easiest way of doing this is to make use of backchaining. This is a technique used by clicker trainers to encourage and reinforce behaviour chains. (a behaviour chain being a number of different and often unrelated behaviours in a certain sequence which need to be performed in a continuous flow. e.g. enter the poles with the first pole of your left hand side, bend to the right, turn and bend to the left, etc.)

Basically what one does is train the last behaviour first – in this case the last three poles only. Put that little sequence on cue. Then add the three poles before that so that there are now six poles in the sequence. Then the three before that, etc. Once the dog understands this, as he commits to the poles (presuming that all the above criteria – correct entry, head pointing straight forward, rhythm etc. – are understood by the dog) you can give the cue for the last three poles. The dog will change down a gear and zip through those poles so that he can do that last little wiggle which he knows so well will earn him his reward.

Voila!! you have a dog that not only understands the various concepts of wiggle poles, but a dog that is really motivated to get to the end of them.

And so the time arrives to consider entering a show and seeing how your handling skills will stand up under pressure……

dog training Dogs

Research on Fatal Dog Bites

The Journal of American Veterinary Association has released the most comprehensive study to date regarding fatal dog bites and the common factors that link them. The authors of their study found that there were some significant errors reported by the media in certain stories, so rather than relying on a potentially biased media source their findings are based on investigative reports from interviews with animal control agencies, investigators, and homicide detectives.

Interestingly, the breeds of the dogs involved in fatal attacks could only be identified in 18% of the cases. Often times, the media’s report of the dog’s breed conflicted with animal control reports. Within that 18%, twenty different breeds were identified, which correlates with previous studies that have found that no single breed of dog is more likely to attack that another. The results of these studies make it clear that the solution to preventing future dog attacks is better management and husbandry practices, and not banning specific breeds.

The findings from this study are intriguing, although not entirely surprising. Here are the various factors they found to be commonplace in fatal dog attacks:

1. There is no able-bodied person present to intervene (87.1%)
This common factor is why I persistently beg parents not to leave their infants or young children alone with a dog under any circumstances. It only takes a split second for a tragedy to occur, and this staggering statistic shows just how vital it is for an able-bodied person to be present in case of an incident between a dog and a child, or any person who is unable to defend themself against an attack.

2. The victim has no prior relationship with the dog (85.2%)
This factor serves as an important reminder that we need to be particularly careful with dogs when there is a new person around them, especially if the dog has a history of fear or aggression. The statistic shows that the majority of fatal dog bites occur when the victim does not have a relationship with the dog, so it’s important that you manage your dog’s environment so that he is not set up for failure and you don’t put a guest in a position to get bitten. On the other hand, it’s also vital to be careful when you’re interacting with unfamiliar dogs.

3.The dog is not spayed or neutered (84.4%)
There are many reasons why spaying and neutering is important, but this might be the top one. In almost 85% of cases, the dogs responsible for fatal attacks on humans were unaltered. Be a smart, responsible owner and spay or neuter your dogs, or properly manage your dog if you prefer not to have them altered. You lessen the chance of your dog being the perpetrator of a fatal attack, and your dogs will be happier and healthier as a result.

4. The victim is unable to manage their interactions with the dog (77.4%)
Usually due to the victim’s age, or as a result of their physical or mental health state, they are compromised in some way. Teaching children how to safely interact with dogs is imperative for preventing fatal attacks, but it’s also in the hands of parents and guardians to monitor all interactions between dogs and people who are physically or mentally compromised in any way.

5. The dog is not kept as a family pet (76.2%)
We’ve all seen a “backyard dog” – the dog who barks incessantly at all hours of the day and night and who has minimal interaction with people or other animals. Dogs who live in this way are much more prone to aggressive behaviour since they live most of their life without any positive social interaction. This is why chaining and tethering is such a bad idea – it breeds the pent-up frustration that is often a precursor to aggression.

6. The owner has mismanaged the dog in the past (37.5%) or has abused or neglected the dog (21.1%)
Abuse, neglect, or general poor ownership are all factors that can contribute to aggression and violent behaviour in dogs. Dogs who are starved or who suffer physical abuse or mental intimidation can seemingly “snap”, even though the frustration has been building long before an attack ever happens. If you suspect a dog you know of suffering from abuse or neglect, contact your local authorities.

Posted by Victoria Stilwell – 12/05/13

dog training Dogs

Agility World Championship

The FCI Agility World Championships made history in 2013 when South Africa became the first country outside of Europe to host this prestigious event.

From 11 – 13 October 2013, the Agility World Championship was held at The Dome, Johannesburg, South Africa. Eight countries competed, these being USA, Czech Republic, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, and of course South Africa. I managed to attend the Friday and Sunday events. The camaraderie was wonderful to see, even though the countries were very competitive and were obviously out to win. Here is a picture of the handlers walking the course.

Not only was it wonderful to see the handlers and dogs in action, but also to watch all the new handling techniques that the various teams used. The whole event was a lot of fun, with the spectators getting into the act as well. Here you can see a group of us enjoying ourselves. From left to right: Saretha, Caroline, Charles, Dorianne and myself. There was much dancing and singing throughout the event, in which the spectators were encouraged to participate.

Hinky Nicols won the title of World Champion 2013: Agility Individual (Small) with his Shetland Sheepdog, Pitch. What a personality he is, and what an incredible sense of humour Hinky has. He and Pitch made a formidable team. He made it look effortless, and both he and Pitch seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves during their time on the floor.

Hinky gave a series of workshops at Noelene Pretorius’ agility training school. I was able to attend a few of these sessions, and learnt a tremendous amount. Here is a picture of Hinky Nickols along with Noelene Pretorius,Yolan Friedman with Kera and myself with Panga. The Malinois are 9 months old here, and we are expecting great things from them. (Kera won Best Puppy on Show at the HBSDC championship show, and Panga has qualified Tracking Trials 1). Both puppies will start competing in agility next year.

A few shots of Panga in action:

dog training Dogs

How Clever is Your Dog?

Test 1: Look in the Mirror

Put a mirror on the floor and sit in front of it with our dog, a metre or so away. Now get someone to put a piece of card or a book between you and the mirror. On the far side of this new “barrier” put something your pet really wants – a toy or a treat. Your dog must not be able to see the treat directly, but he can see it reflected in the mirror. Will your dog see the treat in the mirror and work out where it is?

This is a really interesting test that will tell you a lot about your dog’s ability to perceive the world around him, and about his inquisitiveness and intelligence. (make sure that he can’t smell the treat, though). Many pets will seem to have no interest in the mirror at all. Some may recognize their favourite toy or treat, and may try to investigate it as though it was in the mirror, or behind it. Some pets will find the toy simply be exploring everywhere. But a few pets will make the mental connection of where the toy is, and go straight to it.

Test 2: how your dog talks to you

A friend takes your dog into a room, say your kitchen. The dog watches as your friend hides something your dog really wants – say a favourite ball – by putting it into a kitchen drawer and shutting it.

Now your friend goes out and you come in. You sit down on a chair; you don’t move; you don’t look at your dog. And you don’t look at the hiding place, since you don’t k now where it is! You’re very quiet and very still.

What will your dog do? Will he tell you where the ball is?

Some dogs will do exactly that. Your dog may yap or bark in frustration. He may come over to you and paw your leg to get attention. He may go to the drawer and paw or scrape it and bark or whine. The really switched-on dog will do all these things, barking for attention and running back and forth from you to the drawer until eventually you give in and get the hidden ball.

dog training Dogs

Keep Your Dogs Safe in Summer

Here are a few tips to help avoid problems caused by the heat of summer:

  1. As dogs can’t perspire (lose heat through their skin), they can soon become overheated in hot weather. A dog that is getting hot pants in order to cool itself. If you see excessive panting, drooling and restlessness, you need to take action. Heatstroke is a medical emergency and you should act quickly by bathing the dog in cool (but not ice cold) water and wrapping him in a damp towel. Take the dog to the vet as soon as possible as the body temperature needs to return to normal before permanent damage is done.
  2. Never leave your dog unattended in the car on a warm day, even for a short period of time. Even if your car is parked in the shade, the dog is still at risk of overheating. The sun can move round and soon your shaded parking spot could be in the full glare of the sun. The car will soon become like an oven inside, to the detriment of your dogs’ health.
  3. If you see a dog locked in a car on a hot day, make every effort to find the owner and/or get the dog out.
  4. Make sure when you dog is outside on hot days that he has a plentiful supply of fresh water and a shaded area to lie in.
  5. Dogs often moult in summer, so it is necessary to groom him regularly. Removing loose hair will help keep the dog feeling cool and comfortable, and stop the coat from tangling.
  6. Take this grooming time to check for fleas, ticks and wounds. Grass seeds can work themselves through the coat and embed themselves in the skin. Take care to check that the dogs’ pads are not cracked.
  7. If your dog is long-coated, consider giving him a summer haircut, but ensure that no skin is exposed and therefore at risk of sunburn.
  8. If you live near the beach and allow your dog to swim and play in the sand, make sure that you rinse him off as soon as possible afterwards, as sand and salt water can be very irritating if left to dry on the coat. Don’t forget to take a bowl and plenty of drinking water when visiting the beach.
  9. If your dog loves playing in water, be aware of how much time and energy he is spending in there. Although retrieving games can be fun, they can also be exhausting, especially for very young or older dogs who don’t always have thee sense to stop when they are tired.
  10. Don’t let your dog swim in very cold water – generally what is too cold for humans iss too cold for dogs.
  11. Be aware of tides and currents. Keep a close eye if your dog swims in open water to see that he doesn’t get tired and unable to climb up a steep or slippery bank to get out.
  12. Dogs shouldn’t be allowed to drink from puddles or stagnant ponds. These may contain blue-green algae, which can be extremely dangerous.
  13. Ensure that garages and shed doors are kept closed so that the dog can’t wander in there to escape from the heat. There are all too many cases of dogs eating weed killer of slug repellents. They could even just walk over a toxic area, and then later lick their paws and ingest the poison. If you suspect that this has happened, contact your vet immediately for advice on what to do.
  14. Insect stings are more prevalent in summer, and usually occur on the paws, nose or mouth. Some animals have an allergic reaction to insect stings and the throat can swell and prevent breathing. Get your dog to the vet immediately if you think it has been stung in the face, especially near the mouth.
  15. Bee stings are acid, to remove the sting and bathe the area in bicarbonate of soda.
  16. Wasp stings are alkali, and the sting is not left in the skin. To soothe the area, bathe it in vinegar.
  17. If your dog gets bitten by a snake, seek veterinary help urgently.
  18. Grass seeds often get lodged in the dogs’ eyes or ears. So if your dog starts to shake his head, or if his ears start smelling, check them for seeds.
  19. Ticks and fleas increase in the warmer months. Use a good tick and flea product to ensure that your dog doesn’t succumb to biliaria.
  20. Don’t allow your dog to hang his head out of the window when travelling in the car. It is not uncommon for dirt to get swept into the dogs’ eye.
  21. More people braai in spring and summer – make sure your dog does not get hold of any cooked bones that might be left over. This could result in an impaction or perforation of the intestine, which could require an operation.
  22. Don’t exercise your dog in the middle of the day. Dogs will often accompany you on a walk, and run the risk of overexertion, sore pads from melted tar, or even heatstroke.
  23. Change water regularly as it can evaporate or become dirty.
  24. Wash food and water bowls regularly to avoid contamination by flies or other insects.
dog training Dogs

Dog Teachers Lament

Hello: This is the Magic Wand Dog Training Center, we are unable to come to the phone but please press or enter the number for your request; we will return your call as soon as possible.

Press 01 to tell me your dog has been asked to leave the local obedience club because he won’t sit, wait, down or come when called (even when on lead) so you thought you would try agility.

Press 02 if your Labrador is morbidly obese and you thought you would try agility.

Press 03 if you want 30 minutes of advice and have no intention of paying for it.

Press 04 if you describe your dog as ‘a little bit naughty’ when what you really mean is that the b*st*rd bites … hard.

Press 05 if you want puppy training classes but your Boxer is already 12 months old.

Press 06 if you believe that just by turning up to one puppy training class and doing no work whatsoever at home, your puppy will grow up to be a well adjusted companion.

Press 07 if your nervous, aggressive GSD has bitten and hospitalized Aunt Maude, the vet and your child and you want me to re-home it.

Press 08 if you have three children under school age, an invalid parent living at your home, a partner who works away, are pregnant with twins and want your 8 month old Dalmatian that never gets a walk to stop chewing everything in sight.

Press 09 if you want to tell me my advice has not worked even though you have not tried it yet.

Press 10 if you want to be dog trainer and behaviourist because you like animals better than people.

Press 11 if you are 15 years old and want to do work experience with me but would faint if I asked you to pick up dog poop.

Press 12 if your dog is aggressive with other dogs but you want to join one of my groups because it will be nice for him to have some friends.

Press 13 if you cannot afford my private rates and want a discount because you only have one BMW.

Press 14 if you are cancelling your lesson that is due to start in 30 minutes and have no intention of paying the cancellation fee.

Press 15 if you do not believe in rewarding a dog and know that clicker training does not work because your friend Beryl said so.

Press 16 if you think your dog knows he has done wrong when you tell him off and that he obeys you because he respects you and acknowledges you are a superior being.

Press 17 if you want me to wave my magic wand over your contacts/weaves/start line waits in just one session and will then tell me it did not work when you go to a show just two days later with no training in the meantime.

Press 18 if you have eleven Jack Russell bitches in a small flat and you want me to teach them not to fight each other.

Press 19 if you already know everything about your breed because this is the fourth one you have had and I cannot tell you anything new.

Press 20 if you want me to pick up your dear departed dog’s ashes from the vets and keep them at my house because you are too upset to have them in your home (true!).

Press 21 if you could not use a Gentle Leader, indoor crate, or harness because they are cruel.

Press 22 if you will not put a muzzle on your deadly aggressive dog because you do not want people to think he is nasty.

Press 23 if you want to leave an increasingly angry message for the third time this week demanding an urgent call back and yet again forget to give your name or number.

Press 24 if, having ascertained I am out, you wish ask my engineer husband for behavioral advice about your pet.

Press 25 if you wish to fill up my answering machine tape with an incoherent rambling message.

Press 26 if want your intact male adolescent dog to spend its days lying patiently on your front step on your unfenced property because dogs shouldn’t want to run away, should they.

Press 27 if you want me to teach your untrained border collie to play with sheep because you think he will like it.

Press 28 if your dog thinks its name is “NO”.

Press 29 if it is before 8am or after 10pm and you want to ask how to stop your 13 week old puppy from biting your 5, 7 and 9 year old boys when they play fight with it.

Press 30 if you have taken trouble to socialize and train your pet and want to make an appointment to learn even more fun stuff. No need to hold, I’ll put you right through!

dog training Dogs

Wildlife Sniffer Dogs

In a previous article, Rico, the Wildlife Sniffer Dog was introduced to the public. Rico is a Belgian Malinois and is trained to detect wildlife products, particularly rhino horn. His implementation at OR Tambo International airport has already proved worthwhile.

Recently three more dogs were imported to add to the team: 2 Malinois and one German Shepherd. I was fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to visit these dogs at the training facility in Kempton Park in December 2012. Pictured here are the female Malinois and the German Shepherd dog. They are shown with their handlers, and have settled into their new environment very well.

These dogs are also funded through The Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, managed by Nedbank Private Wealth, along with sponsorship from Bidvest. Like Rico, they will be deployed as part of a partnership between the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and Bidvest Magnum, which operates a dedicated cargo screening division that uses sniffer dogs to detect explosives in cargo. These dogs have been chosen for their high work ethic – they have both the physical and mental ability to work with intense focus and drive. In order to do their job, these dogs need to be supremely confident and sociable. This combined with their phenomenal sense of smell makes them ideal for this type of work.
Here the dogs with their handlers are have a discussion with Warwick Wragg of the ACTS K9 Unit and Yolan Friedman of the EWT.

This photo shows one of the new recruits, Heddi (Belgian Malinois female) getting put through a training exercise. Whilst the dog is out of sight, a small amount of shaved rhino horn is hidden underneath one of the tyres. Heddi has successfully identified its placement and is indicating by sitting next to the tyre containing the horn. Her handler, George, is about to reward her with her ball.


Why do dogs eat grass?

People often ask me why dogs eat grass. Some dogs even dig the grass up and eat the roots and dirt as well. I believe that dogs were meant to have a varied diet, and that it is not really natural for them to eat just one type of food every day of their lives. And all animals generally enjoy fresh food. Having said this, dogs that consistently graze might be looking for extra minerals or other nutrients, such as fresh antioxidants that are found in grass and other raw vegetable material.

Sometimes our pets are cleverer than we realise. For example, some years ago I went hiking up a hill with a bunch of friends. Of course our dogs went with us. The breeds included Malinois, Jack Russells, a German Shorthaired Pointer and Border Collies. The dogs ran free whilst we puffed and panted our way up the mountain. About half way up we had a sit-down to recover our breath and enjoy the view. After a few moments, I noticed the dogs were disappearing around the side of an outcrop of rocks. Curious, I followed them. There within the protection of these rocks, was abundant if somewhat tatty-looking grass, which all the dogs were busy devouring. I found this most odd, as there was much more luxuriant looking grass growing nearby, which they all ignored. Surely such a motley crew of dogs from such diverse backgrounds couldn’t all need nutrients on the same kind on the same day. I pulled up some of the grass and put it in my pocket.

The next day at work, I presented this grass to the biology department at the University I was working for at the time, and asked why all these dogs wanted to eat it. The next day I got my answer. The grass was indigenous and contained small hair-like protrusions along its outer edge. The academics believed that on passing through the gut of the animal the coarse edges of the grass helped scour it out, thereby assisting in ridding the dog of internal parasites.

Whatever the reason for your dogs grazing habits, it is certainly not unusual for them to want to eat grasses, roots, etc.