A life in dogs

New Addition

I know it has been very quiet here, but I have had a very exciting development, and I didn’t want to jinx it.


Many years ago, I fell in love with the german shorthaired pointer as a breed. I knew I wanted one, but it was never practical. When I became single again, I joined the national breed club, a local breed club, and started working on the breeder of my favorite type of the breed. She tried very hard to help me out, but unfortunately, there were no puppies for me.

Then my breeder-friend had a friend with ten puppies who were from the same lines, and my friend was going to get one. So she asked her friend if there might be a puppy for me. HURRAH!

So now we have a new addition. His name is Bacon. We had great plans to give him this sophisticated name like Giove and Bijou, but I met him, and it just wasn’t going to happen. He is Bacon.

Without further ado, here he is:



I apologize for the sleeping photo, but he’s pretty hard to capture in stills right now.

Early this week, he and I made a 12 hour journey from his breeder to my home. In addition to being a healthy,  conformationally-correct puppy, he’s also incredibly resilient. That is one of the things that means the most to me. Reputable breeders do their best to make sure all puppies get the proper socialization, but especially with a large litter (TEN!!), there are always spots that need a little work.  I lived in suburbia when I bred two of my puppies, and they had more problems with sounds and people just appearing in their space when I moved into town. (One is particularly reactive, which I think is genetic, but even her littermate tends to bark at environmental change a little more than other dogs.)  One of my puppies was a singleton and has never adored puppies (although he had plenty of adult dog socialization, he didn’t get a ton of early puppy-puppy work; classes weren’t working in our schedule and I didn’t know any other puppies!)

Bacon hasn’t met many non-GSP dogs up close and in person. He has seen them (his breeder boards dogs) but he hasn’t played with any. He was a little cautious about the new dogs, but he is so resilient, within a few minutes, he is figuring out that other dogs are fun (much to Giove’s chagrin.)

He also spent most of his life with littermates, or penned near the big dogs, so being alone is stressful. He made himself hoarse crying the first day. However, we’ve been using positive methods to reinforce quiet, giving him puzzle toys (kongs, etc) and he’s slowly but surely figuring it out.

On the plus side, he has done very well with all of the traveling, and aside from an urp or two during the 12 hour travel, he hasn’t been car sick or really cried in the car. (We discovered singing “Happy Birthday” over and over quickly calms him and he usually falls asleep now.)

He doesn’t bark when people come in, and he is learning his name and has a decent recall now. He loves to play fetch, and we’ve been using this game to wear him out to help with the mild separation anxiety. He has two dog walkers who are enjoying him and who are helping to reinforce the potty training (NOTE: training him is a million times easier than a cavalier!)

I am a firm believer that 5 minutes a day of well-planned, well-received socialization is a lot better than 30 minutes of chaotic, so-so socialization. So we are doing a little a day, and keeping everything positive.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing more of the details of what I do for socialization. I hope you will come back and check it out!

BTW, any suggestions for a registered name which includes the word “Tocino?”

Junior Handling

I have twin ten year olds who love the dogs, and have been interested in doing Junior Handling. While Giove isn’t really an ideal dog for the show ring (he shouldn’t have any white), he’s a perfect Juniors dog. He has a pleasant temperament, but he isn’t an “easy” dog. My daughters have to practice with him and train him to do what they want, and they can’t coerce him, or he’ll slip his lead and run out of the ring. (They are not physical with him, but once one did pull on his lead, and he gave her a “screw this!” look and took off.)  This package means that they are forced to be better handlers, and not just worry about the fluff that you see with some handlers.

Because of the lead slip, my one daughter, B, was not excited to continue handling him. Her sister, M, was going out of town with her father,  so I offered to take her to another show for a final chance. She said she felt embarrassed when Giove took off, and asked if I could promise he wouldn’t do that. So we set to work.

Day one: walking on a loose lead. B gave Giove many treats for just being near her on a loose lead. By the end of the five minute session, he was following her around pretty well.

Day two: more loose lead walking. B continued giving Giove treats for walking next to her. Soon she could just reward him at the beginning and end of the “down and back.” Giove looked happy and was wagging his tail and prancing along next to her.

Day three: more loose lead walking, plus some table time. I showed B how to bait Giove (give him treats) to have him stand where she wanted and how she wanted, while the judge (me, in this case) went over him.

The next few weeks continued with more positive reinforcement to set the conditioned emotional response of being on a show lead and performing with B to a positive one.

We only had one day where Giove did not want to work (and to be fair, neither did I. It was very hot and a storm was brewing that was so bad, we lost power for about 24 hours.) The lovely thing was not only Giove’s CER changed, but so was B’s. She is excited about her show with Giove.  I will be sure to post pictures after the show, but I wanted to share a photo of B when she first started handling at age 5, and when she was in her first show at age 9.


B handling dogs

B handling dogs (they are actually two different dogs)


Followup to Canine Emotional Detox

It has been a few weeks since Bijou did her Emotional Detox.  I wanted to do  follow-up.

Generally, Bijou has been a bit calmer since her detox. I’d like to do another day with her and follow-up periodically because I think it would help keep her stress levels down. She will bark still, but she’s easier to calm.

I’ve also figured out that barking about going out is a signal to me that her threshold is going down; when she is relaxed, she won’t bark about going out, but once the triggers start piling up, any sense that maybe I might open the door sends her to the moon vocally. It sounds annoying (and it is), but it’s a good thing, because it is a cue for me to mix in some of the things that I learned from my three day session to get her back to equilibrium.

Bijou has also started to ask for her twist n’ treat for feeding. This is a good thing — I prefer to have her work for her food than to just give it to her in a bowl. I can get through a few rounds of the twist n’ treat tightly closed for a meal. Because Giove would happily steal the toy, I give him a tug-a-jug in another room.

Bijou with her tug-a-jug

Bijou with her tug-a-jug (sorry it’s so blurry, but I couldn’t get any closer without interrupting her play!)

Interestingly, Giove started moving the tug-a-jug away from Bijou, which raised her interest in the toy. I was able to fill another tug-a-jug for Bijou, and because he’s interested, she’s interested. She tends to give up on the tug-a-jug if the food doesn’t come out easily, so I tend to over-fill it, but it’s a good alternate toy for her.

If you have the opportunity to do an emotional detox, I highly encourage you to do so. As I said before, the activities will reframe your relationship with your reactive dog, even if you have a fair amount of experience as a trainer.  My practitioner was Vicki Aquino Ronchette, from Braveheart Dog Training, and I can not say enough good things about her. You can also contact the creator of the program, Diane Garrod, through her website at

Let me know if you give it a try!



I’ve been waiting for a particular puppy (certain breed male with a certain personality type from a certain line) for awhile. As of late, I’ve been confronted about why I am not “saving a dog from a shelter.” This accusation has brought up a few things that I’d like to share.

  • I’m not going to reiterate all of the issues with the global stray dog population, but you can read more about it here. The key point is that importing or relocating strays is fraught with problems. Just ask my friend who had to get a series of rabies shots after being bitten by a relocated stray.
  • PeTA and HSUS do not save animals, and in fact, are under ongoing investigation by the FBI. Be very wary about giving money to ANY organization outside of your local animal shelter (who would very much appreciate your donations of money or supplies!)
  • Reputable breeders do health testing, check out their potential puppy homes, and, on the off chance that a puppy is not working in the home, will take that puppy back (or appropriately rehome it) at any point for the rest of its life. They do not want novice people breeding, which is why most won’t sell puppies without a spay/neuter contract. Reputable breeders do NOT want their puppies in a shelter or rescue, and are not contributing to the “stray dog population.”
  • People want purebred dogs for the same reasons that others want a shelter dog: they want a dog. Most people don’t buy or rescue a dog  because they feel sorry for it and want to give it a home. If that’s your motivation, there are a TON of children in the foster care system who would love to come live at your house.

I’m really looking forward to sharing puppy pictures and adventures when our new addition arrives. I hope you are too!

Itching and scratching and licking, OH MY!

It’s that time of year, and Bijou has allergies. Most of the year, provided she is on a particular kibble, she’s fine. It can’t even be the same variety of a different brand, it must be a particular variety of a particular brand. An expensive brand. Luckily, she doesn’t eat much.

Unfortunately, we’ve entered the time of year where her allergies really blossom, and not even managing the kibble helps. Enter the cone.

Giove wearing his cone of shame

52 channels and nothing on

Bijou has to wear her cone until I get things under control. In the meantime, there are eye drops and ear drops and pills and sprays and shampoo. I had a friend ask me if it were worth keeping her alive with all of the mess she has to deal with.  If I thought she were truly suffering, and an allergist couldn’t help her, I would indeed put her to sleep. Her allergies are not really that bad, according to my vet. She doesn’t lose her hair, and the worst that happens is she gets a hot spot from licking.  But it isn’t fun to be itchy, as I know from personal experience with my own allergies, so I do my best to keep her comfortable.

Unfortunately, it also means she can’t really go anywhere until things die down. Which sucks for her. While Bijou doesn’t love meeting other dogs, she does like going places in the car. So she’s a little sad that she has to stay home.

The picture I included above is of Giove, obviously. He is intact and somehow got an abrasion on his man parts. He licked himself raw. I kept trying the cones I had at home, but each time, he’d figure out a way to contort and lick. Finally, the vet picked out this very large cone. We all had a good chuckle because he had a hard time walking around in it due to the size. He was not happy. However, he did not lick his parts!

Bijou, on the other hand, doesn’t mind the cone at all. She can do most everything she does without the cone, including sticking her nose under my chin (I get to smell my breathe first thing in the morning with the cone over my face — YUM!) or climbing under the covers at night to sleep (bed shark!) I’m grateful that she doesn’t mind the cone, but I’ll be honest — it wasn’t always that way. We did a lot of classical conditioning to set things up so she associated the cone with good things. It was work, but given that we have a cone week (or two) once a year, it was worth it.

Have you used classical conditioning with your dog? In what situation?

Types of training

This week I’ve been reading a lot about different types of training that my friends use. Traditionally in dog training, there was punishment for mistakes, and some sort of reward (usually a “good boy”) for the correct behavior.  In other species, there was a bigger focus on reward-based training (it’s hard to use a choke chain on a killer whale), and these methods became more commonly used in training dogs as well.

Here’s the thing: reward-focused behavior is easier because typically it’s a response to something. If you use punishment, you wait for the undesired behavior to happen, you respond with a punishment. (You can lay on the sofa and scream at the kids.) If the focus of your training is reward-based, you have to plan things out in advance so that you have the opportunity to reward the desired behavior, and so that the animal (in this case, a dog) does’t have the opportunity to practice the wrong behavior.  I choose to go with the second method whenever possible because to be honest, punishing (even if it’s just yelling) my dog makes me feel bad. It’s just not the relationship I want to have with my dog. (Or my kid, but that’s a topic for another blog.)

Susan Friedman has a great website if you want more details and resources: Behavior Works, but I really like this simple way that she explains the steps you need to go through to come up with a plan: Antecedent — Behavior — Consequence.

A – B – C

Antecedent: What’s the setting? What things are happening before the behavior? What is the environment.

Behavior: What’s the behavior? Can you describe it without any labels? (aggressive, stubborn, etc)

Consequence: What’s the reward for the behavior?

Using this path, you can come up with what’s happening now, as well as a plan for changing your dog/cat/kid/spouse’s behavior.

Now, in theory, you could still use punishment as the consequence in this scenario, but why? If you’ve gone through all of the trouble of coming up with a plan, wouldn’t it feel better to use a reward instead? (Maybe that’s just me.)

This is not to say I’m not human. I have a budgie who happily repeats everything I ever said in a loud voice, like, “KIDS, STOP FIGHTING!” It’s like a feathered recorder to remind me when I haven’t been using ABC, and instead have been just reacting.

The reason this topic was on my mind was that someone wrote that you couldn’t train a working dog reliably using positive methods. What do you think?

Canine Emotional Detox

This past weekend I participated in a Canine Emotional Detox with Bijou. This program was designed by Diane Garrod. You can learn more about the program here.  My friend, Vicki Aquino Ronchette, from Braveheart Dog Training  is a practitioner, and designed the personalized detox for Bijou.

I’m not very into woo-woo stuff (I work in a science lab surrounded by scientists!) and the word “detox” always makes me a little suspicious, but I was interested in giving it a try. Folks with reactive dogs have had good results, and I felt like it was worth it if it would help Bijou feel calmer.

The program takes three days. I had to manage all sorts of triggers to keep Bijou below threshold, cook her special meals (which she LOVED), and participate in bonding exercises. It sounds fun, and it was, but it was also a lot of work. I didn’t really get how much time it would take and how intense it would be until I was in it. I felt exhausted and I know Bijou did too.

Bijou playing with her twist n’ treat

Bijou playing with her twist n’ treat

The activities included massage and TTouch, cuddling, and training games. One particularly educational activity for me involved playing with Bijou with toys. Bijou has never been big on toys. I would buy them and try to play with them with her, but she just wasn’t interested. When I got out the toys and put food in them, the one toy she came back to repeatedly was the Twist ’n Treat. I never would have guessed it or tried it with her except it came up as a part of this program. I am going to make more of an effort to feed her at least part of her meals from this dispenser. (Giove prefers the tug-a-jug. )

I was also pleased to discover that she really enjoyed jumping. I set up a  low jump with my piano bench on it’s side, and she was really happy to jump back and forth over it for a treat. I’m not sure we’d ever do agility competitively, but it has me considering setting up some simple obstacles in my yard (which is relatively flat.)

Another thing I learned which to be honest, made me feel stupid, was that the holly tree next door is dropping leaves which are prickly on a dog’s tootsies. Bijou doesn’t like running around outside because it is ouchie! I am investing in a rake this week so that I can get all of the leaves up to encourage her to spend more time outside.

Bijou on her pillow

Bijou on her pillow

The third day of the detox, my lawn guys showed up at 9am. Whoops! I had Bijou cuddle with me, and was fearing the worst. I was pleasantly surprised to see that while she woofed, she didn’t get out of control. It was dialed down from a 14 to about a 4. That was a tremendous improvement, and I actually was able to convince her to lie on the couch with me with a relaxed body posture, while I massaged her.

Vicki and I are going to connect again to see if we can bring her down even more with another day, but honestly, I’m pretty happy with the outcome of this first session.  If you have the opportunity to participate in this program, either with Diane or with Vicki, I highly recommend it.

Have you participated in an emotional detox session? What was your experience?

Choosing a breed

Before I had children, I decided to go back to school to be a vet tech. My career path has been in IT, so this was a big change, both in terms of the type of work, as well as the paycheck. My ultimate goal was to go work with a veterinary behaviorist. (I became a mom, and this didn’t happen, but that’s a story for another day.) I felt like I was a bit old to commit to vet school, but I could do the tech program in a few years, get licensed, and then go study under a vet. Life ultimately got in the way, but for a year, I was a straight A student in a vet tech program, while working part-time as a jr. vet tech.

My boss was not only a vet, she was also a breeder. She and her business partner were involved in a few breeds, and had several dogs that were nationally ranked.

My first day on the job, I walked up to the chain-link fence. Two large dogs put their feet up on the gate and barked ferociously at me. We were eye-to-eye, but something about their body language said to me “we are all noise.” I told them to sit, and they did, quietly. I carefully opened the gate, watching them the whole time, prepared to back out if I needed to. As soon as I was in the gate, they wagged their tails happily and trotted up to me, tongues lolling. I walked inside the building to begin my day.

After the other women got me started, my boss came in to say hello. “How did you come in?” she asked.

“Through the back door, like you told me.”

She looked worried. “Weren’t there two big dogs out there?”


She looked more worried. “Didn’t they bark at you?”

“Yes. I told them to sit, and they did, and I came on in. They looked happy to see me.”

After that encounter, I had the pleasure of being responsible for these two beautiful German Shorthaired Pointers when I was working. I fell in love. I bathed them and fed them when I was there, and I loved every minute of it.

At the time, I was showing Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and I had no desire to get started in another breed. I was waiting to adopt my daughters, and that seemed like a lot. But I remembered these dogs, and I looked for them when we were at dog shows.

Several years later, I divorced, and I also went through a bit of a crisis with my breed. It was bad enough that I was ready to leave showing dogs. A dear friend said that she thought I was likely in the wrong breed for me, and I needed to figure out what breed I was.

Cavaliers are great little dogs, but they have significant grooming (for me) and do have a ton of health issues. The health problems became my undoing, so I was determined to find a breed that had very few health issues. I ended up looking at a few herding breeds, one of which was bred by the very same friend.

When I shared my thoughts with her, she expressed concern. She said, “I think you are trying to be practical, which is a good thing, except that when things get tough, you won’t stick with practical. You need to go with your heart. What does your heart say? What breed is most like you?”

I knew in my heart that I really wanted that GSP. I’m a sporting-dog girl, and I needed to be back in that group. I wanted a dog that was low-maintenance in terms of coat, and who would want to spend time walking and hiking with me. I wanted a smart dog who would enjoy working together on training. I also knew that I wanted a dog from a particular breeder whom I admired and who had healthy, conformationally correct dogs, and so I connected with her, and now I’ve been patiently waiting.

In the meantime, I’ve joined the national breed club and a local breed club, and last year I attended the national specialty that was only a few hours away. I try to go to local specialty shows when I can, and interact with as many dogs as I can. It’s hard waiting, but I feel like things will work out when they should. The breeder and I have developed a friendship, and I’ve been riding the wave with her with each potential breeding. However, I know what I want, and I’m willing to wait for it. My dogs aren’t an impulse purchase. They are a part of my family. Someday, hopefully in the not too distant future, a German Shorthaired Pointer will be a part of my family, too.

How did you select your breed?

Useful tool

This week, I’m in love with an appliance. Get your mind out of the gutter. This appliance cleaned my carpet! It’s the Hoover Max Extract Carpet Deep Cleaner. Mine is an older model, but you can check out the current one here.

My landlords installed a beige berber carpet in the room with the door to the back. Between the dogs and the kids, the carpet was always dirty, even after vacuuming. It was perpetually a shade of reddish-brown.

Enter my Hoover Max Extract. A friend bought it for me a few years ago. Unfortunately, it had gotten gummed up with all of the dirt (and so on) that got tracked in from outside, but I decided that I couldn’t make it be more broken. I took everything apart and cleaned the filters and all of the plastic parts. Voila! It looks like new and cleans like a dream.

One tip I will give you is to only spray once, and then go over that section multiple times without squeezing the trigger to get up all of the moisture, especially on the rinse cycle. Then wait. If there is anything in the pad, it will come right back to the surface within about twenty minutes. If you go right back to it to clean before it is completely dry, you won’t need to use the “wash” cycle (with soap) again. Just spray it once with hot water and then keep going over it until it feels pretty dry. And then wait. You’ll soon know if you really got it up.

Also, if you find that the unit stops sucking up the water, check your filter by removing the bottom tank. There are two filters, but the one that tends to get blocked is readily accessible just by removing the intake tank on the bottom. The filter on mine has a red surround, so you can not miss it. Sometimes, even when I vacuum beforehand, it gets clogged with dog hair, but I can clean it pretty easily with my finger or a paper towel.

My only complaint about this unit is that the brushes seem to break pretty easily. In other words, they stop spinning. Perhaps the Max Extract works better on a pile carpet, but I replaced the component that makes the brushes spin, and it had stopped working again within a day. However, it still seems to clean the rug and it definitely takes out any doggie odor when used in conjunction with an appropriate carpet shampoo. (And I’m smell sensitive. I haven’t noticed the odor returning.)

Unfortunately, I’m an idiot and didn’t remember to take a before and after picture. But give it a shot yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Vacation with a dog

Last week I didn’t post because I was on vacation! This was very exciting for me, as I haven’t been on a vacation where I wasn’t the sole person responsible for children in several years.

This time, an old friend of mine (who is also a dog person) and I went to her boyfriend’s house in the mountains. The house is on (very near) a lake and most of the roads are gravel, so it is a great place to walk around with dogs.

I brought Giove because he is easy. I love Bijou, but she is just too much work for me to completely relax unless we are at home. (Management!)

So I had Giove, and my friend had her dog, “Noodle” (a nickname). Giove and Noodle are “frenemies.”  They mostly get along, but they do things to poke at each other. Noodle likes to run very fast in circles and swoop in like he will hit Giove in the head, and then bark in Giove’s face. Giove likes to antagonize Noodle when he has a coveted resource. But when we go for walks, they are perfectly lovely together, and it made for a wonderful vacation for my friend and I.

Giove at the beach

Giove at the beach

One morning, my friend said she would take both dogs out to potty as I was still in my pjs. I looked out and Giove had walked across the gravel road, and was headed for a walkabout on his own. I saw my friend call him a few times, but he wouldn’t come, so she had to go get him and bring him home. Not fun.

After that, I tried to always go out with him (fully dressed) so that I could be sure that he would stick around. What we figured out was that he didn’t like to poop on the rocks or in the leaves at the house. He preferred the pachysandra at the neighbor’s house. (Substrate preference.) Once he got there, that’s when the walkabout started.

The next time he went on his hike, I told my friend to take Noodle inside, and I ran and hid behind a tree. I was pretty sure he saw where I was all the time, which is why he was being so adventurous.

As soon as I hid, I heard his dog tags jingling. He was running back to find me. It was all well and good to be brave when his person was around, but not so much when he was on his own!

I hid once more when pottying him, and then after that, he never went on a walkabout without my being close by. I had beautiful leash walking (and off-leash walking) for the rest of the trip.

You may wonder why I didn’t call him. I have practiced recalls with him extensively, and he comes, but he has never been out in the woods with animals and many distractions and hadn’t had the opportunity to succeed with a recall in this environment. I did call him once, and he came, but it took some time, and I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to practice that behavior. So we went back to checking in. When I have the opportunity to go back again, I will practice recalls with him so that he can learn he should always come, no matter how many chipmunks he smells in the leaves.

One more tale before I sign off for the day: One morning we went out for a potty trip, and Giove saw five white tail deer in the woods. As soon as they saw us, the deer took off. Giove had never seen deer, and was up the stairs, lickety split, to go back in the house once he spotted them.

I think he would rather stick to small animals and birds.

Have you ever struggled with recalls? What did you do?


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