Thursday, 10 May 2012

Dog treats

We all like to treat our dogs and what pampered pooch doesn't enjoy a quick scooby-snack? Uly isn't harshly treated and gets to have a Bonio biscuit last thing at night. The routine goes something like this: Late evening, Uly goes to back door, I let him into the utility room and get a Bonio out of the dog buiscuit tin on the window sill. Uly sits with mouth watering. I raise my right hand which he watches with keen anticipation. I then wave my hand away and at the same time say "Bed". Uly rushes into his bed ands sits watching me, I hand him the biscuit which he gently takes from my fingers – I use the word 'gently' and he has got used to not snatching now.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Best new bed

Uly sitting on his nice new memory-foam bed – it's bigger than it look in the photo!
Uly's got a separate bed in the utility room for night-times, but this newly purchased memory foam bed is far better than the old one he had. It is super-comfortable! We bought it from Pets at Home for about £30. The cover comes off for washing.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Retrieving tennis balls

Here's a short video of Uly retrieving tennis balls, in some sort of order. My plan is to have a go at the 'dog snooker' competition at the Gun Dog Fun Day on Sat 14 July in West Sussex. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

Mis-use of the whistle

I've noticed in training there are owners who simply haven't got a clue how to use a dog whistle. I mentioned this to my wife and she said she would be uncertain using one. Some people simply have not ever used a whistle! Hard to believe I know, but perhaps most men get a lot of whistle experience as boys, both whistling tunes through their lips and using the standard ACME or Boy Scout's whistle.

Watching one lady (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons), she used so many different blows on her whistle, her dog was clearly confused. Often the lady ended up calling the dog in by name.

If you are one of those people who don't have whistle experience, consider getting out in your garden without your dog and just practice for a bit. Imagine you have a dog with you and commend it appropriately using the whistle. Once you've got the hang of it, introduce your dog to it.

The whistle commands I'm using and seem pretty standard are:

One peep = 'Stop'

Three peeps = 'Come'

Two peeps (peep-peeeeeep) = 'It's there' (use when dog is close to prey/dummy).

I use the whistle loudly when the dog is at a distance, more softly when the dog is nearby.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

The night dad lost Hamish the hamster

Walk on the North Downs with Uly, brother-in-law Geoff and our neices
On Friday 5th of November 2010 I brought home a big black labrador called Uly and our houshold was never the same again.

It was on that fateful Guy Fawkes night (or at least the next morning) I discovered that one of the doors to my daughter's hamster cage didn't close properly. I mean, what a good dad I was, remembering to feed Georgina's hamster his special piece of tasty broccoli on the night she was having a sleepover and I was so busy with my new and very excited dog.

Not feeling so clever the next day when Georgina came back and found little Hamish the hamster had disappeared into thin air. Oh, we took the utility room apart, removed all the kickboards from the cupboards, pulled out the fridge, the washing machine, it's surprising what you find lurking in these places: old socks, carrots, mediaeval coinage, but no Hamish. We even set up bucket and broccoli traps outside in the garden in case he'd slipped outside.

Now I should say that having a new dog in the house did rather distract my daughter from the loss of her hamster. It shows just how quickly a young girl's pet allegiances can swap when the choice is between a tiny fluffy rodent that sleeps all the daylight hours and a big, demanding dog that likes being tickled.

The hamster didn't show up again, at least not in our home. The footnote to this tale is that some weeks later we discovered that our neighbours had evacuated their house because of rodent activity in their loft. They'd heard scampering about above their bedroom ceiling on anumber of nights but had never been able to track down the cause, so being petrified of rats and mice the wife had to decamp to her mother's house down the road. After a visit from the local pest control man, the noise eventually stopped but no body was ever found.

*If you lose your hamster put a piece of broccoli into a bucket set on the floor. Use a strip of wood to create a ramp from the floor to the edge of the bucket. In the morning, with luck, your hamster will be in the bottom of the bucket.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Pheasant in utility room

Great excitement for Uly, there's a cock pheasant strung up in our utility room adjacent to his bed. I was give it last night by Inger and I'm going to use it for training – a consolation for the cold game day having to be cancelled due to bad weather coming in. Plan is to use it for a couple of retrieves in the garden. Will wait 'til Lesley gets back so we can takes some pictures.

The 'Bed!' punishment

This is as tough as dog punishment gets around here. When Uly did something really bad once – trapped and started plucking one of our white chickens (he didn't kill it) I adminstered the 'Bed!' punishment. Basically this involves telling the dog off in sternest possible voice and commanding it to go to its bed. This resulted in Uly, ears back, slinking off to the house to his corner of the utility room and lying low in his bed. He sure knows he's done something wrong. Boy did it work! Uly has never touched the chickens again.

I would say, I think this type of punishment although entirely non-physical, is extremely powerful. The dog doesn't like being told off, it humiliates them and as such I think it should be used only where absolutely necessary and definitely not often.

In the time I've had Uly, this is the most effective method of getting through to him that something must not be done. It works and my guess is it works for life. Don't overdo it!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Wild dog to placid pet

Uly in 'stick attack' mode when he was younger, amazingly (apart from one occasion when he and I both grabbed for the same tennis ball), he didn't ever catch anyone's fingers

Honestly, when I first got Uly, he definitely had a wild streak in him. He was so keen to play all the time, and this translated into a lot of jumping, play-biting and constant pulling on the lead. A number of my jackets and jerseys were ripped by him jumping and biting them, desperately trying to get me to throw a stick or ball for him. I was taking him onto the hills twice a day to try and get rid of some of this energy. One mustn't forget his working pedigree, this is a dog that wants to be on the go and will get frustrated if he can't.

All the regular training, the advice and expertise of trainers Inger, Gary and Sheila, a degree of firmness in handling him, and ensuring that everyone in the family is consistent about the commands they use, has started to really pay off. Of course, he is older now – about 21 months, so whilst still officially in puppy territory, he is behaving more and more like a mature dog. 
Uly resting in the kitchen this morning

This morning Uly's been up on the hills (North Downs, Kent, England) for an hour-and-a-half running in the snow, he's dried himself off (an hour spent in his bed in the utility room) and now he's just chilling on a cushion in front  of the kitchen dresser. Doesn't he look a lovely, friendly dog? We all think so.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Labrador barking at strangers

If Uly has one fault, he is apt to bark at strangers. I'm pretty sure this is either territorial or caused by anxiousness, or a bit of both. I'm rather hoping he will grow out of this trait. In the meantime, I try not to make a big deal about it – I don't want him getting a lot of attention from me when he barks. 

My response at the moment is to either tell him 'No noise', gently 'Shush-h-h', ignore him, or walk him away from whoever he's barking at. I haven't really worked out which is best and I think it rather depends on the situation. 

Of course, some people want their dog to bark at strangers, and I don't mind him giving one or two barks when someone comes to the door, but I obviously don't want it getting out of hand. More of this later, I think.

Uly enjoys traveling in lime-green Panda 4x4

My favourite picture of Uly enjoying a day out in the car, mostly spent eyeing-up the deer in Knole Park, Sevenoaks, England.

Don't forget to turn off the airbag if your dog travels like this. By the way, his lead is attached to the bottom of the seat, so he can't go very far or disrupt my driving.

Descending steps

I will try to find out how guide dogs are trained to do this. I've been using the 'Wait' command at each step as we go down, then commanding Uly to go down further by saying 'One step', again repeating the 'Wait' command whenever he appears to be going too far. I also, incidentally, keep one hand firmly on the handrail (where there is one available), in this way I am braced if he does go down too fast. Best of all though, is that 'Wait' command, now he really knows it, and the tone of voice that goes with it (sharp, commanding action), it pretty much stops him in his tracks (exactly as intended).

This will really come into its own when I have to take Uly down very steep stairs (such as on a boat), Being able to hold him (with my voice) on the steps as we go down could save a lot of grief.

We did take Uly on the car ferry across to the Isle of Wight last Easter, and we had to go up and down a number of flights of stairs. We sort of managed them, but next time will be much, much better I'm sure.

For readers unfamiliar with the UK, Isle of Wight is a small isle (10 miles x 15 miles approx) off the south coast of England. It is know for being a good place to find fossils, it was also a home of Queen Victoria who lived at Osborne House. A lot of sailing goes on around the Isle and of course hosts Cowes Week Regatta. We go to the Isle of Wight because it has a somewhat unspoiled, slightly old-fashioned feel about. It has some lovely beaches & coves, walks and country pubs.

Cold Game Day

Yesterday was planned as a cold game day with my local gun dog club. Unfortunately it's been put-off due to heavy snow.  I've been told this type of training is essential for anyone who wants their dog to compete in field trials. I'm planning we'll try our hands (paws) at some sort of competitive gun dog work, so I guess this will be field trials.

More later...

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Frozen tail

Uly, as a puppy, honestly had the waggiest tail known to dog or man. So it was a shock when one day it went limp and just wouldn't do more than a little shake from side to side. It was obviously causing him some distress too.

I was really worried that I my lovely dog was going to be left without a wag! Fortunately it wasn't a permanent state of affairs and within a few days his tail was back to its old self.

He'd suffered an affliction know as frozen tail (also limber tail, cold water tail and cold tail syndrome amongst other names), and it had come on after a particularly cold evening sitting out in the field. He seems to be susceptible to this and has been similarly trouble after swimming in cold water and after being out in the snow.

I do feel sorry for him when he gets it, as he's clearly troubled by it. Vets can give an injection to ease the discomfort, but this could get expensive if it's a regular occurrence. Best thing it seems to me is take it easy on the kinds of activities that cause the problem.

UPDATE: Poor old boy was out in the snow and cold yesterday and came back with a cold tail and and a very down-in-the mouth look. At first he kept nibbling away at the fur on his tail, as if he had a flea – I think it probably feels like chilblains and gets very itchy. This morning we're going to take him for just a short walk (so he doesn't get too cold) with his mum – the activity will set him straight for a while and then he can chill-out for the rest of the day in his bed. Hopefully he'll be back to normal in a day or two.

LATEST: Took Uly up the hill today (snow on the North Downs, lovely blue sky but very cold). His tail, while not entirely back to normal wagginess, is considerably better – well on the mend, it seems.

Castration - a tricky operation

This was real issue for me, and I know many people struggle with it.

Uly is a fabulous dog, but I found myself considering the question of whether to have him castrated. Of course this is a big decision and there's no going back once done.

Deciding factors seem to be as follows:

  • Other people we knew had complete dogs and they were frankly a pain, kept as pets they humped anything in sight
  • Some uncastrated dogs will mark their territory indoors (and this included whenever they were taken to a new environment, like someone else's house). castration seems to cure this
  • Complete dogs, we were told, have a habit of wandering off, escaping to get to any local bitch on heat. Dogs have been killed crossing roads to get to bitches
  • One dog, when kept with its mother for three weeks, constantly leaked semen around the house and invoked a 'phantom pregnancy' in the bitch (which wasn't on heat)
  • Our vets told us that various diseases, such as some cancers are avoided in a castrated dog
  • All male guide dogs are castrated at 8 months
  • Castrated dogs seem to be less smelly
  • A castrated dog's 'lipstick' is never seen again
  • Uly, now castrated, seems to be less prone to try and mount bitches in the local park (though he does still seem to show interest in bitches when they are around their season)
  • A castrated dog can live its life mercifully free of being constantly taunted by its own and bitches' hormones – they can live blissfully as if as young lads never troubled by girls!
  • Unknown things: Uly appeared not to enjoy his castration experience at the vets. He is very unhappy going to the vet now and I have had to try and get him over this. It might be worth considering having the operation done at another practice if you do not want him troubled every time you re-visit your regular one for check up and vaccinations.
UPDATE: I do in some ways regret my decision to have Uly castrated. The people I've met at gun dog training have shown me it is possible to have an uncastrated dog that does not constantly present problems. Once again, it comes down to training. I did it with best intentions, but I think in the future, if I ever have another dog, I may leave it longer and see how the dog develops before taking the chop

Expert trainers

I wanted to point out that this neither this blog nor my well-trained dog would exist the way they do if it wasn't for the expert help, advice and training I've received from the real trainers down here in Kent, England. 

What knowledge I have has been gleaned mostly from them. Yes, there's lots to be found in books and on the internet, but nothing beats the practical experience of training your dog with other dogs and people who really know what they're doing.

Chiefly I have learned from:
Roger & Sheila

Good dog, bad owner

Me and Uly, St. Boniface Down, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, England

A favourite phrase amongst dog trainers seems to be "Good dog, bad owner". Another is "Don't ask your dog, tell it!". Yes, in all things doggy, the major problem, the spanner in the works, is most often not the dog, but the owner. Dogs, it seems, get easily confused – you can't rationalise with a dog, and you can't explain to your dog in human terms why you want it to do this or that.
The dog training method I've come across which most suits me and Uly involves going back a step or two when things don't work out. If you're trying to get your dog to sit and stay, for example, and Uly gets up and wanders when I move away, well, I just go back a step or two. Don't go so far away, or just get him to sit and stay by him. More than anything it seems to be setting your dog up to succeed.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

'Old school' v 'new school' dog training methods

In the shortish time I've had Uly, I've come across a number of Gun Dog trainers through the clubs I've been to. There seems to be many ways to train your dog, but always, of course, with similar aims. In the past I understand that methods have been extremely firm. I've heard that some Gun Dogs have become traumatised by their training and consequently never make the grade. 

Fortunately, I've never witnessed any really harsh handling. However, training methods vary considerably and I can honestly say I have learnt things from every trainer I've come across.

The 'new school' methods practised by the two trainers I admire most seem to be based on a deep understanding of canine psychology and produce excellent results. Importantly, the training must match the age of the dog and the stage it's at. It can be really counter-productive, to try and teach a dog things it isn't ready to learn.

First and foremost, I've been trying to work on the basics of: Sit, Come, Wait, Heel. Get these right and I'll have an obedient dog.

Famous Labradors no. 1

File:Nigger (dog).jpg
This is Nigger, the black labrador that belonged to Wing Commander Guy Gibson and mascot of 617 Squadron of the 'Dam Busters' raid.

Nigger died on 16 May 1943, the day before the raid, when he was hit by a car. He was buried at midnight as Gibson was leading the raid. 'Nigger' was the code word Gibson used to confirm the breach of the Möhne Dam.

Interestingly, in the 1955 film The Dam Busters, an RAF dog was used to portray Nigger. Apparently he was a brilliant canine actor, only causing difficulties on a couple of occasions. On one time, when filming on location at RAF Scampton, Nigger and Gibson were to stroll through a group of RAF men waiting outside of a building for a briefing. The dog could not be persuaded to move off one spot, or even dragged past it on a lead. It later transpired that the spot was the site where the real Nigger had been buried, some 8 years before, whose gravestone had been temporarily removed for filming. In the end, the scene was filmed without the dog.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Delivering dummies and the 'Hold' command

When I want Uly to pick up or hold on to something (a training dummy, for example) I tell him 'Hold' or 'Hold it'. Recently, I wonder if I've overdone this because Uly seems to drop what he's holding as often as hang on to it. Perhaps I've repeated 'Hold' so many times that he's getting confused over what it  means, especially as the time between me saying 'Hold' and then 'Dead' (Give) is very brief. In all, it is probably one of the more anxious moments, when Uly's bringing something back to me, will he drop it? Will he run off and monkey around? I think I'm going to leave out this command for a while, see if I can calm things down and get a better result....

UPDATE: I stopped using the 'hold' command and indeed things have calmed down. A case of 'less is more', I'd say.

SECOND UPDATE: With Uly still being reluctant sometimes to give up his retrieves (prey), I've decided to get tough. It's been going on for long time now and whilst steadily improving I feel he is old enough, mature enough to be delivering properly. Today, this week, I am determined to crack this and I'm going to use it by administering the 'Bed!' punishment.

THIRD UPDATE: Had the chance to administer 'Bed!' punishment this morning when Uly decided to start play chewing a dummy he was retrieving to me. In fact, I speeded the process up by getting him to retrieve his most exciting toy-thing, a sort of blue tennis-ball-on-a-rope (I should say that he does not have any of his own 'toys' as such, they all belong to his master (me) and he gets  to retrieve them at certain times, I know this may seem a bit unfair to some dog-lovers but it seems to be the done thing when training this type of dog).

Anyway, he was duly told off and slunk off to his bed per the command.

Half hour later I again got him to retrieve the blue tennis-ball-on-a-rope. Result? Well, he was confused and dropped the thing on the way back, he was clearly worried he was in trouble for picking it up or that he was going to get told off again.

So, without further delay I did a couple of retrieves with a plain dummy – with plenty of encouragement and a light tone to my voice he brought them back perfectly and I gave him lots of praise. Next, I tried the blue tennis-ball-on-a-rope again, gave him lots of encouragement and he brought it straight to my feet and dropped it. Another retrieve and this time his confidence is coming back, with encouragement he held it and delivered it pretty much to my hand. I think we may have got this cracked!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Notes on the command 'Back'

I was puzzled by this one at first. Why 'Back', I asked? Well, it needs to be considered alongside the command 'Come'.

When you command your trained dog to 'Come', you expect it to willingly come running straight to you, but what do you say you want him to run away from you? That's when 'Back' is used. One could as easily use the word 'Away' or anything else that's appropriate, but in Gun Dog circles round these parts it's usually 'Back'.

You can see why one experienced handler took me to task when I first arrived at Gun Dog training. When Uly pulled ahead on the lead I would sometimes exasperatedly command him 'Get back!' (meaning come to heel). It's easy to confuse a dog so I was very grateful to be put straight. 

Remember: 'Back!' to go. 'Come!' to return.

Should you use your dog's name in the command? Well, it seems to be a matter of personal choice (though one trainer was dead against using dog's names in commands). "Poppy, back!" or just 'Back!"? It seems to be up to you but I can't really see any advantage in lengthening a command more than needed, so in this instance, I aim not to use my dog's name.

Notes on 'Wait' and 'Stay'

The 'Wait' command is one I seem to use all the time: telling Uly to 'Wait' at a gate or stile while I pass through first and so he doesn't push past... 'Wait' on individual steps one-at-a-time as we descend a staircase... 'Wait' while speak to the postman. For us it works really well and I like the sharp reaction 'Wait!' seems to invoke in Uly. 

Someone told me recently of a dog that was sitting, untethered, outside the entrance to a cathedral. There were lots of people milling around outside and some had tried to feed the dog with sweets. However, the sweets were untouched and the dog remained stock-still until his owner returned from visiting the cathedral. I am certain the owner had used the 'Stay' command.

You can see from the descriptions the differences between 'Wait' and 'Stay' commands.

Gary, one of our best Gun Dog trainers, has shown me a method of really teaching a dog to obey the 'Stay' command and I will be writing this down shortly.

Gun Dog Commands

I pondered which commands to use for some time when we first got Uly. I knew we had to have a set of words and signals that Uly would come to understand and respond to, and that everyone in the family was going to have to use the same ones.

Fortunately Claire at Gun Dog training knew the best words to use and set me straight by kindly writing down a list one evening. I've made a few minor changes to those original words to reflect what I have found works best for us, so here is the list of 'Uly-language'...

Basic dog commands every dog should know:
'Down' (lie down)
'Wait' (wait for a command)
'Stay' (until further notice/I return)
One word that wasn't on the original list and that I've found really useful is 'No!'.

More specific Gun Dog commands:
'Back' (go away in straight line)
'Out' (go right or left)
'There' or 'Lost' or 'High Lost' or 'Find it'
'Close' (come in closer to me)
'Go-run' (release word to say go and run around - you're a free doggy!)
'Load-up' (get up into car)
'Hold' (hold thing in mouth – dummy, ball, pheasant, whatever)
'Dead' (or 'Give') (dog to let go of what it has in its mouth)

Whistle Gun Dog commands:
One peep = 'Stop'
Three peeps = 'Come'
Two peeps (peep-peeeeeep) = 'It's There' (use when dog is very close to prey/dummy).

There seems to be quite varied commands to tell your dog to empty its bladder/bowels. I caused some amusement at training by using the most basic, namely...

It's up to you!

Stopping on the Whistle

I would say this is an advanced command, the idea is that Uly will stop (and sit) at distance when I give the command. In this case the command would be either a single short-ish blast on the whistle (alternatively one could use a spoken command 'Sit' or perhaps 'Stop'. 

I want to use the whistle as it can be easily heard by Uly at considerable distance (much further than my unaided voice would carry) and in bad weather (heavy rain and wind for example).

Now, as I've learnt, the 'Stop' command is used to halt your dog in the field when you want to give it to change direction or take any other command. It becomes more difficult to enforce the further away the dog is. Clearly, when teaching dog command it's going to help to keep things close-by to start with.

Like most of the things I'm training Uly to do, it takes longer than you might first think. I often seem to get an early result, but for consistent, reliable obedience, it seems to be  case of just keep chipping away, don't give up, you get there in the end (hopefully).