by Grayson Schaffer | on December 21st, 2009 | in Features, Video Clips
by Grayson Schaffer | on December 15th, 2009 | in Features, Swag the Dog, Things Dog People Wear
Can’t really beat Patagonia’s quilted Again Jacket ($125) as all-purpose undergarment and outerwear. The nylon/wool/poly blend is eminantly soft while the trim styling makes either a nice midlayer for skiing or duck hunting or outer layer for around town.
by Grayson Schaffer | on December 14th, 2009 | in Features, Training
This is another fun one to teach with the clicker. First teach him to drop a glass bottle in the glass bin, just like we did with the cans. Do this only after teaching the can trick—broken glass and dog paws don’t mix. Then have him start by picking up the glass bottle from the can bin and dropping it in the glass bin. Gradually add cans to the mix and only click/treat him when he chooses the bottle.
by Grayson Schaffer | on December 10th, 2009 | in Features, Your Questions
It’s got to be hard to be my dog. There’s snow on the ground, now, but it turns out that cactus still reside under it and so do their spines. Cooper took a digger yesterday and must have skidded right across one. I noticed a few spines after we were done training but didn’t see the fine hair-like spines that were stuck in his leg and belly by the hundred. When I got home last night, poor Cooper looked like a Shar Pei and couldn’t hold down his dinner. I gave him two Bendryl (to bring down the swelling from his alergic reaction) and started plucking out the spines with tweezers. Three hours later, I’d gotten most of the spines out and the swelling had started to go down. This morning, we went to the vet who said more Benadryl and rest. Cooper thanked the nice man by barfing on his floor. Hopefully the little man’s back on his feet by tomorrow.
by Grayson Schaffer | on December 7th, 2009 | in Features, Training
Here’s a classic trick that never gets old: Play dead. Use a clicker to shape this behavior. The click should come right at the moment when the dog has completed the task. Early on, you might click just for him lying down and then for flopping over onto his side a bit. With a dog that’s had some clicker training before and knows that he’s got to offer a behavior to get the click, this should go quickly. You can teach a roll-over the same way.
by Grayson Schaffer | on December 2nd, 2009 | in Features, Media, Time Wasters
This one’s a chain of the first half of a retrieve, a drop it, and a go lie down. Getting him to reliably hit the bin with the can is the only thing that takes some time. To shape that behavior, I used a clicker, put the bin next to him, and clicked any time the can touched the bin. Then click for the can actually landing in the bin. Once he had that skill down, it was just a matter of adding the retrieve and the down to either end.
by Grayson Schaffer | on November 30th, 2009 | in Features, Training, Video Clips
What’s not to love about Ski Santa Fe? The same slopes we were hunting September we’re skiing in November. Cooper was too young to hunt this year, but he’s just the right age to get started on snow. We’re going to spend a lot of time talking about how to ski with your dog this winter. Everyone loves to do it, but few people do it safely. Of the Outside dogs that accompany us on morning hike-up laps, none have escaped a laceration either from a ski edge or a snowmobile. The reason it happens is simple: The owner has no control over the dog when new and exciting distractions are introduced. A few people have told me that I’m no fun for making my dogs heel. But that’s not quite right. The point is: Make sure your dog can heel and will come when called (even when skiers or snowmobiles are zipping by). Then when you release your dog to run and play, you can do so with the confidence that he’s not a danger to himself.
by Grayson Schaffer | on November 18th, 2009 | in Swag the Dog, Things Dog People Wear
Gotta hang your whistle on something. Here’s a handsome two-clip braided leather whistle lanyard from Avery. Keeps me from losing whistles so fast. $28
by Grayson Schaffer | on November 12th, 2009 | in Features, Swag the Dog
Kennel covers are great for keeping the icy wind off your dog in the back of your truck in winter and keeping disease-causing mosquitos out of your pup’s crate in the summer. One other reason I like ‘em: When you zip the screens shut, they make it just dark—like stop barking and go to sleep dark. $90.
by Grayson Schaffer | on November 11th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way
Mike passed along news from Tennessee-based handler Jim Bowers about Cooper’s half-brother Boone’s recent certification in arson detection. Boone is trained to detect some 18 different accelerants, which are often present in arson-caused fires. The dog pinpoints the location of the fuel in the debris, a sample is taken back to the lab and, voila, This was no accident!
Boone was started in scent detection at Wildrose shortly after birth and made the team at only 12 months, which is very young to pass the Canine Accelerant Detection Association’s rigorous test. Currently there are about 200 arson-detection dogs working in the country. Nice job, Boone!
by Grayson Schaffer | on November 3rd, 2009 | in Features, Pampering, Swag the Dog
Here’s simple yet stylish slip lead from Avery. It’s braided leather and of the style and short length that’s perfect for quick walks where you don’t want your dog straying too far. Note, if your dog doesn’t have a good heel or is prone to pulling out, you’ll know it as soon as you slap this lead on. $30.
by Grayson Schaffer | on October 28th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way, Training
Puppies are great. Loads of fun. But they squirm a lot and, unlike cats, do not always land on their feet. Here, Mike demonstrates proper technique with my mom’s pup, Gibbs.
by Grayson Schaffer | on October 27th, 2009 | in Features, Swag the Dog, Training Equipment
I’ve recommended having your dog sit on a chair for some of the basic training drills, but here’s a piece of equipment well known to retriever trainers that’s even better. This one is the Avery Ruff Stand and runs $180. Dog stands are typically used to give your pup a lift out of the fridged waters of duck marshes, but they’re also a great way to get him up to eye level for hold conditioning, eye contact, place training, and anything else you’d normally have to crouch down to accomplish. For a young pup, the stand also builds confidence for higher places (make sure there’s no hard landing around the stand if you’ve got a very young dog) and provides a stable surface to teach loading (jump on or into something) and under, which is great if you’re in a public place and you want to keep your dog out of the way.
by Grayson Schaffer | on October 22nd, 2009 | in Features, Training, Video Clips
Some folks were asking whether Danger can do that beer trick from last week’s short movie, “In the Face of Danger,” in one take. Yes, and chances are your dog can too. Training a dog to connect tricks or behaviors end to end is called chaining. Typically, these types of linked behaviors are taught back to front, or what’s called back-chaining. Basically, you start with the last part of the task, train that to proficiency, and then add the next-to-last part. Withhold your reward until the dog completes both of these well-polished tasks end to end. It won’t take him long to figure out that the criteria have been raised and he now has to do two tasks before the reward. Then add a third link in the chain and so on. When you see dogs performing complex, apparently human-like tasks on TV, this is generally how they’re taught.
OK, here’s the video.
by Grayson Schaffer | on October 20th, 2009 | in Features, Media
Danger and I spent last week with Allison Otto and the Serac Adventure Film School making a movie about Danger’s attempts to become a tracking dog. Here’s Allison’s excellent movie. Please share it with your friends.
by Grayson Schaffer | on October 10th, 2009 | in Features, Things Dog People Wear
- Camo is not a style
- Camo shall be worn only during and en route to hunting. No exceptions—even in the name of irony.
- Places camo should never be found: Seat covers, coolers, ladies undergarments, auto paint jobs, beer coozies
- Face paint is acceptable
- Camo matters. So does warmth, even more so in duck hunting than in athletic endeavors where the body can generate heat. To that end, I’ve lately been favoring Columbia’s Super Wader Widgeon Parka, which pairs a zip-off reversable down jacket that’s black on one side and camo on the other (see #2, above) with a seam-sealed storm shell that comes complete with ammo-disppensing tube, wrist gaskets, and a cinching hood. $720 (Yeah, it’s a lot but it’s, like, five jackets in one.)
by Grayson Schaffer | on October 8th, 2009 | in Features
If you’d asked me ten years ago whether I’d ever hunt ducks, I’d have scoffed. There’s a certain undesirable stereotype that accompanies waterfowlers and, truth be told, it’s not without some merit. The first time I went duck hunting, it was in North Idaho, on the Kootanai National Wildlife Refuge. (Yes, most refuges are open to hunting.) We got skunked, but on the way home the fellow who was giving me my intro to the sport noticed a few mallards in a farmer’s pond on the side of the road. He rolled down the window, popped in a three-and-a-half-inch shell—the heaviest 12 gauge load—and fired. The roar inside the cab of the pickup left me nearly deaf for two days. The shot crippled every duck on that pond and confirmed my every expectation.
A year later, the French Filmmaker Jacques Perrin released his award-winning documentary Winged Migration. This probably wasn’t Perrin’s intent, but the hunting scenes in that film were what inspired me to try again. In them, the sun rises over Southwest marshland and the calm morning is broken up gunfire and all manner of waterfowl twirling out of the sky. Those few minutes were raw and brutal, but also beautiful—in short, how things really are. Hunting magazines—yes, I read them by the dozen—are fond of the struggle between man and nature. This struggle is most overtly summed up in the chestnut scenario that is both the hunter’s worst nightmare and wettest dream: The (choose one) _bear, lion, moose, rabid raccoon_ is charging and you only have a split second to raise your weapon, fire, and save your friends’ lives. Seriously, some variation on this theme is in virtually every issue of every hook-and-bullet rag. In reality, the man-vs.-beast storyline rings hollow these days because the beasts have been pretty well subjugated. But in the process of subduing nature, we also removed ourselves from it. We outsourced our slaughter and hid and sanitized the whole process to the point where eating meat no longer requires the acknowledgment of an animal’s death. And in essence, that’s why I hunt: Not to struggle against nature, but against the banality of modern artifice. And because it’s damn tasty. And because I like sitting next to Danger and watching the sun come up.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying, Duck season opens on Saturday. From now until January, we’ll be including more on bird hunting than you probably care to know. Hopefully you’ll come along for the ride, or at least ogle curiously from the sidelines like my vegetarian girlfriend. Give us that much and we’ll do our best not to sound or act crazy.
by Grayson Schaffer | on October 7th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way, Training, Video Clips
That old trope about old dogs not learning new tricks just isn’t true. It may be difficult to break old dogs of long-held habits, but teaching new tricks isn’t so hard at all. Here’s a clip from when Mike was here, in Santa Fe. Features editor Elizabeth Hightower was having problems getting her ten-year-old black Lab, Angus, to drop his ball. Mike showed her his pressure-point technique to fix the problem. Now watch him spit it out and wait for a retrieve before dissapearing into the bushes. . .
by Grayson Schaffer | on October 5th, 2009 | in Features, Training
Wolf–verb (used with object)
|9.||to devour voraciously (often fol. by down): He wolfed his food.|
What your dog eats is important, yes, but so is the way he eats. Scarfing down a day’s worth of food in 30 seconds can lead to digestive problems, bloat, or even a deadly condition called gastric torsion. Here are some tips on how to feed your dog, regardless of what you feed.
- Feed your dog twice a day. I’d often heard that since dogs are carnivores and thus evolutionarily adapted to go for long stretches between meals, you can feed them once a day. Then Sue reminded me that dogs aren’t carnivores, they’re scavengers—and in the case of Danger, panivores. One larger meal a day will work, but two will lead to better digestion, less bloat, and less hunger-related anxiety around the house. Remember to subtract the calories of any treats or scraps you give your dog from his food bowl.
- Get a bowl that forces your dog to slow down. You can buy bowls that have posts in them, or if you have a bowl with a hollow rim (pictured) just turn it over and feed from the edge.
- Give your dog a quiet area to eat. If Cooper approaches while Danger is eating, Danger aggressively inhales his food as a defense.
- Have your dog offer a behavior, like a sit, before you set the food down. If you can manage, also require him to sit still until you release him to eat. (A dog that knows to release by name will learn other name-related tasks easier, too.)
by Grayson Schaffer | on September 30th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way, Training, Video Clips
We’ve harped a lot over what’s hard and what’s easy in dog training. Honoring is hard. It’s when one dog waits patiently while it’s another dog’s turn to work. It falls generally in the category of self-control. If your dog sees another dog run by, will he chase? Or will he sit there calmly and, if you’re lucky, check in with you to see what you want him to do. Here’s a quick video, where Mike has Whiskey and Deke honor while Cooper retrieves. (Mike was in Santa Fe a couple of weeks ago and gave Outside’s staff a demonstration. Great fun. Thanks, Mike!)
by Grayson Schaffer | on September 18th, 2009 | in Features, Training
And now for something completely different. In August I joined the Los Alamos–based Mountain Canine Corps to start training Danger for search & rescue work. The group is made up of volunteer trainers and a dozen or so dogs of various breeds and mixes. When someone goes missing in the woods, the New Mexico state police give them a ring and dogs and handlers get dispatched to the scene for a search.
The team trains dogs in three disciplines: tracking, air scent, and cadaver work. Tracking dogs need to follow an aged scent—sometimes days old and overlaid with other odors—for long distances. Air scent dogs pick up scent on the breeze and then home in on the source. And cadaver dogs, well, look for dead people and more importantly, bits and pieces of dead people.
Danger is just getting started on tracking, which he loves. The process of following a scent track is a simple chain of behaviors, just like retrieving. I say this now as a sort of personal reminder. Retriever training is often made unnecessarily complicated with complex drills and equipment. So to avoid that, we’ll take a positive-reinforcement approach to tracking, learn to understand Danger’s body language, and attempt to fix one problem at a time, while raising our criteria slowly so that he’s always successful. The same requirement of 80% proficiency before moving on to the next step that we’ve been following with Assistance Dogs of the West applies here, too.
Retrieving: Acquire a line, run a certain distance, stop and hunt for an object by scent, pick up the object and return, deliver the object to the handler. Tracking: Acquire a scent, follow a scent, find a subject, return to the handler, alert the handler, return to the subject with the handler.
To get some perspective on how to get started, I called Steve White. White, who’s based near Seattle, is well-known for training police and search dogs using positive reinforcement methods. As with hunting dogs, police dogs still tend to be trained using force-breaking methods. In that regard White, like our gun- and adventure-dog guru Mike Stewart, is ahead of the curve. He’s also spent enough time around other trainers to know what we’re all up against: “The only thing two dog trainers will ever agree on,” says White, “is what the third trainer is doing wrong.” So true.
White recommends starting search dogs on tracking, rather than air scent. “In my experience, we generally don’t have a dog do any air scenting until his tracking is good.” I’d been told this before, but White’s explanation really hit home for me because it deals with a dog’s natural hunting ability. “Dogs are hardwired to be efficient, effective hunters,” says White. “Wolves, foxes, and domestic dogs, tend to combine tracking, trailing, and air scenting, but the vast majority are of their hunts are successful with air scent and maybe a little tracking at the end.” I’ve seen this dozens of times, now, hunting in the upland with Danger: He’s quartering methodically, then his nose goes up and catches something on the wind; he quarters more aggressively, then his nose goes to the ground, and a few seconds later the birds flush.
A lost hiker, though, could be miles away, and the scent could be faint. A dog on the hunt would probably do better to ignore such a faint scent and keep looking for something fresher. I saw this first-hand yesterday, when Danger was tracking nicely until his trail intersected with one that another handler had just walked down. Danger switched off the aged track and went frantically off on the much fresher track. Clearly, we had him working above his ability level and needed to lower our criteria to ensure success. For starters, White recommends simplifying the terrain and removing every odor that’s not the one you want tracked. “Start on a hard surface like asphalt,” he says “then move to concrete, gravel, and finally grass.” Each of these surfaces holds progressively more scent. White recommended a beginner’s drill:
Have a subject lay treats a few feet apart on an uncontaminated stretch of asphalt. (The subject is also laying down scent while doing this.) The track should be straight and then end without a subject for the dog to find. The idea here is to make the faint (we’re on asphalt, remember) scent of this one human predictive of food. We want to reinforce the dog for the act of tracking. Then, gradually lengthen the distance between treats so that the dog has to follow the scent bridges from one treat to the next. Gradually, we’ll lengthen the track, add turns, and increase the space between treats. It’s a good idea to start your dog on lead, but if you’re having to give the cord anything more than the occasional nudge, you need to reduce the difficulty level for the dog.
OK, so that’s our plan for Sunday’s practice. But not so fast. What about that refind? The conventional wisdom on teaching a dog a behavior chain is to work back to front, called backchaining. We’ll go more into chaining in the weeks to come, but the basic theory here is that the dog learns the proper way to cross the finish line and then starts further and further from it. White says it’s critical to have your refind in place by the time you start running tracks with live subjects at the end. If you teach the dog to track and then offer a big reward without a refind, and then change thee the rules to require that refind, “The dog thinks this is a buzz kill,” says White. “And in actual neurochemical terms, that’s exactly what it is. The dog isn’t searching to find a person, its seraching to satisfy its neurochemical urge. He wants that good endorphine buzz, and you’ve just taken it away from him.” Bummer.
The good news, though, is that training a refind is much easier than reinforcing and refining a dog’s tracking ability. The refind is simple mechancics and repetition. To train the refind, we’ll use what’s called a runaway, a short track to an easy find where the dog has seen the subject leave. The steps are:
- Dog finds the subject. Subject marks the behavior and rewards it.
- Handler calls the dog back and requires a sit (the alert), marks the behavior and rewards it.
- Handler gives the cue “show me,” and the subject calls the dog back.
- When handler and dog are back at the subject, the handler delivers a jackpot-sized reward.
OK, so that’s the order of business: Get Danger’s refind up to 100 percent and reinforce him for slowing down and focusing on the track at hand.
Information about Steve White’s videos and courses can be found on his Web site, i2i K9
by Grayson Schaffer | on September 17th, 2009 | in Things Dogs Wear
Nothing will spin your dog up or teach him to pull out on his leash like a stranger diving in on him with baby talk and aggressive petting. This is a dangerous combination that can lead your dog to view every stranger out ahead of you as a reward worth sprinting toward. We’ve talked about a few ways to prevent this kind of thing; here’s another: signage.
by Grayson Schaffer | on September 4th, 2009 | in Features, Swag the Dog
I still can’t figure out why those molded plastic dog igloos cost $125, or more if you’re adding a pad and a door. Here’s an easy alternative that’s free. Just go down to your local car wash and ask for a soap barrel. Use a jigsaw or Sawsall to cut a hatch in the front. Drill a few holes in the bottom for drainage, and prop it up on some 2×4s or a piece of steel if you have one handy. Mine took me ten minutes to make and didn’t cost a thing. Just be sure you wash the soap out completely.