Archive for July, 2015

What I’ve learned About Training a Dog

July 31, 2015

Dash&meNov14My father  insisted that if we have dogs, they be trained.  As kids under 12, we really didn’t know what we were doing, and my father was too busy growing a business to help us. So, in the 1960s, we got books from our school library, and my sister and I used treats to train the dog all sorts of ‘tricks’.  People who witnessed our ‘routine’ said we were cheating, and the dog would only work for a treat.  We’ve since learned that is not true, but back then—in the last century, people had all sorts of wacky notions about dog training.

I got MY first  dog—the one I was responsible for—an Afghan Hound, when I was 12, and  we found a dog training class.  People might not know this, but you either handed your dog over to a ‘professional’ dog trainer who had a kennel, and you didn’t see your dog for several weeks (and really didn’t know how he got your dog trained, in terms of methods) or you attended classes run by  amateur hobbyists.  We all used choke chains, and learned that it was vitally important to learn to ‘snap’ the chain, and that praise was very important.  Nobody used prong collars, and  certainly nobody used harnesses or Flexis.  It was always a  six foot leather leash (a nylon leash was believed to burn your hands if the dog pulled).  We did NOT use treats.

The experts at the time were Blanche Saunders, the Piersalls (Milo and Margaret), the Volhards (Joachim and Wendy)  and Koehler (who believed in  roughing dogs up and  disorienting them—all dogs.  You read his book now and you have to cringe…).  Then, the Monks of New Skete  published, “How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend,” which I still refer  people to.  Also, Karen Pryor, and  Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson published their books.  More and more trainers were  stressing positive re-enforcement and behavior shaping using the clicker as a cue.  Now there  are thousands of great trainers who started by training their own pet dogs.

When I started, as an adolescent,  we were told to spend 15 minutes  a day, at one time,  so our dogs would ‘get it’—‘it’ being whatever we were trying to get our (confused) dog to understand.  Amazingly, we were able to train dogs in spite of ourselves!  So we dragged our dogs around for  15 minutes,  physically manipulating them, speaking to them in a foreign language (English), and they were  smart enough and resilient enough to get what we wanted them to do!

A few months ago, I got a 7-year-old dog who  had been returned to her breeder (the owner was in an accident and could not keep the  dog).  Venus was housebroken and could walk on a leash…and she could sit for a cookie.  She wasn’t a counter surfer, but she did bark at the neighbors (and it was apparent she had been debarked by the quality of her  tone).  She had been used to doing things her own way her entire life, and  she really had a lot of self-esteem.

VenusShe’s the type  who will jump up on you (happy to see you) and  lick and give what some people call ‘love nips’ but what I call biting.  So…I had to  reshape her behavior.  It was slow going at first.  While she didn’t panic when I  worked with her, her body language clearly said I am unhappy.  Confused, maybe a bit stressed.  Here was the giant talking  martian English.  One of my fellow dog club  member  suggested getting her used to the lingo.  Actually, this  is a modern  technique, and it helped:  catching her doing something I knew I wanted to command her to do, using the  language, and praising her for it. So does using what we call high value treats.  I get hot dogs from the dollar store, and we use string cheese as well.  One of my fellow trainers uses kangaroo and  alligator.  No dry dog biscuits for us!

Also, I ask her once, put her in the position, Treat, Praise, end of session, No nagging.  It took about a week to get a 30 second sit. About  three weeks to get a down.  A dog has to really be submissive to  do a down and lay prone.  We are on our way to understanding.

She knows she can’t bark at the neighbors, and  she knows I don’t want love nips (although  be forewarned:  do NOT enter our home unannounced! She will bite you!).  In any case, experiencing dog training this way—as behavior shaping—and practicing for a minute or two several times a day, we’re getting a trained dog.  So, I don’t understand  people thinking that  training the dog is  all that hard (unless the dog is brain damaged or genuinely stupid).  Now here’s  the deal:  If I had gotten her as a young pup—say at the age of eight to 12 weeks, she’d be trained like a Golden Retriever, Sheltie,  or Portuguese Water Dog…. but I was not going for a competition dog, I was going for a pet Whippet.  We are undoing lifelong habits here.  You would not have to do this with a puppy.

Understanding the Greek Economic Crisis…or is it Chicago?

July 24, 2015

Don’t gloat.   Coming to a town hear YOU! You think malfeasance  isn’t happening where YOU live? This is about Vernon California. apparently, their neighbors saw these guys getting away with  this, so:  This is about Bell, California, where the town rulers, elected officials, bankrupted the town before the feds could save it.  You have to remember that lots of  actions are legal if they are not illegal. While we  are supportive of laws chasing drug dealers and addicts around,prosecuting welfare and food stamp fraud…. keeping lawyers employed—we are ignoring the important stuff …because it is boring until WE  get pummeled.

I was listening to an economics professor on the radio talk about what the problem is in Greece.  He said the Greek people aren’t lazy, but their  socio/political system is so inefficient, most Greeks work  2 jobs. He also  claimed that it wasn’t because  Greeks didn’t pay taxes—as the wealthy in all countries get away with not paying taxes.  However, in the USA & much of Europe, there has been a huge middle class that pays property taxes.  This is not the case in Greece, or many countries (it was not the case in Malawi when I was an urban planner in Blantyre in  the early 1990s, nor was it in Egypt—where  people were allowed to occupy unfinished buildings and not apply for  occupancy permits…so not be on the tax rolls).

The economics professor claimed Greece was in trouble because the European (etc) investors continued to  prop up banks making bad loans.  Bingo!

Sound familiar?  Did any bankers go to jail when they did that to  the USA in  2008 at the end of Dubyas years?  Charles Ferguson’s  2010 documentary reminds us that—no—we Americans footed the bill.  Puerto Rico is going through the same thing (albeit partly because of being overly generous to her citizens)., but I live in Chicago, where our aldermen and state senators ‘borrowed’ from public employees  pension funds ( for fripparies:  rodeos,  chandeliers, offices, statues, junkets….and never paid it back— or never put the $$$ in in the first place—taxes we paid!!! & we  stupid citizens not only have to pay AGAIN—but the assholes who did this are now receiving pensions themselves!  Here is the  right  wing take on our situation:  It’s not just the patronage army, it’s our politicians.

In the past…before the internet…when things got so dire…there were revolutions.  This is how the socialists came to power in many places.  This may seem far afield, but Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren  keep calling for reforms.  The only way to  fight the  malfeasance is un-elect the  rascals and get ourselves a new set of rascals…and as citizens…support the government watchdog agencies and cut politicians pensions.

Dog Grooming Terminology…and the State of the Industry

July 17, 2015
This is a Maltese I groomed in a puppy trim. They do not  grow like this .naturally. they need haircuts.

This is a Maltese I groomed in a puppy trim. They do not grow like this .naturally. they need haircuts.

Should dog groomers be licensed?  If so—who makes the rules?

In case you didn’t know from reading past blog posts, I  generally work as an independent contractor.  Often, taxes are taken out of my paycheck (& I feel this is a good thing, as I pay less per cent FICA—or Social Security), but my hours are not regular, and often I don’t know what I am doing day-to-day.  Doe a very long time, grooming terminology was pretty standard.  If I made a mistake—it was leaving a dog’s hair too long—and it could always be cut shorter.

Often I’ve had employers/contractors lie to me about how booked they are and how much work I can expect (and how much income I can expect to make).  This has been happening much more often in the past 10 years as  the hobbyists/fanciers who originally owned dog businesses retire, and the  ‘slack’ is taken up by people  who just want to own a pet business (who are not groomers), or  people being taught at dog grooming schools—who think they really know how to groom.

Some DO know how to groom—at least they can  scissor evenly. But do they know the nuances of the breeds?  Or,  that if you clip a double coated dog you might cause clipper alopecia? How about that it’s not how much suds you get —but the agitation of active ingredients of shampoo against the dog’s hair?  Do they know that neither hair—nor water—in the dogs ears cause ear infections, but it  is  a synergy of  bacteria, yeast, and stress that  are the cause of most ear infections?  Ah, no.  Nor do these newbies know anything about animal behavior. They are not fanciers from way back who  took delight in communicating with their pet dogs. Many I have met decided to groom  because they didn’t know what else to do with their lives and they ‘loved dogs’, or (more recently) a dog groomer  injured their dog, so they decided they’d do it better….yet…

These newer groomers (who’ve been taught  in the past 10 or so years), who  claim they  run  their businesses so they are safe, or are better at  styling, or do a better job brushing dogs—-do they really offer a better outcome in terms of safety  for dogs or quality of work?

I recently worked for a very skilled groomer who  graduated from a grooming school and never worked for anyone but herself.  That was a red flag to me, because we learn so much from each other.   Upon graduating grooming school, she immediately bought a mobile  grooming van, and was successful.  I’ve had several mobile groomers tell me their clients are not so concerned about styling.  They are  concerned about convenience only. It so happened that this particular groomer I was working for  was very conscientious.  However, she thought that everyone who ever learned to groom learned the same terminology, the same methods, the same styling  practices, but worse, now that she was in a shop (rather than in the van), it was safe to allow all the dogs to run loose in the shop.  It was not safe, for  individual dogs, and  this was for many reasons.  In any case, she thought we should be licensed as it would be safer for  dogs. Really?

Her dog was  killed when it hung itself  jumping out of the tub…and although she has signs that say: DO NOT LEAVE DOGS IN TUB UNATTENDED, her bather regularly does this.   The owner is too busy to notice.   So, she allows  two practices  that are not safe for  pet dogs.

This business owner complained about how much shampoo her groomers were using.  It could be very irritating  to a dog’s skin to use concentrated shampoo…but she was not making sure the shampoo was being diluted to the ration the manufacturer suggested.  I  guess that as long as the groomers made the dogs look good, it was not enough of an issue to  solve.

When I  was taught to groom dog…every dog was a poodle.  Maybe  one out of 50 dogs a miniature Schnauzer or a Cocker Spaniel.  We never saw Maltese or Yorkies, and there were no Shih Tzu or Bichons because they were not yet recognized breeds by the AKC.  So how did we learn these  other breeds?  By either apprenticing with hobby breeders or professional AKC handlers, or going to grooming seminars which the kennel clubs held.

There were no ‘bath & tidy’ groomings, but what started happening was that dog groomers offered the service of a bath which included the ‘tidy’: which was—for every shop I ever worked in…besides the bath—the ears and nails, the sanitary trim (including hair in pads of feet), and scissoring up to  first joint:  the hock or pastern!  Now, they are calling any  ‘off’ breed  grooming—which—in the past—you would never use a clipper blade on the body (unless the owner specifically asked)—-a bath & tidy.  For us old timers—this was a full  Golden Retriever (or Collie, or Pekingese) grooming.  I was rudely told  that I didn’t know how to groom because of how I interpreted instructions!

So, how are we going to legislate this?  If the shop owner discounts how unsafe it is to allow a pack of dogs—a new mix  of dogs —including intact dogs—every day—that doesn’t know each other, to socialize, but they are not licensed as a dog daycare center—-so nobody is actively watching  dogs to make sure nobody is bullying another dog,  or checking to make sure  the dogs socializing are inoculated against kennel cough (or don’t  have  giardia or other type of parasite ), is YOUR PET any safer than if the  shop and groomers are  licensed?  As an aside—best practice in dog daycare is :  no intact dogs, and  one ‘handler’ for every 12 dogs. In Illinois,  15 dogs per handler  are allowed…but the law is not enforced.

Who should set the guidelines to license groomers?  The veterinarians,  who’ve mandated that dogs should get a rabies shot every year (when their immunity is probably good for  at least  five, if not 10 years)? The veterinarians who suggest putting a harness on a dog so he doesn’t suffer a collapsed trachea rather than telling the owner to teach the dog not to pull on the  leash?  Groomers who are politically connected, but may not be able to tell a Lhasa Apso from a Shih Tzu, or a Welsh Terrier from a Lakeland?

I worry about all this.  I was told I was not a good groomer  because I didn’t know a ‘bath & tidy’ on a Golden Retriever was actually really a full groom.   I was accused  of not  cleaning a Portuguese Water Dog’s ears out (after a breeder told me to NOT pull all the hair out as it night irritate the ears more than leaving some hair in), and for not  deshedding a nervous dog who clearly was flight shedding…because the instructions did NOT include a deshedding treatment.  I can’t tell you how many groomers have laughed at me about this (not believing that it happens frequently)!

I worked  briefly for a groomer who tethered all dogs to grooming tables, which resulted in  a lot of  anxiety, pooping, and  leash chewing. She discounted that dogs  are stressed when tethered, and she just didn’t want to buy more crates. In addition, she sold  harnesses, so  dogs could pull their owners around.  No collars, only harnesses (not realizing that after this cute fluffy dog dies the owner will have had enough of a dog being in charge of them, but thinking there is no alternative, and not getting another dog.

Maybe I shouldn’t worry.   One groomer whom I respect  said that designer dogs are a fad (but will ethical hobby breeders…breeding for the betterment of their breeds, be able to maintain a gene pool?).  That as dogs get injured in poorly run shops, those shops will go out of business.  I wish I could be so optimistic.

Movie Review:Love And Mercy—Foxes Minding the Henhouse

July 10, 2015

I’m not much of an audiophile.  there is so much noise in my life, I generally listen to NPR on the radio, and go for jazz.  However, I still enjoy the rock of my youth.  On my desert island playlist is Good Vibrations….  I’ll say that straight off.  Next thing I’ll say  is that I have been mentally  ill on and off. Mostly depression, but the fact is that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and I  just  don’t fit anywhere.  I’m on the Wrong Planet.

Because I love Beach Boys music, and so many people told me they enjoyed this movie, I had to see it.  It’s a visually beautiful movie, taking place in southern California, and a story well scripted and edited.  The music is great, of course.   Paul Dano and John Cusack both  do  an excellent job of playing Brian Wilson young and old, in all his turmoil.

I don’t  think that most of us who enjoy Beach Boys music realized  Brian Wilson arranged so many of the hits we love.  He really is a genius.  However,  it’s hard to be an artist. It appears that his fellow band members had a different idea of what they wanted to do.  Coupled  with an abusive  father, and whatever stresses cause mental illness, he was really tortured for a very long time…  Psychotherapist Eugene Landy, who  somehow got  guardianship of  Wilson, also abused him more.

We in America are so trusting of care providers. We just assume they are altruistic and have your interests at heart.    I saw several psychiatrists and psychologists  as an adolescent.  They made a lot of money off my parents and really did no more than assure me I was not crazy.  When I was starting my college career, I was thinking of majoring in psychology (because I wanted some insight into how  people make decisions).  I had the  amazing luck to  get a ‘self-taught’ intro to psychology course  with a textbook written by James V. McConnell :  “Understanding Human Behavior” (, the genius (no joke—he got a MacArthur grant) worm biologist, who addressed the practice of psychology on humans.  He said, in a nutshell, that 1/3 of people who go to  psychologists/psychiatrists for  talk therapy get better, 1/3 stay the same, and 1/3 get worse.  It’s  essentially the dynamic between the patient and the  doctor.

Brian Wilson had the extreme misfortune to come under the control of Landy, who alienated him from his family even  further, and it was just by a stroke of luck that he met Melinda Ledbetter.  She had the integrity to  try to disentangle him.  Of course, this could have gone either way.

Mental illness is  sort of like diabetes in that  if you take care of yourself. are a bit introspective,  and avoid stress, you can  function in the  world…but it never really goes away.  And what is it? A chemical imbalance?  Thanks to Temple Grandin,  there is a lot less  ambiguity to  human psychology than there used to be.  However, the foxes are still in charge and , coupled with lawyers, they tend to keep us oddballs suppressed.
This is a sad story with a happy ending, and it  does a lot to show that not everyone who is mentally ill is schizophrenic.

Performance Competition: Why am I Doing This?

July 3, 2015

Dash&meNov14My mother was not a ‘dog person’.  She grew up urban, Jewish, and Jews (much like Moslems) did not own dogs—for the most part.  My father was also urban, but his father owned a pet shop for a number of years.  My father got his first dog after he married my mother, and he knew he had to train the dog.

Since my mother was not a dog person, and my father worked long hours, it was about 10 or so more years before we—-as a family—got a dog. It was a Poodle, maybe  three or four years old, that a guy was giving away because his fiance didn’t like it.  Jack was not a great dog, but he was amazingly tolerant and learned tricks quickly.  That was my first taste of dog training.

My parents had very bad luck with dogs:  being poisoned, , inept veterinary care,  but when I was 12, I was obsessed with getting a dog to show in conformation.  We  had gotten a Miniature Schnauzer after Jack died (amazing, we only had him  four years), and  he was very sweet, but I wanted an Irish Wolfhound.  My mother said that if we got another dog, it would be an Afghan Hound.  That’s how it started.

My father insisted I train the dog, and back then,  in the late 1960s, not only did you not start training a dog until it was a year old,  every dog trainer discouraged us from even attempting to train an Afghan Hound.  My father could not understand why.  Granted, they are not Golden Retrievers or Border Collies, but if the dog is not brain damaged, you can shape its behavior (at least we know that now—-about 40 years later).

Back in the 1960s, we  really didn’t know that much about how dogs learned.  My first Afghan, Khyber, did ok.  He would have been more reliable had I been a better trainer.  When I got my second Afghan Hound, Aswan, I had no choice but to learn better training methods.  She was very smart, and I had to find a way to communicate with her.  I also had to find obedience classes so she could understand that I expected her to listen to me even when there were other dogs around.  Aswan ultimately got her Companion Dog title. It took  five trials, and  she squeaked by with  a 170.5, 172, and a 184.  I  then trained her for Open.  She  knew all the exercises and was very reliable, but I got divorced and  the stress of that really prevented me from following through. Another Afghan Hound owner who got  two qualifying scores out of over 20 trials also made me stop and think about the point of gambling on a title..  All she needed was one more qualifying score, but she felt the entry fees (back in the day when they were $12)  were too expensive.

I next titled Bari, although I believe Sue Crum-Sommers handled him to two qualifying scores. Once he was fourth High in Trial.  I know it was her handling.  A good handler makes all the difference.

Then, I went to college, then graduate school, and Peace Corps,and  both Aswan and Bari had died.  My next dog, a Saluki, was  not obedience material. He hated classes, and did everything he could to let me know it. I got Dazzle, the second Saluki after Sadiq died.  He came to me obedience trained, but he was way too nervous to  compete  in obedience.  In the 14 years I owned him, I don’t think he ever sat.  He stood or laid down.  Even on most of our walks around the neighborhood, he’d turn around to see if anyone was following him.  The cowardly lion.  Bebop  came into our lives from WRAP  (whippet Rescue)  a few months after Dazzle, and he had also been obedience trained,  and was smart enough, but by that time I had bought a business, and  wouldn’t devote the time to  polishing him up for competition. Also, since he was a rescue, he wasn’t registered, so I never got that together.

Dazzle died, and we got Dash. Dash had, apparently, been  obedience trained by his former owners, and we was very attentive, so I started with a Canine Good Citizenship certificate, and  we’ve kept going.  I do it  for several reasons: the discipline—-my own discipline, to follow through.  I learn so much from people at the classes, and at the  trials.  I learned how to housebreak a difficult dog, and how to train the various tasks that look like magic to the non-dog trainers. I learned why the collar should not make a difference.  I also do it because I love communicating with my dog.  It’s such a great feeling when the dog  gets it!

When I started training, over 40 years ago, having titled an Afghan Hound in obedience gave me immediate credibility to other fanciers, as well as employers.  I got a job training dogs because the guy who hired me said that if I could train an Afghan, I could train anything. Could be true.  The sighthounds are a challenge because they’ve been bred—for centuries (over 5000 years)to think for themselves.  You really have to challenge them to get their attention.  Now, employers don’t care,and many seem to suspect that I hurt my dogs to get them to behave, because so many  groomers now don’t believe in training, breeding  for the betterment of a breed, or showing dogs. When you  compete in  performance, you are judged by your peers.  You can’t hide anything, You and the dog  are out there.

I have to really think about this, because  last weekend, on Saturday, we qualified (by the  judge’s benefit of the doubt) for one obedience leg and one rally leg.  On Sunday, after  we had completed 2/3 of the rally course, and I was sure we’d qualify with a good score, I asked Dash to return to heel to the right instead of the left, and as he was correcting himself, his expression changed to f** that s**t, and he walked out of the ring.  Then, I gave him a hand and vocal signal on the stay and I  got us not qualified.  $60 down the tubes.  Well, you  win some and you lose some. That’s how it goes.  So why bother?  For me, there is nothing like knowing  I am communicating with my dog, and he understands.  I have stimulated his brain.  Also, I am with other people who feel the same way.That is the magic.

Now,  I could have  very possibly worked with the Salukis I owned, as well as BeBop the Whippet, but you have to pick your battles.  Even the late Janie Wondergemm who owned and trained TCP Crystal Payday, U.D., our last  Saluki U.D., didn’t bother with her younger Salukis.

I am somewhat disappointed that both the pet  grooming and  boarding  industries have evolved  to the point that owners and managers do NOT value what I have done, and that pet owners don’t think this is important (thank you, PIJAC—for marketing the competency of retail managers over actual pet lovers), but it is what it  is, and I hope  readers of this blog will forward it.