Thursday, October 29, 2009

Serpentine Tracks - Everything That is Old is New Again

Sod Farm where we often track.

The idea of running serpentine tracks is not new... many experienced trackers use this technique to their advantage. Serpentine tracks help the dog to understand that the track can go "anywhere", can slow the dog down, teach the dog to be more careful when searching, and can help with corners. I saw the value in using serpentine tracks quite some time ago, and I did try a few of them. The problem that quickly became apparent is that if I cannot see the track... I do not know where it is, and I have no way to assess how accurately my dog is working. Very frustrating indeed. Because of this, I stopped running serpentine tracks.

Recently I came across an experienced SchH competitor who routinely trains with world level competitors. He recommended serpentine tracks, and uses them more often than straight line tracks. He and his club members have had great success in competition with their dogs. I decided to pick his brain for more info.... How does one know where the track is? Well, his advice was helpful for sure. He does use a distance object (as if you were running a straight line track). This distance object then becomes your "centre line"... Meaning you walk your serps out to the right and left of this centre line, but always come back to this centre line. Then you use a natural landscape marker for knowing where your curves are, or use an artificial marker, such as a thin rod or dowel. Sounds easy enough.

In practice however, it has proven to be much more difficult. On the occasions when I could see my track, the dogs have done reasonably well. When I have not been able to see it, disaster has ensued. My dogs were casting and circling a lot, and despite there being a ton of food on the tracks, both dogs had considerable trouble. One night recently Arlo decided he was going to go in a straight line anyway, and because I did not know where the track was (except of course, for the centre line - track could easily be seen when laid... disappeared by the time I ran it), he proceeded along in his straight line, intersecting the serps along his way, finding food of course, and believing he is somehow "on the track"... how utterly frustrating. My dogs have been running straight line tracks for quite some time now (with corners of course), and seem to be so conditioned for this. When I see them having difficulty with the serp tracks despite a lot of food for bait on the track, it makes me wonder if they really "know" how to track? When I have a really bad tracking experience like this, it puts me in a really, really bad mood. Clearly more skill is needed on my part to somehow remember or know where the track is if I want to run serp tracks.

From now on we will only run a serp track when I can clearly see it (heavy dew, frost...). Until then, we will continue on in our normal fashion.

Arlo navigating a serpentine track.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

ShowStopper Success Story

For a few years now, Cole has suffered from seasonal itchy skin and usually gets a few hot spots in the summer months. These were previously managed the usual way... clip the hair, keep the area clean and dry, and keep the dog's mouth away from the hot spot using an Elizabethan collar if necessary. The bacteria in the mouth do not belong on the skin, and can make any skin condition worse. Cole would usually spend a few weeks of every summer wearing an Elizabethan collar. I experimented with different diets, and with Cole also suffering from SIBO, I had to be careful when trying out a new food. I found a diet that agreed with his digestive system, and also did not produce any itching - for most of the year he was comfortable. However, come summer and the hot humid weather that is so typical of Ontario, he would always suffer from hot spots.

On the advice of Richard from ANR-Specialties, I decided to give the ShowStopper supplement a try for Cole. This supplement is not specifically marketed for relief of hot spots, however he was aware that the product had provided relief for many dogs suffering from hot spots and itchy skin. With the alternative for Cole likely being a need for antibiotics +/- some steroid therapy to control his itching / hot spots, I decided that we had nothing to loose trying this supplement. Richard did warn me that the cost may be a factor, as the supplement is not cheap. This did not deter me. I thought that if the supplement did in fact work, and Cole was able to live E-collar and itch free, then it would be well worth the price. I also liked the idea that perhaps his itching could be managed drug-free.

Being from a scientific, western medicine, veterinary background, I would have been very skeptical to try something like this in the past. I have learned though over the years, that sometimes you just have to give things a try... as long as there is no potential to cause harm, then trying things that have not been "scientifically proven" may just prove to be worth your while. Such was the case with the ShowStopper. I didn't expect to see any improvement in Cole's skin for at least a month. Well, within 2 weeks of starting the supplement, Cole was no longer itchy and his hot spots had healed and was living without his E-collar. If I didn't see it for myself I never would have believed it. On the advice of Richard, once we saw relief, we decreased his dose of the supplement to the lowest effective dose. It does not have any claim like this on the label, it was simply Richard's advice from past experience. Although Cole's labeled dose is 3 scoops per day, and up to 6 scoops per day, Cole is easily maintained on 2 scoops per day. And he loves the taste. The one down side to this supplement is weight gain. It is so high in fat, that Cole quickly gained weight. And, with him not being able to exercise properly because of his ongoing SLO, he bulked up in no time. I had to experiment with the portions of his food, as he is also on an energy dense food. As a young dog, we had tremendous trouble trying to keep weight on him. So, we quickly stabilized his energy intake, and although he is still a bit heavy, he is doing well.

The biggest improvement I saw with Cole would be with his skin and his coat. He was no longer itchy and his coat was beautiful, shiny, and better than it has ever been. This product also significantly reduces shedding. Once again, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I never, ever would've believed that claim. There are so many products out there that claim to reduce shedding..... I thought they were all just marketing claims..... after all, many dogs have a double coat... Dogs SHED!!!! Especially Cole. He has a very typical GSD coat, heavy, double coat, with a lot of undercoat, and he was always a heavy sheddder even though he is a house dog and never really develops a true winter coat. Well, it is like a dramatic transformation.... he barely sheds at all now. Even when I brush him, the hair that comes out is negligible, unlike before when I could get mounds and mounds of undercoat out of him, enough to seemingly make another GSD. Those of you with shepherds who have coats like that will know exactly what I am talking about. It's so unbelievable, that I won't truly believe it until spring comes. This is when the shedding is usually the heaviest. I'll be sure to report back at that time. In the meantime, I plan to keep Cole on this supplement indefinitely, and although it is a bit pricey, I feel it is well worth it.

Below, Cole with his new, shiny coat.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Olympic's Emeril - Schutzhund 2

Arlo and me and his High SchH 2 trophy, 84, 77, 75. For full results, click Here

October 3rd & 4th 2009, the Durham Schutzhund Club hosted a fall trial with Judge Nikki Banfield, USA. I had entered Arlo in this trial just a week prior to the event, as although I had planned to enter a fall trial, Arlo had been ill the previous week due to ingesting large quantities of wood.... that's another story. Because of this, I was not sure he was feeling well enough to trial. It turned out he was feeling great, and our practice sessions at the Durham club really impressed me. It seemed that Arlo was finally able to transfer what he has learned to a new location much more easily now. Along with this and some great words of advice from training director Peter Lauder, I was feeling confident going into this trial. Overall, our performance was good. Leading up to the trial I struggled once again to overcome and control my nerves. My nerves got the better of me during the tracking phase, as for the first time that I can remember, the spectators were allowed to come down onto the tracking field. Every other trial I have attended or been entered in, the spectators were required to stay up on the road. They were very close to us, we were the last to track, there were many people there watching, some of whom have world level experience, and well..... this unsettled me. I'm sure my nervousness translated into Arlo's performance, as the conditions were outstanding, plush sod, lots of dew, no detectable wind, the track was visible.... he could have easily put in a 95+ point performance, but instead we ended up with 84. I am not going to complain about that, as he did very well considering my state of being. I had also lost some points due to a misunderstanding of the rules... once again, another story.

Leading up the obedience routine, I was feeling quite unwell... nausea, nervousness, panic! I really don't know why I get into this state of mind, Arlo is a very reliable OB dog, not a high scoring one, but quite predictable. Once we started working, I quickly settled into my "trial mind", "in the ring state", "in the zone".... I don't really know the correct term for this, but it happens almost always when I run agility, which is far more often than I enter a SchH trial. No matter what I am feeling or worried about waiting to go on the field, it all virtually disappears once my dog and I start working together as a team. All I see is my dog, me, and the judge. It's as if no one else is even there, I forget completely all about everyone else. It is a nice state of mind to be in. Arlo and I worked great together, and what a wonderful feeling being out there with my canine partner working as a team. We lost quite a few points on little things... things I admit, I have not worked on at all. I have since begun to work on those "little" things that turned into big point losses once added up, as I do intend to trial with Arlo again. Even though our score was quite low, I did get many comments from the spectators about how nice we looked out there together, including a "nice job in OB" from a 2-time WUSV competitor. But, my favourite comment was from the judge... in her critique, she said that it is obvious that the handler and the dog have an excellent working relationship together. :-)
Arlo did his best work for me, and that is all I can ever ask for.

The protection phase was the one I was most worried about. His bitework has progressively gotten less intense over the years, and this can certainly be attributed to his illness, however I just cannot be certain how much his illness contributes to his performance. However, he had worked great with the helper Jason at our practice sessions before the trial. He was actually more fired up than he has been in a while... a good sign. His protection routine in the trial was very flat, and I did loose a little bit of control a couple of times. I have been told that nervous handlers can have an adverse affect on a dog in trial, but it was difficult for me to tell how much this was an issue for him. We squeaked by with 75 points... a pass, but not enough to move on to a SchH 3 level. One must score minimum 80 points in the protection phase to be eligible to progress. So, we must try again if we want to move on. The following morning Arlo did have a fever of over 40 degrees Celsius, which could certainly have been a contributing factor to his level of intensity on the trial field. The day of the trial I saw no signs of him feeling ill, and I was very diligent to watch for these.

Overall, my experience was good, and I am happy I decided to enter. The judge Nikki Banfield was outstanding, super nice to the competitors, very fair, and very detailed in her critiques, which I found to be very helpful. I felt it was a privilege to have trialed under her. At the end of the trial, she told everyone that the dogs only know what we (the handlers) teach them, so if we are having training issues, then we are to go home and look in the mirror, as it is us and only us who are responsible for those. Then she told everyone to go home and hug their dogs. I think that message really hit home for a lot of people, as it is so true. Our dogs only know what we have taught them...

A big thanks to friends Graham and Josie for the great photos. My camera does not have a good zoom lens yet, but we will have one soon.

Heeling the "J" pattern.

Dumbbell throw over the jump

Retrieve over the frame

Long down

Waiting for our critique

Bark and hold, Jason Peter is the helper

Back transport

Setting up for the "out"

Judge Nikki Banfield after our protection routine critique congratulating Arlo and I on a successful SchH 2 title.

Fun shot after all the awards were handed out.... Josie caught this one of Arlo looking up at his trophy....