Learning to herd sheep… or Adventures in being a ‘Corn Gent’

August 29, 2010 3 comments

A couple of weeks back I got an email from my friend and CityDog trainer, Liz, asking if I’d be willing to help her train her Border Collie Rose learn how to herd sheep.

“Hang out with my bestest buddy Rose and a bunch of sheep at the same time? Jack pot! Count me in!” *

* Not my exact words, but it might as well been

So this past Friday I drove out to Belmont where apparently there’s a habitat area to help out. My role was that of a “Corn Gent,” as Liz put it; meaning I’d stand in the middle of a field tossing corn while sheep gathered around me to eat said corn. Nothing fancy, but it allows Liz to concentrate on working her dog instead of worrying about the sheep scattering. Also, it’d give me a chance to watch a Border Collie in action and see training work outside of the Sit/Down/Stay/Come taught in class.

It was quite a fun experience and I look forward to helping out again. Both Liz and Rose are new to sheep herding, only really starting this past Spring, but seem to doing well at it. Both are learning to read and communicate with each other better as well as learning to read the sheep and different scenarios better. Sheep are skittish creatures and things can go from calm to woolly chaos very quickly, so trust between Liz and Rose is also building. It’s also interesting to see positive reinforcement being used to train a BC to herd sheep as traditional methods are mostly used. Good to see you can teach your dog to do even complex tasks such as herding by using R+.

And thanks to the power of the iPhone I was able to capture some photos and a video of the event.

Pics and video after the jump…

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Dogs, dog owners and parties

August 3, 2010 4 comments

"I can't believe you made me wear this thing..."

Boston.com had an interesting article last week entitled “For some dog owners, when pets are left off the guest list, the party’s over.” Check it out as it’s a really interesting read but the jist of the article is that some dog owners refuse to go to friend’s parties and family functions unless their pet is invited. And at times, it has cost them friendships.

Now, as a dog trainer and dog lover, I can totally understand an owner wanting to bring their dog to the party. For many owners, their dog is their kid. They’re proud of their pup and want to show him off to the world. Hell, I talk about my friend’s dogs all the time and want to bring them everywhere and they’re not even my dogs.

On a more practical note, being able to bring one’s dog to a party also makes life easier for the owner. They don’t have to leave their dog home for a few hours (which is hard for any owner, especially if they work all day during the week) or find someone to watch their dog while they’re off gallivanting and having fun. Dog-friendly events can be a lot less stressful for owners.

But there are some times where bringing a dog isn’t appropriate. If the owner is allergic to dogs, for one. Or if your dog is unruly you shouldn’t be surprised she isn’t on the guest list. Or perhaps the host just wants it to be a human-only party. That’s well within their rights as host. Just like not every party is kid-friendly, not every party is going to be dog-friendly either.

Christmas of last year I was dog sitting for a couple of friend’s while they were off on their honeymoon. My grandmother was throwing the annual Christmas party and I called her to ask if I could bring Zach along for the fun. She was fine with it as long as he didn’t poo in the building. No problem. When I got there I found out one of my young cousins is super allergic to dogs to the point she’s absolutely terrified to see one. Her dog allergy sets off her asthma.

Whoops. An honest mistake, so Zach and I sat in one corner of the room while  my little cousin was across the way. The parents weren’t thrilled with Zach being there, and had I known their kid was allergic, Zach would’ve enjoyed a stuffed Kong in his crate for a few hours. There’s no reason to cry and threaten to cut ties because of it.

In the Boston.com article there’s a great example of why some hosts don’t want dogs over at their parties — such as the dog pooing on the carpet, nobody noticing and then someone stepping in it and tracking it across the house. That’s not exactly a compelling reason for every event to be dog-friendly now is it? Maybe worst part of the anecdote is that it seems like the owner didn’t offer to get the carpet steam cleaned. Common courtesy can go a long way.

Owning a dog may cost you a few weekends worth of fun but it shouldn’t cost your friendship. If you’re sending someone ultimatums because you’re unable to bring your canine friend to a party, you need to take a step back and reevaluate the situation.  Is a few hours away from your dog worse than losing a friend?

I’d like to think not and I’m sure your dog will understand if you have a life outside of him, just as your human partner should understand you have a life outside of her. There should be some level of independence from your dog and vice versa — but that’s a whole post in itself.

Remember that not everyone might find your dog as cute and lovable as you. If they’re not on the guest list, don’t get bent out of shape. We’re supposed to be rational animals of this planet, so let’s be reasonable. If your pup can’t go with you, you have three choices: 1) Leave the dog home alone for a few hours (only if they can handle it) and leave the party early 2) Find a dog sitter (friend or professional) or 3) Don’t go.

But if you don’t go, don’t be a brat about it.

If you really want you’re dog to be at a party with you, throw one yourself. Your house; your rules.

Dog Adopting Adventures: Creating a Dog Agreement/Policy

This is the second in a series of posts about my adventures in adopting a dog. Feel free to share your own adventures and tales in the comment section, or e-mailing me.

With a little patience, resilience, luck and a whole lot of hawking Craigslist, we finally found a dog-friendly apartment in the Boston area. Just got back from signing the lease, in fact.  The place is great — right by several train stops for the girlfriend to take into work and even one that goes by my work in Newton. The drive to my day job will be about 1/4 it’s current time, but I probably end up T-ing it in and using that would-have-been gas money for the future dog. It’s also a very dog-friendly area — Brookline. It’s impossible to walk a block without running into five dogs enjoying the smells.

There’s a park nearby that has off-leash hours (albeit crappy ones if you ask me) — dawn to 9am. Who doesn’t like the play fetch at 6am? There are some other parks which hours are slightly better — dawn to 1pm. Doesn’t help getting some playtime in after work hours, but c’est la vie. I may end up taking the future dog to Somerville where there are better fenced in dog parks (vs. Brookline’s people parks that they allow dogs in). But I digress…

The place we’ll be living in didn’t list itself as dog-friendly, mostly because it wasn’t dog-friendly to tenants until we spoke with them about it. The landlords (who live in the building) have a little dog and their son (also in the building) has two dogs, but family is family, and the landlords never had anyone outside of family own a dog in the building. We met with them to look at two units and told them we didn’t have a dog but were planning on getting one in the fall and was the sole reason for leaving our current apartment (basically going with what I wrote in my last post). They said they’d consider it and talked about what they would and wouldn’t allow should they let us get a dog.

Fast forward a bit, we told the owners we wanted to move in but needed a definite yay or nay on the dog owning, and that we needed it in writing. Note: I’m the type of person that usually will take someone’s word as gold, but for something like this I needed it in writing and signed. I didn’t want to get into a situation in which we move in and then the landlords change their mind. They said sure and were completely OK with the idea of it being in writing… and, really, that’s not surprising. It’s as useful to them as it is to us — the rules and regulations all laid out so there’s no confusion on, say for example, what a “small dog” is.

Of course, they’ve never had a tenant with a dog before, so they didn’t have a Dog Agreement/Policy in place. Luckily I’m a huge dork and had started doing some research by this point. I had talked to a few of my dog-owning friends to see what their lease was like, plus perused guidelines created by the MSCPA (be sure to check out their entire “Renting with Pets” section). I had a basic idea of what the dog agreements were like. So I told them I’d draft something up and send it to them for their review.

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Dog Adopting Adventures: It starts at home

July 19, 2010 1 comment

This is the first in what will become many posts of my adventures in adopting a dog. Feel free to share your own adventures and tales in the comment section, or e-mailing me.

Finding dog-friendly housing is easier said than done

A few months back my girlfriend and I decided we were going to leave our lovely split-family home in Somerville for a new place in the general Boston area (which includes Somerville, yes). There’s nothing wrong with our current place. It’s nice; fairly spacious for just two people.

The only problem is “No pets.”

For some, that’s not a problem at all, but for a dog lover and dog trainer working toward CPDT certification (i.e., moi), it’s an issue. I grew up with dogs. I had a Cocker Spaniel from the fourth grade until her passing during my early college years, and my cousin had two dogs growing up. But college meant no money (or time) to take care of a canine companion and top priority right after school was finding my own place and getting a “big boy’s job.” Soon after accomplishing that I moved in with my girlfriend, but then it was more important for us to “just find a place” than it was to find a dog-friendly place.

I’m now a little over four years from my college days (doesn’t seem that long ago); I have a stable day job (just got a raise and promotion last week) and just got my first dog training class at RiverDog. Life’s a bit more routine, more regular, more stable. We’ve been talking about adopting a dog since last summer and now that our lease is up at the end of August, we’re looking to make that jump. We’re going to get a dog this fall (or hope to, more like it). All we need to do is find dog-friendly housing.

Of course, this provides it’s own sort of troubles.

In general, Boston and it’s surrounding outskirts are fairly dog friendly (especially Somerville and Brookline). There are dog parks galore, groups like Som|Dog that promotes proper dog ownership, and plenty of doggie daycare and training facilities in growing population (there are two dog training groups just in Union Sq. Somerville). It’s nearly impossible to go for a walk during the nice weather days and not see half a dozen dogs enjoying the smells and sights.

However, finding a dog-friendly apartment or house to rent seems to be like finding a needle in a haystack.  They seem to be few and far between with landlords afraid of law suits from dog bites and/or having to replace *insert item* because of “dog destruction.” And of the homes and apartments that are pro-dog ownership there are still breed and size restrictions. As I try to look through the landlord’s eyes, I can see why and where such fears stem from. But at the same time, it’s downright frustrating and a bit disheartening for dog loving renters like myself, especially when the landlord owns a dog themselves. Dog ownership shouldn’t be limited to people in the ‘Burbs and who can afford (or want the expenses) of home ownership. But such is life.

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RiverDog — new doggy daycare, supply store, training center

Me watching some dogs interact at RiverDog

To quote Farnsworth from Futurama: Good news everyone!

A brand new doggy daycare, supply store, groomer and training center has opened up in Union Sq. Somerville — RiverDog! It’s a great little place right on Somerville Ave. across from Bull McCabe’s, where my band Ice Cream Social has been known to play many-a-tunes.

Last Saturday was the Grand Opening, but definitely swing by when you have a few minutes to check the venue out and talk to the new owner, Peter. He’s an all-around fun guy and really enjoys what he’s doing.

Puppy & Adult Training. I’ll be one of two trainers for RiverDog; the other being my awesome mentor Melissa McCue. The next puppy class will start on Thursday, August 5th at 7pm — led by me. Basic Adult Class (led by Melissa) starts on Monday August 2nd at 7pm. Therapy Dog Certification and Canine Good Citizen (CGC) will start in September. Classes are $160 for 6 weeks, one class per week.

So, if you’re looking for a class for your new pup or adult dog, get in touch with Peter — 857-998-3343 or riverdog@riverdogdaycare.com.

Dogs and Fireworks don’t mix

The Fourth of July is two days away, meaning hot dogs, chips, BBQ and laughs. For the most part, your dog will probably love Independence Day. An myriad of people to try to steal a few snacks from and endless amounts of head and butt scratches. However, dogs and loud noises don’t usually mix. Fireworks are no exception.

Loud noises raises your dogs stress levels and triggers their “fight or flight” response. And when it comes to Mother Nature and the animal kingdom, loud noises equal danger. Think of a thunderstorm or fallen tree. So when loud fireworks go off, dogs freak out and can end up hurting themselves or even running away. As my mentor points out, more dogs are lost on the Fourth than any other day during the year.

Play it safe when it comes to your pup this weekend. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep them indoor and have someone stay with them if possible.  If your dog is extremely noise sensitive, don’t leave them home alone. Make sure doors are locked and they can’t bust through windows and screens.
  • Turning a noise the dog is used to up louder can help — such a TV or radio. Try keeping the blinds and windows down to help dampen the noise, too. If it’s hot, make sure you have the AC on and/or a few fans. The noise from both can help drown out the fireworks.
  • Have their kennel or crate in the same room. If they get scared, they’re most likely going to hide in a small and comforting area. If you’ve crate-trained your dog, it’ll probably go in there.
  • Don’t console your dog if he freaks out. Doing so will just reaffirm their reaction. It’ll be hard. You’ll feel like a jerk for “ignoring” your dog, but your dog doesn’t know the difference between praise and consoling. You’re giving it attention and attention is a reward. Rewards reaffirm the action. Instead, try to get it to play a game or work for you (i.e., puppy sit ups) and reward with attention and treats.

Be sure to check out Melissa’s blog post for more Fourth of July tips. Lisa Spector, for Dog Star Daily, has a eight more tips for this weekend as well.

Happy Fourth!

Puppy boats in Boston Harbor

City Water Taxi — which normally shuttles commuters, tourists visiting the USS Constitution and Logan-bound passengers  — now offer a three-hour round trip outing to the 62-acre, uninhabited Lovell’s Island for a leash-free dog and owner romp. The 25-minute ride provides stunning, seven-mile views of Boston.

Owners can bring a picnic lunch for themselves and their dogs. Old ship wrecks are scattered around the island and there are woods, dunes, walking trails the remains of World War II fortifications.

Groups of dog owners generally board at Long Wharf/Columbus Park in Boston’s North End or at Scups Restaurant in the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina in East Boston. Individuals and their dogs will be matched with others for a 12-person minimum per trip. Departure time is usually Saturdays at 11a.m.

Dogs and children under 12 are free. The cost is $35 per person with payment (cash or credit) on board. There is a one-dog limit per person. Boats can be covered and heated if needed.

You can reserve a seat at (617) 633 9240 or e-mail info@citywatertaxi.com.

Note: Dogs are not allowed on the Harbor Islands National Recreation Area during the summer season, so dog trips will end during the third week in June. They will resume after Labor Day. Hikers and cross-country skiers don’t need the warm weather.