Tag: Dogs

How to Avoid Blood-Sucking Vermin (Ticks, Not Lawyers)

If you hike then sooner or later you will have to deal with ticks. These cunning relatives of the spider wait on the ends of leaves and grasses for an unsuspecting mammal to brush past and then climb aboard for a free lunch.

Alicia MacKleay provides a comprehensive guide to dealing with ticks on and off the trail, including ways to tick-proof your clothing.

There are also a number of natural tick repellents you might try, although the most promising, nootkatone, won’t be commercially available for a few years.

A careful tick-survey of your clothing and body is your best bet after each hike. Otherwise you could wind up bringing them into your house where they can sneak-attack your family and friends.

I’ve never had a tick on myself, but my dogs and my sister have. Folklore states that the best way to remove a tick is to encourage it to leave voluntarily, either smothering it with oil or burning it with a match. Both these methods, it turns out, are terrible. They don’t work and they can cause the critter to “barf” its stomach contents into your bloodstream. Ick.

We also were once instructed to remove a tick by twisting it in a counterclockwise direction. It worked like magic. Or was that clockwise?

Twisting might work but it also might leave the tick’s head embedded in the skin where it can fester. The recommended way to remove a tick is to grab it very close to the skin and pull straight back. See Bug Girl’s suggestions for the correct approach to removing a tick. It’s a good idea to carry tweezers or a tick remover every time you hit the trail.

Image By André Karwath aka Aka (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Project Trail Dog: Kentucky Fried Hands

It smarts worse than it looks

I guess I didn’t think this through all the way. When a 75 lb. dog hits the end of a 50 foot yellow plastic rope at a full flat-out run, guess what happens? The force of the jerk knocks him off his feet and he tumbles in the grass. This isn’t as bad as it sounds…fortunately I had enough foresight to clip the lead to his harness and not his collar. The result reinforces a natural consequence. I yell “halt!” and if the dog doesn’t halt he’s going to go for a tumble.

No, the bad thing is what happens on the other end of the rope – the end I’m holding with my bare hands. About two feet of rough plastic rope played through my fingers so fast I could smell the flesh burn. And because I didn’t my dog attacking the Schnauzer that entered his field of vision I didn’t dare let go. So that last jerk, the accelerated force of a muscle-bound moose of a dog, was a real screamer.

But I guess we both learned our lesson. Mr. Moose learned pretty quickly to listen to me whenever the sight of a dog made him go flipping berserk. And I learned that I need a decent pair of roping gloves.

Project Trail Dog: Training the Perfect Hiking Buddy

dogs meeting on trail

Dogs meeting on the trail

A good trail dog needs to be calm, confident, alert to danger but not easily threatened, and most of all…focused on his owner. This does not describe Mr. Moose, the German Shepherd (Greyhound?) mix that I am training to be my trail buddy. He does very well with people he knows, and he’s more plenty willing to take on a challenge outdoors – I took him to the river this weekend and he galloped headlong into a patch of quicksand. This mishap surprised him, but it didn’t freak him out.

The big problem is the way Mr. Moose handles strangers. He is extremely wary, to the point of aggression, with people he doesn’t know or understand. With dogs he is hyper-ballistic.

Learning to Walk All Over Again

I started Mr. Moose on the Martingale collar, a nylon collar with a slip-chain that can’t choke the dog. The good: the collar doesn’t choke and he can’t twist out of it. The bad: When Mr. Moose spies a Schnauzer and lunges to the end of his leash his instinct is to pull harder against the resistance. This turns a peaceful dog-walk into a fight with a barking marlin. The ugly: Strong, firm corrections don’t even register. I’ve had to give a really hard yank to get the dog’s attention.

Next we switched to a prong collar. After satisfying myself that the prong collar is not an instrument of torture, I found it to be a very useful tool for teaching Mr. Moose to heel. I’ll need to cover my training method in another post, because the prong collar alone won’t keep a strong dog like Mr. Moose in line. But it does provide a level of natural consequence that the Martingale collar didn’t. The good: Mr. Moose quickly learned that the most comfortable place to walk is by my side. The bad: It still takes a firm tug at times to give a correction. The collar needs to be used thoughtfully, and takes a certain amount of skill to administer. The ugly: The prong collar did nothing to keep Mr. Moose from lunging at the sight of other dogs. If anything it escalated his aggression, possibly because the collar was hurting him as he yanked and twisted on the end of the leash.

Now I’ve switched to using a Halti head collar. I’ve had disastrous results with head collars on other dogs, tugging, wriggling and generally causing freak-outs. But seeing that Mr. Moose had learned to heel and that his instinct to pull against resistance (cf. sled dogs) was now the major problem, it seemed like a head collar might work. True, he hates having his snoot looped, but it does prevent him from making sustained lunges. Now when he tries to pull against the leash instead of being like fighting a sailfish the effect is more like trying to land a 70 lb. flopping bass. The good: the dog doesn’t continue lunging forward against resistance. The bad: instead, the dog frantically moves backward, twisting, shaking and clawing at the head collar. The ugly: given enough twisting, he can escape the head collar. Fortunately there is a back-up lead that clips to his regular collar.

The important lesson here is that a training collar is simply a tool. The collar alone won’t correct a rotten dog’s behavior. I suppose this all goes back to the old joke:

Q. What’s the first thing you need to know in order to train a dog?

A. More than the dog.

Photo by Ildar Sagdejev

Project Trail Dog: the Going Gets Ruff

trail dog project

Like a grenade at the end of a short leash

When I decided to take on the project of a new dog, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I had previously taken Mr. Moose on a “test drive” and satisfied myself that he was an intelligent dog, willing to learn, eager to please and able to settle down. He met my sketchy criteria for a decent trail dog: short hair. We previously had an Australian shepherd and it was a full-time job picking burrs and ticks out of her coat.

Things haven’t gone as smoothly as I’d hoped. Mr. Moose is starting to mix it up more often with our resident cocker spaniel. It’s not always clear what sets the dogs against each other but it’s starting to get exhausting trying to keep them apart.

Our twice-daily walks aren’t getting any easier, either. In three weeks I’ve gotten him to the point where he doesn’t tug on the leash and he will automatically sit when I stop at corners. Using a combination of rewards via clicker and pockets full of dog cookies, he’s a pretty willing learner.

Unless…and this is a big unless…he catches sight of another dog. Mr. Moose explodes in a furry of growls, flashing teeth, deep-throated barking and ungodly yodeling. He lunges, twists and stands on two legs…pretty well freaking out everyone nearby.

The problem is that I haven’t yet found a way to deal with this behavior without reinforcing it. He won’t calm down as long as he can see another dog. So I drag him around a corner until he does settle. Then I try to gradually re-introduce him to the spot where he last saw the other dog (the owner and dog having long since skedaddled.) Two things seem to be happening, however. Every time I drag him away from another dog it seems to simply reinforce his doggie notion that other dogs are dangerous, and (presumably) Must Be Destroyed! On top of this he is recording all the corners, paths and alleys where we have encountered other dogs and anticipating future encounters. These days were are at Threat Level Orange before we even get out the door.

So. What next? Dog trainer Lee Charles Kelley has an interesting approach for building up a dog’s confidence using pushing and pulling resistance training. Interestingly, Kelley is a big advocate of playing tug-of-war with your dog…and letting the dog win. I’ve always heard that letting the dog win is a big “Bozo no-no”…because it encourages the dog to challenge your position as pack leader. Kelley, however, links to Neil Sattin’s page that explains that the object of playing tug-of-war is to focus your dog’s predator drive on you – not that you’re the prey, but it makes you the main object of your dog’s desire, attention and fulfillment.

At least I have some ideas to work on for a while. If these confidence-building activities really seem to reduce the explosive-aggressive behavior, I’m probably going to have to do them with both dogs.

I’ll keep you posted.

Hot Around the Collar: Tools for Walking Dogs

I’m hoping Moose will be a good trail dog someday. But first I have to figure out how to take him for a walk, without him walking me.

Here’s what happens: Moose is pretty dialed in with having me as his pack leader. But on walks he becomes very focused on what’s ahead. He starts out at a good heel, but slowly picks up the pace. A quick yank on the leash gets his attention well enough, but soon he’s back in front. I’ve heard that constantly tugging on the leash is about as effective as nagging a teenager to clean his room.

Since I’ve been using a harness on Moose (until he chewed it off this afternoon, my bad for leaving it on him) I decided that I need a collar that offers some kind of correction. At first I considered getting a choke-chain collar. In my experience after one or two corrections the dog responds to the sound of the chain and does not need to be “choked.” However, in Moose’s case I’m pretty sure he could quickly escape a conventional choker collar.

There’s also the prong or pinch collar–which supposedly isn’t as horrible as it looks. But prong collars do look evil and so I’m trying a Martingale collar.

The Martingale collar works by applying even pressure around the neck, supposedly bringing to the dog’s mind a top-dog’s mouth-around-the-throat type of correction. The other benefit of a Martingale collar is that it is more difficult for a dog to slip its head out of the collar. Moose has a big neck, meaning it’s pretty easy for him to back out of a collar.

Already I’m having trouble with Moose’s collar slipping too low on neck–the optimal position is up high behind the dog’s ears. It’s virtually impossible to keep the leash slack and the collar high. Which is why Cesar Millan offers the $$$$ Illusion Collar, certainly worth every penny if it works. But spendy if your dog doesn’t respond to it.

On my first day using the Martingale collar it worked as advertised. Meaning that Moose didn’t back out of it when he went bonkers at the sight of a Pomeranian. But it still doesn’t seem to keep him from tugging on the leash.

We’ll see how the next few days go.

Resident Evil: Introducing a New Dog to a Grumpy Older Dog

Yesterday I said Moose had a good temperament. Well, the fangs started flashing when I took him for a walk with our resident dog.

Lilli is a cocker spaniel and is used to having the run of the house. Moose is a monster, mixed breed but he looks for all the world like a Dutch Shepherd. After a cordial introduction the two have begun to scuffle. Lilli may be the instigator but now she is terrorized.

I want to make this work but there are a lot of complex dynamics going on.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far–

1. I need to be in position as pack leader. Outside Magazine

2. I can’t be the pack leader if I can’t create a safe, secure environment for each of the dogs. Dog Whisperer.

This is going to be a big change for me. I’m more comfortable acting as a consultant than as a pack leader.

I have a feeling the dogs are going to require a little more commitment.

2010 Goes to the Dogs

German shepherd and ? mix

Suddenly all my plans for 2010 have changed. I’ve been gifted a monstrous dog, that I’m calling Moose, a one year old puppy. the dog is a mix of German Shepherd and we’re not sure what…something that was brindle in color and rather big. Possibly greyhound, possibly Great Dane. We’ll see.

Moose has a good temperament, he’s alert and curious but he’s going to need a lot of my time. We’ll see how this cuts into the expedition life I was planning for 2010. Certainly he can’t go off on any motorcycle junkets with me. And you can’t take a dog to the Sierras. So we’ll be adding dog-friendly junkets to the mix in this coming year.

Gone to the Dogs

Four monstrous dogs in our tiny yard

Four monstrous dogs in our tiny yard

Daughter Em and her husband Matt and their four dogs – more like a single four-headed whirling entity from Hell – landed on our doorstep two weeks ago. And it’s killing my routine. My attempts at running, attempts at writing, attempts at riding…everything has gone to the dogs. As it were.

I’d like to post more about this, but at the moment there’s a horrendous bark-off in our tiny yard and I’ve got to go throw a shoe at one of these miserable creatures.