sobota, 2 maja 2020

Caught between the extremes

In those uncertain times, one thing is still certain: whatever you're doing, someone knows you're doing it wrong and will comment on it in non-specific way on their social media, which is like the famous soapbox in Hyde Park nowadays.

We have those training fads as well. Like all those years ago we discovered clicker training in Poland and everybody was shaping and just being positive and clicker training zyliards of tricks and people were sharing new batch of tricks each month with their puppies and everybody went oooh, aaaah and there was this sort of competition who would teach the most tricks and the most creative ones. Then suddenly we discovered calming signals and that whole methodology and everybody was spying on "oh, but he licked his lips, he's clearly not comfortable in this situation" and taking part in communication classes and what not. Now it's fitness training and conditioning and half of the world is obsessed with dogs maintaining proper stance on two objects and there is this whole progression from stable objects to unstable ones etc. Me, I actually love all of it and learnt from each - I have this kind of mind that likes synthesis, so picks up bits and pieces and somehow joins them together (which is also what I'm doing here, it's not a detailed historical survey of training methods, just several examples that caught my attention at some point or other). On the other hand, my mind hates extremes and likes to look for the "middle ground" or "golden mean". 

What is kinda new is people actually bragging what their dogs cannot do yet ;). "My dog is fifteen months old and can only do a straight tunnel". "My dog is one year old and he cannot do ANYTHING, I just let him be a puppy". This is usually in response to someone posting a video of young dogs doing relatively advanced things... or sometimes not really, sometimes it's young dogs doing anything. Well, I find this peculiar.

It's a bit like saying "I want my children to have childhood, I don't teach them anything". Well, I don't think we should enroll babies in all possible classes, so they could play the piano, sew, cook and talk in three five different languages by the age of four, but if you're saying that, probably you're lying through your teeth, as most likely you taught them to use the toilet, dress themselves, say "thank you" and "please", eat soup with a spoon, look both ways before crossing the street and so on (or at least I really really hope so). Same goes for dogs, if you're against training on agility equipment before certain age, fine, but I certainly hope you're teaching your dog to come when called, play with you in different locations, walk on leash nicely, ignore distractions, maintain sit-stays, having their nails cut and so on and so on so why don't you brag about that? What I mean here is that I find it much more constructive to list what you can do with a puppy (and there is lots) rather than pointing fingers at someone doing it differently. I really like the idea of "follow my puppy's progress" kind of courses, where famous trainers show what they are doing and how and why, thus giving good example and ideas. 

Also, in the end, even if there is right and wrong way of doing things (which is generally a very complex subject), what someone else is doing is their responsibility and their decision. People are entitled to make mistakes and they can even, wait for it, make mistakes and NOT learn from them (that's idiotic, but it's their problem). And you might feel it's super unfair, but sometimes people make mistakes and get away with it ;). 

I always give example that Brava could weave as one year old - it's true. She was also running sequences at that time. When questioned about it, I also said that she was super easy to train and she learnt much faster than I expected (huh, I might be the first one to come up with "I just have a genius dog" explanation, do I get the credit for that?). That was also true, I didn't even have everyday access to equipment at that time (it was 40-60 minutes drive away and I had a toddler to take care of, so two or three times a week I actually got up at 5:40, left home at 6 am, got to the training place at 7 am, trained four dogs, including warm-up / cool-off and left at 8:15 at the latest to get back home by 9, when my husband had to leave for his work... so much for drilling and overtraining... and yes, I admire my own dedication from that period).

I didn't start teaching weaves that early with any of my "later" dogs - not because it hurt Brava - it didn't, she is still in great shape and was actively and successfully competing until almost 11 years old and now enjoys healthy and active retirement, but because since then, I've found things that I'd rather do at that time, and weaves are pretty easy to train anyway ;). There are also things that, unlike one year old Brava weaving, really make my skin crawl when I look at my old videos (like for goodness sake, I was running agility ON SNOW!) and that I wouldn't do today, because I know better. But I'm glad I was allowed to make my own mistakes. And I'm glad it was not discussed on FB at that time ;). 

What I'm saying is that: 
- you should do things your way, the one you feel comfortable with,
- you shouldn't do things you don't feel comfortable with (it's that simple: if you're against training equipment before one year old / before growth plates close / before you teach particular flatwork skill / etc., just don't do it),
- you should have some argumentation behind it (like why you're doing things in specific time, in specific order and in specific way), especially if you want people to follow your way,
- and that's it. What other people are doing with their own dogs (or children) is really their business, as long as it doesn't endanger you or your loved ones (hence my hope everybody teaches recall...). 


wtorek, 25 lutego 2020

Being an owner of a difficult dog sucks

Being an owner of a difficult dog is very taxing thing. Or to be more precise, being a RESPONSIBLE owner of a difficult dog (otherwise, you just don't care and let the world deal with your problematic dog). By difficult I mean dogs with behavioural issues such as fearfulness, aggression, anxiety, reactivity etc., not dogs that for one reason or another fail to fulfill their owners expectations of perfect show / sport dog. That's another story and I don't really want to discuss it now.

Being an owner of a difficult dog engages so much of your mental and psychological resources. 
You try to control the dog, so you need to be always vigilant and ever watchful. If your dog doesn't really like other dogs, you need to watch for all those fucking friendly golden retrievers, who are always off-leash with the owner hundreds of meters away yelling joyfully "he only wants to say 'hi'!", in order to distance yourself before your dog lunges, before you get into yet another verbal fight with the said owner after his stupidity caused you a major setback in your work with your reactive dog. You tend to walk in those abandoned places or in unearthly hours to avoid meeting anyone. The walks are hardly the fun they were supposed to be when you decided to get the dog in the first place. 

You try to control the environment, keeping your dog under threshold, which quite often is impossible, because well, the world is unpredictable and full of children on bikes, birds, dogs wanting to say 'hi', plastic bags flying over from nowhere and also, unfortunately, people deprived of even tiny shred of imagination and consideration. Seriously, you never notice that, until you have a difficult dog and then of course the weirdest things happen exactly when you are working with that one dog that might have problem with them. Like you know, of all of our dogs, Flaszek used to be the fearful one, and of course it was him I was running when some lady decided to shake off her blanket in the very precise moment when he was weaving two meters away from her etc. I mean Brego wouldn't even notice, so it didn't happen to him. 

You try not to lose hope, while at the same time progress might be unbelievably slow and more often than not it feels like you're taking one step forward and two steps back. 

You try not to blame yourself, but you do. After all, there must be a reason why other people have normal dogs, dogs that behave, dogs that don't bark their heads off when the agility judge pulls a hood over his head in the rain, dogs that don't vocalise when left alone in the appartment, dogs that never attack other dogs or people, dogs that are ok with being touched by strangers, dogs that are not resource guiding like maniacs and so on and so on.

You try to find help, while at the same time ignoring all the unsolicited advice of self-proclaimed experts, people telling you that you're doing it wrong, people telling you that you're not trying hard enough, that you are trying too hard, that it will never work, that it's not for you. People who offer you platitudes that everything will be fine, you're doing just great are also dangerous, as they either lie and badmouth you behind your back or don't really know what they are talking about. 


First of all, not all dogs are created equal. 

So no, it's not your fault. You were dealt a shitty hand. You were faced with a situation that you didn't sign up for. Did you make mistakes? For sure you did, but don't beat yourself about it. You were doing your best at that time, with the knowledge you had, with the abilities you had, you progressed by trial and error. Some mistakes can be repaired. Some can't. Could someone else do a better job with that dog? Perhaps. Would someone else give up long time ago or mess things up even further? For sure. 

Secondly, at the end of the day, there are only some things you MUST do. You must ensure safety and relative comfort of your dog, other dogs and people. This is your responsibility and your duty, especially if your dog is aggressive. 
But don't forget about yourself. As I said, taking care of a difficult dog is exhausting and stressful and prolonged stress is one of the leading causes of depression. Seek help for yourself if you begin to feel this is just too much. 

Otherwise, you don't have to do anything. You don't have to fix your dog. Sometimes it's not even possible. You don't have to explain yourself to anyone. You don't have to make a success story out of your difficult dog - you might manage to do so and it's great as it gives hope, but every great trainer has a story of failure as well.

I do feel that in the end you get rewarded for all that trouble one way or another. Maybe all your hard work pays off eventually. Maybe one day you realise how much you've learnt and that you have knowledge and experience you would have never gained otherwise. Maybe your difficult dog gets old, a little deaf, a little blind, a little less active, a lot less reactive and suddenly you enjoy peace and understanding in your relationship as you never knew before. Maybe one day you get another dog that is that easy-going soulmate you've been dreaming about all that time. But that doesn't change the fact that while it lasts, being an owner of a difficult dog sucks. Cut yourself some slack. Take care of yourself.

poniedziałek, 6 stycznia 2020

Back from B.A.C.K 2020

Today is the day almost everybody I know on FB writes "back from B.A.C.K." posts so I'm gonna join the crowd for once ;).

There is lots of things I loved about this competition, which I will list below, but I'm pretty sure from now on if I ever have agility nightmares it will be about 5 minutes long coursewalkings with yellow numbers on white background, standing on a yellowish sand in dimly lit hall at 8 o'clock in the morning.

I mean, seriously. 5 out of my 6 runs with Brego were on the ring with those numbers, 3 were early in the morning, I was in the first coursewalking group with no chance to watch the judge measuring the course or others coursewalk first and I lost like 2 minutes each time just trying to locate the numbers. I'm normally quite good at coursewalking, but this time it really felt as I had no time to think and test different solutions and then I was running as no. 9 which also gave me no time to watch the others and well, I made some stupid handling choices as a result, so I had just one clean run with Brego out of six, which is kinda disappointing, since he was awesome as usual. 

The things I loved though:

- the venue, as always, particularly because I could spend hours walking my dogs (yes, still obsessed with #longwalkshappydogs idea). I walked like 50 km in three days and even took some photos,

- some of the courses, which gave me lots of training ideas and made me super happy about our choice of judges for Silesian Open ;),

- salmiac vodka from Finland,

- watching some great runs from others,

- meeting friends with special mention to watching the finals with Carmen and Laura (you were great company :D),

- most of my runs, hahaha. Results wise it's not so impressive, since I didn't even qualify to the finals (combination of bad luck when Mojo knocked the wall in otherwise awesome agility run and stupid handler in jumping where I got totally lost on the course), but in general I'm super happy with my dogs and their skills (might consider introducing another verbal for the wall though, since knocking it seems to happen to Mojo now and then and we don't really train it often enough),

- Mojo won jumping 3 on Friday, getting us pretty cool prize, that is an sport dog evaluation with Dogs4Motion. I decided to take Pucek instead, since a/ Mojo tends to get really stressed by things like that, b/ I was worrying about Pucek's coordination and structure a bit (it got much better since he is with us, but I still wanted some tips). It was really good and thorough and actually seems like everything is fine and we're on right track with the things I've been doing with him, but still got some more exercises to work on.

- the "sometimes you win, sometimes you learn" aspect of the competition. This time it was more about learning than winning, but that usually pushes me to do better, so let it be :D. 

Another thing that I didn't like so much and you might hate me for that, was the fact that children automatically qualify to the final... First of all, with some notable exceptions, I'm not particularly fond of  very small children (I don't mean teenagers) competing in agility in the first place (long story, but MOST of them really can't handle properly and then get frustrated about losing pretty easily and then get angry at the dog etc.). Secondly, I really think - again with some notable exceptions, as Sun Zenner's run in the final was amazing and really gave me goosebumps - that MOST children are not ready to handle the attention and the pressure connected with running the finals and generally are not even ready to run at this level (I mean, if they were, they could just qualify according to the same rules as everybody else). So in the end we watched some performances... well, that I'd rather not watch, particularly in the finals. I don't think it's fair for both the dogs and the children and maybe it would be better idea to just give them special prize for their other runs to encourage them if you want to do so.

Anyway, mostly I'm full of plans and ideas and that's a good thing in the beginning of the year I guess.

środa, 25 grudnia 2019

Long walks, happy dogs...

Suprisingly enough, this is a controversial topic 😂but then perhaps maybe not so suprisingly, since everything related to dogs seems to be controversial topic (seriously, enter any dog related FB group or forum and you'll learn that soon enough). 

Anyway, when as a child I pestered my parents for a dog, one thing I heard every time was: "But the dog has to be walked. Every day, in every weather, for all of his life". Of course there were also other concerns and in the end I only got a dog only when I was living on my own, but the point is that those 30+ years ago even non-dog people, like my parents, understood that walking the dog every day is like a pillar of dog care, apart from feeding it, training it and providing vet care (seriously, my parents are totally smart people as there is not much I could add to this list). Actually, one of the main reasons why I wanted a dog was so that I wouldn't have to walk alone anymore. 

Somehow, what was obvious all those years ago, is no longer obvious, especially when it comes to puppies. I was blissfully ignorant and just walking my puppies from day one (that is, when I got them from their breeders at 8 weeks of age). The first one got shorter walks initially, since I never kept quarantine (except with Vigo - my vet scared me that there was some vicious diarhoea attacking puppies at that time - I regreted it later and never made the same mistake), all the others had normal walks from the beginning, just with an option to rest when needed (Brava got in the baby pram, since my son was a baby then, with the others I used puppy backpack for a couple of weeks), nevertheless, all my puppies walked the whole distance with the rest of the pack by the time they were 4 months old (yes, they also got special walks just with me for training, bonding and socialisation reasons). 

Mojo at 8 weeks during walk with Brava 

3mo Mojo swimming

If I had entered any (particularly UK based) FB groups before, I would have learnt that I was a bad owner, ruining my puppies' health and future, since (and this is an actual quote from British Kennel Club site):

 "Puppies need much less exercise than fully-grown dogs. If you over-exercise a growing puppy you can overtire it and damage its developing joints, causing early arthritis. A good rule of thumb is a ratio of five minutes exercise per month of age (up to twice a day) until the puppy is fully grown, i.e. 15 minutes (up to twice a day) when three months old, 20 minutes when four months old etc."

Fortunately I haven't read anything like that until quite recently, so I managed to raise 7 healthy dogs from puppy to adulthood (the others came to me as adults, so I have no data on how much exercise they got as puppies), walking them from day one, teaching them to retrieve, allowing them to play with my other dogs , starting agility training way before their growth plates closed etc. Some of those dogs are old now - Sunday is no longer with us, but when I x-rayed her at the age of 12 yo, the vet said if she didn't know her from puppyhood, she would have never guessed those were the joints and spine of an old dog. Vigo is 15 yo, so obviously he has some ailments - but most days he still goes for a long walk with us. Brava was x-rayed in spring, as a 10 yo, no sign of any arthitis. 

4 mo Zelda chasing daddy Evo

3 mo Brego retrieving

So when I found out such puppy exercise recommendations, my approach to them was rather of advanced skepticism, not religious devotion. 

You might of course question my qualifications here. I'm no vet, I'm no physiotherapist either, my evidence is purely anecdotal (plus I own dogs who are medium sized - the biggest breed I've ever raised was a Dutch Shepherd). But, as I mentioned before, I am quite skeptical and down to Earth, I also cooperate and consult with a very good vet and physiotherapist that deals with sport dogs, and I will provide some sources that I trust at the end of the post, so what I do and how I raise my dogs is based on more than just "it was always done this way and it works for me".

Very often you might see the diagram of when particular growth plates close in a dog. You might also see completely misinterpreted picture of a new born puppy, claiming the puppy has no joints when born and the bones have to grow a lot to form them (😂 the emoticon is quite appropriate, since I really can't decide whether to laugh or cry when seeing this). You also see totally stupid posts like "you wouldn't ask your 6 mo baby to walk 2 km, so why are you doing that to your 6 mo puppy" (duh, because puppy rate of development is EXACTLY the same as human baby rate of development, right?). You also see super detailed charts of what and when can you do (some are downright ridiculous, like actually listing the number of steps you can walk your puppy on leash), some of which are at the same time promoting advice which I find harmful - like letting the puppy explore the garden without limits (wait, what? do they actually expect a puppy to EXPLORE the garden on their own? Now I no longer wonder where all those posts about "My puppy is digging in the garden" or "My puppy has eaten stones" come from) or doing kibble trails in the garden (yeah, right, wonderful idea to teach your puppy they can eat anything they find in the grass and start looking for it). But basically the common thread through all this advice is LIMITING puppy's activity. Avoid the stairs (yes, there is actual research you should to do... until the puppy is THREE months old, later it doesn't matter at all). Avoid the slippery surfaces. Don't let the puppy jump on and off the furniture (the Puppy Culture website actually claims they do it until the dog is two year old! I don't even know how to comment). Don't jog. Don't go for long hikes. Do not throw the ball. Do not... the list just goes on and on and on.

I wouldn't be discussing it if I didn't think it's actually harmful advice. First thing, and this is something you really notice if you come from stlightly different cultural approach is how understimulated lots of those puppies are. Seriously, through all the years with dogs, I've never seen that many posts about puppies destroying the garden, eating socks and having to be operated, biting hands, vocalising during the night etc. as I do regularly on (again) particularly British groups (I guess the responsible Polish owner still thinks it's mandatory to walk the puppy, whereas the responsible British owner reads the KC recommendations). Secondly, to give good support for the joints, the muscles need to develop somehow - it won't happen properly if you stick to 5 minutes per month of life / 1 minute per week of life rule (and I also seriously wonder how on Earth anyone is realistically able to do it and not get mad). 

Human growth plates close in the late adolescence, in some bones even later, around 30 years of age. Did you ever hear anyone actually telling you to limit your children physical acitivity? This is obviously very different from generation to generation - my generation couldn't be kept inside, whereas now we have huge problems with children using the electronic devices all the time and not getting enough exercise at all, having problems with obesity, proprioception and many others. Bear in mind I'm not discussing professional sports here, as that might actually not be so good (moderation in everything). Still, noone in their right mind would tell you: don't let your son play football with friends, his growth plates are not closed yet! Don't let your daughter ride the bicycle, she is not physically mature to do so! Sounds absurd, right? Moreover, has anyone seen a mother wolf telling her children - enough of that running and wild play, let's explore in slow pace? Or adolescent wolf that he cannot hunt just yet, as it might get arthritis later? (BTW, if you're interested, some info on wolves development - here).
So why would anyone think similar advice concerning dogs is reasonable? (also, and that's a philosophical question, why doesn't anyone try to sell the same advice concerning cats? oh yes, because good dogs do what they are told, whereas good cats do whatever they want). 

I seriously wonder if anyone writing "puppy needs much less exercise than fully grown dogs" has ever met a real puppy older than 5 weeks or so. 

You know, there was an experiment conducted once in which the researchers asked a group of physical education students to follow and repeat the activities of kindergarden children on a playground... guess what, the students were soon exhausted and couldn't do it.

I found similar to be true when it comes to puppies. My adult dogs are happy to spend most of the day napping, whereas with every puppy that I've ever owned I wondered if there is something wrong and they forgot to equip it with the snooze button (oh yes, they got tired now and then... they also recharged awfully quick). 

Honestly, I think any formal recommendations for puppy exercise are not necessary if you own a couple of brain cells and a bit of common sense. It boils down to the following guidelines:

A/ Observe the puppy. Puppies vary in their temperament, structure and rate of development. When the puppy seems tired (that might also mean getting more hectic, barky or nippy), let it rest. If the puppy is reluctant to perform particular movement, don't ever force them to do it and consult a smart vet. Maybe there is something wrong with the puppy or maybe there is something wrong with you to ask that of a puppy. 

B/ Avoid drilling and repetitions of the same movements (drilling is stupid and boring anyway). Best what you can do is let the puppy move offleash in varied environment, but if you need to walk the puppy on pavement to get to the park or wherever, don't obsess about the number of steps you need to take. 

But if you feel you need more detailed guidelines and from an actual authority in the field, here is the website and chart you can consult.

EDIT: if you also need a bit more of actual research, take a look here (and I was so glad that was published AFTER my blog, because some arguments sound awfully similar... common sense?). 

czwartek, 5 grudnia 2019

Three days, three weeks, three months...

The title of this post refers to how it is said a dog adapts to his new home. Pucek has been with us for a little over than 6 months now, so perhaps time for a little summary 😃. 

Three days... the beginning was totally honeymoon 💙. As I wrote before, the circumstances were sad, since we got Pucek after death of his owner, who was our friend, but Pucek seemed to fit right in. House trained, crate trained, with perfect recall, nice loose leash walking skills, friendly with people, nice with dogs, tons of drive and being super cute on top of that - we could hardly wish for a nicer dog. Some years ago I've met Nanga's brother (Nanga is mother of Zelda and Puck) and he was so totally beatiful that I've dreamed of having a dog in this type ever since. Well, Pucek is even more beautiful (of course). And since he did a bit of agility before, I started with some training with him right away - wow, tons of speed and enthusiasm, really nice reaction to handling, super potential in general, awesome, just awesome in every aspect. 

Three weeks... the reality hits. I guess Pucek realised that it is not just a holiday🏊 and he's here to stay and then suddenly he became a bit stressed. It didn't help that Zelda got in season and he started fighting with Brego over her. A bit later he started having some minor health problems (everything under control now) and it turned out he didn't like going to the vet at all, we had to use a muzzle to do a blood test.  At the end of summer I also wanted to start a bit more "serious" agility training, weaves and contacts and initially that wasn't going so well either. Even though as I said, he was really well trained in general, and was physically mature to learn "adult agility stuff", he lacked the kind of preparation I normally do with my puppies and at some point I realised he lacked some skills that I assumed were there. Sometimes he got frustrated, started biting me or barking like crazy 👾, sometimes he struggled with coordination or compression skills, sometimes after he made a mistake he couldn't really get over it and would just repeat it again and again. Obviously, he was still super cute and super nice dog in general and we also understood that some of those things were to be expected, as he underwent a major change in his life, so we just started working on the issues step by step.
Lots of socialisation with our vets, just coming along for visits with our other dogs and getting treats. Teaching him I can restrain him and nothing bad would happen. Fun activities alongside with Brego, so he had positive associations with him. Lots of shaping games, some tricks to help him with coordination and body awareness. Physiotherapy to get rid of some ugly tensions of the muscles. 

I needed to work on myself as well - on how to best explain behaviours to him, how to schedule sessions, how to reward, how to keep myself from getting into similar frenzy as he did (not so easy, when you're trying to think while someone screams in your ears or bites your hand). Sometimes I got frustrated as well - methods and ways that were tried and proven with my previous dogs didn't really work with him - so I made notes, I experimented, I tried this and that. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. It's still work in progress, though progress I see. And a lot of it. 

Three months... or actually a bit more. We have so many successes together. He doesn't fight with Brego anymore, they can walk, train, be in the same room together at home. There is still a bit of tension between them, but now they can communicate, say a few insults at each other and then go away rather than actually fight. He doesn't need a muzzle with our vet anymore and he even started enjoying his physiotherapy sessions.  He learnt to weave and then all of a sudden he can do even quite difficult stuff, work distance etc. His contacts training is still work in progress, but we're getting there. We competed in jumping competition last weekend and he was perfect, doing sit stays, listening, paying attention to bars even on slices <3 It was so fun to run him!

At some point I checked my messenger history with Jitka, Zelda and Pucek's breeder, and I saw that when she was sending me puppy videos, I always liked the boy in the red collar. So guess who is that puppy now? Yes, it is Pucuś and I feel like we were meant to be. Now I cross my fingers for our next thirty years together 🐕👧😍

Photo: Leona Ortenberg

czwartek, 29 sierpnia 2019

How we approach behaviour is an ethical stance

I watched "Dogs, Cats and Scapegoats" today - and I could write a whole post about that documentary and it's logical fallacies, but one sentence in particular caught my attention and nudged me to write a post on a subject that I was thinking about for a while now.

That sentence, said by Bernard Rollin, PhD, distinguished professor of philosophy, is:

"How you approach behaviour is an ethical stance".

Now, I need to make a disclaimer, before I continue - what follows is my view on the subject, it is what I find acceptable and ethical - am I no expert, nor I consider myself an authority on matters of ethics, dog training etc. Moreover, my stance might change over time and hopefully it will, otherwise it would mean I stopped learning. And while I do believe there is black and white distinction between the opposite ends of the dog training spectrum and approaches to dog ownership (which in itself is a controversial term), I also believe there is a lot of grey area and while there are some universal guidelines, each and every dog is different, each situation is different and all of that might determine your personal choice. 

But the reason why this sentence struck me as so true, is that I really believe your choice of training methods, your approach to the relation between yourself and your dog is an ethical stance. No more, no less. Some people claim that aversive methods don't work (while on the other hand disdainfully labelling them as "quick fix"), other people claim purely positive training doesn't work either - the truth is, dogs are wonderful creatures and are so adaptable and so forgiving, that pretty much every method can work, provided the dog can get at least some clarity what is expected of them. So yes, you can achieve results that you are looking for, with different methods. Therefore, the big question is: which methods work for your dog (and yes, that might differ depending on your dogs sensitivity, temperament, drive etc.) and which are morally acceptable for you. 

I've read really interesting post today, unfortunately only in Polish, about giving dogs choice. It started with assumption that the very term of dogs ownership is somehow outdated, and more and more people are perceiving themselves as caretakers of their pets rather than owners. Personally, I don't really see it as mutually exclusive - I am my dogs' owner in legal terms (that also means I'm legally responsible for both their well-being and for their possible misbehaviour), but that very term means an obligation to take care of them in the best possible way - in terms of meeting their needs, providing them with food, exercise, appropriate veterinary care, training, cuddles (yes, there is an emotional factor for me as well). 

But from that assumption of not really owning another living, feeling creature comes a conclusion that we need to give our dogs choice (and what follows is a list of situations in which we should do it and I generally agree with it) and this is something I've been thinking a lot about recently. And it actually determines the use of training methods. Because if I believe dogs should always have a choice, that limits my choice of methods to the ones that make my dogs happy, if I deny them choice, it means I use whatever methods I deem appropriate for getting a behaviour I want. So while I consider myself to be on the positive/ respectful end of the spectrum, I wouldn't be myself if there wasn't a BUT. 

I somehow have a hierarchy of things pertaining to dog training. Some things are important. Coming when called is the most important. Accepting touch / grooming / veterinary procedures  is important.  Resting at house is important. Loose leash walking is quite important, because few things annoy me more than a dog trying to walk me rather than the other way round (oh, they do get offleash walks every day and they are allowed to run, smell things, roll in grass etc. to their hearts' content then). Doing agility is not that important. Doing tricks is not important at all. My dogs playing with other dogs is totally not imporant - they don't like it mostly and I protect them from people and dogs who think they should. And so on. How much choice my dogs are given relies on that hierarchy.

So yes, generally I want my dogs to have a choice, first of all, out of respect - they are living, feeling, thinking beings. Secondly, I want them to feel safe and let me know if they don't want to do something. I make sure their good choices (like working with me or doing what I ask them to do) are so rewarding that if they refuse to do it, they must have a very good reason, and usually it is a physical reason and a signal we need to head to the vets asap. But sometimes their choice can be really limited: if I think the reason for not working with me is that an adolescent male would rather lick bitches' pee, sure, he can choose not to work with me, but he won't be given the option to lick the pee either (so yup, there is a choice: you either do something fun with me or you don't do anything fun at that time). Bear in mind that I believe dogs have certain needs (food, safety, play, social contact, rest, investigating the environment and so on) and before you ask anything of them, you should be sure they actually satisfy those needs on regular basis - denying them this option is an abuse as well, but sometimes I'm the one to decide when they can do it.

I also avoid using physical coertion when teaching behaviours, particularly when it concerns agility, because, well, it's just agility. I want my dog to let me know if they are afraid of let's say, see-saw - they can refuse to get on it, they can jump off it, etc. I want my dogs to let me know if they find the exercise frustrating, difficult, if they don't understand what I want from them - then it's my job to adjust, explain, make it easier. If my dog ever left, refused to work with me - that would be a wake up call and I would try really hard to understand the reason and then, give them the better reason to keep working (not the "or I make you do it" kind of reason). I do my best to prevent such situations in the first place - for instance, I teach my dogs that keeping on trying pays off really well, that generally working for me pays really well and it's really fun, I plan my sessions, I analise them and so on. 

But before you assume I'm all rainbows and unicorns, there are also some situations in which my dogs don't have a choice, same as there are situations in which my child doesn't have a choice, simply because sometimes I know better. Basically it boils down to any situation which concerns safety of my dogs, myself or any other being. Like at the vets, my dogs ultimately don't have a choice and I teach them early on to accept it. If I want to have their blood tested, the blood will be tested, even if the dog is like "naah, I don't feel like it today". If there is something painful and the vet needs to examine it, it will be examined. If my dog wanted to chase and kill another animal, I would stop that behaviour by whatever means and so on, and so on.  I always start with positive approach and 99% of time, I get what I want. But if this is something I consider very important and if I'm not able to get the result I want by solely positive approach, I would eventually use other methods as well - this is sort of last resort, I give lots of consideration if it's really necessary (what I'm writing about here is conscious decision to use an aversive method or to deny a dog a choice and not getting angry at the dog and flying off the handle - which we shouldn't, but then, let him who is without sin cast the first stone). 

Some things are not acceptable for me. Using a shock collar to teach puppy to sit is not acceptable (and stupid). Burning the bowl (that is feeding ONLY from hand in exchange for certain behaviours) is not acceptable for me either (well, maaaybeee it can come useful as a temporary measure in some cases). Dragging a dog that knocked down a pole back to agility field after it been yelled at and fled, is not acceptable. But then again - some behaviours are not acceptable either. Dogs do use aversives themselves (and they do is SO WELL: immediately, never dragging it on, stopping the unwanted behaviour once and for all... think of an older dog teaching a younger one not to disturb them when they are sleeping). And no, it doesn't destroy your relation forever (BTW, it is interesting how some people getting on high horse of ethics in dog training fail to represent truthfully the use of certain tools and methods).

That's my ethical stance. For now. 

sobota, 10 sierpnia 2019

Eye examination in Pyrshep on B.A.S.E. 2019

*La traduction en français se trouve en bas de la page, traduction: Virginie de Andrea

Eye testing in Pyrsheps is still not that common, not all the breeders do it and there are several reasons for that.  First of all, for now we don't really have any genetic test for the eyes diseases in our breed (apart from PRA-prcd, which however most likely is not the type of PRA that causes early vision loss in Pyrsheps - there are several forms of PRA). So the only thing we have at our disposal is ECVO test, which is only checking for clinical signs, hence it's valid for only a year (some disorders may develop later in life, what the eye test does is just saying "at the moment of the test the dog is clinically healthy"). In my opinion since it's not very expensive and it's not invasive, it's still worth doing before the dog is bred, just to minimise the chance of passing something to the offspring.
 Also, people often assume that dogs would show clear signs of  vision problems, hence they presume their dogs are healthy  - this is understandable (I would call it human-bias: vision is so important for us that we notice immedietely if something is wrong with our own sight), but not entirely true. Sight is not the main sense for the dog, they can cope really well even with significant vision loss and we actually experienced that with one of our own dogs, Flaszek. All our dogs were tested in the early spring, as soon as the idea of broader research on Pyrshep's eyes was born and that is when we learnt that Flaszek has huge lesions in his retina, one of them really close to the centre of field of vision. His left eye is normal for his age, in the right eye he most probably has like a big black spot in the centre of vision. This is most probably post-inflammatory and we'll never know what caused it, could have been even tooth infection that went unnoticed - we will re-examine him in a couple of months to make sure this is not anything progressive, but we don't think it is. We never noticed anything. Well, now that we know, we're thinking MAYBE that's the reason he's always been a bit careful in agility, like never going really full speed, even though he is the fastest of our dogs when chasing a ball in an open field. Anyway, no, we couldn't tell.

Flaszek's left, healthy eye

One of the lesions in Flaszek's right eye

Bigger lesion in Flaszek's right eye.

I was really counting on agility people being interested and open to the idea of testing and I was not disappointed - lots of people volunteered to test their dogs and it has proven to be very important already. Of course, given that the majority of the dogs tested were actually actively competing in agility, the sample was somewhat not fully representative, yet still a number of problems were caught,  fortunately most of them not causing any serious vision problems at the moment. There is a need to retest after a while to check whether they will be progressive or possibly linked with more serious issues that can develop over time. Buccal swabs were taken for the dogs, so there is also hope that some genetic component might be found, especially for one of the things observed. The full results of the study won't be available for a while yet, but I would like to share a summary written by the leading doctor conducting the test, dr Natalia Kucharczyk:

"Dear all,

Thanks to organizers and participants of BASE 2019 we were able to examine over 70 Pyrsheps.
That was an amazing opportunity to look closer at the breed.
Until now there are no publications dedicated to this breed so all we know about these dogs is from ECVO certificates. 
I did a really short summary of what we discovered and the result is surprising!

Some of lesions we found are because of age and some are probably genetic.
None of lesions (beside one cataract) cause vision problems in your dogs - at least until now. The cataract can progress to vision loss!

To share with you the results we will go through the short list:

- Cataract - 2 forms are described on the ECVO manual. Fiberglass-like cataract is the 3rd one we observed. We saw it in 12 dogs. 
Some of them will progress, some not. We need a second exam in a year (next BASE probably) to tell you how fast the cataract progresses and if it needs to be operated. 
The number is HIGH in this group although in most cases these are for now small opacities that doesn't cause vision problems. 

- Vitreous degeneration - HIGH prevalence - presumed hereditary eye disease; strands of vitreous or liquefaction of the vitreous gel which may predispose to retinal detachment! In most dogs it don't cause any problems but in advanced stage might cause vision problems, glaucoma, lens luxation (in predisposed dogs). 

There is also a discussion between ophthalmologists about this disease because we started to see it in YOUNG dogs. When we ask about feeding it showed up that most of those dogs are on BARF. Because it needs more data and scientific aproach then we don't want to blame BARF just like that but I would say it is interesting coincidence. 
So for sure you will all get emails with one more question about the way you feed your dogs. 

- Choroidal hypoplasia -  is characterized by inadequate development of the choroid present at birth which is nonprogressive. THIS IS THE MOST INTERESTING THING we found in your dogs. As according to ECVO it is not caused by CEA gene, we will try to look for a gene in your breed. 

The interesting thing is that in Collies this anomaly shows sometimes with optic nerve coloboma or retinal detachment which cause vision problems. We didn't expect this in agility dogs so it will be really valuable to examine next time also dogs that doesn't take part in runs because we would like to know if this problem is also seen in your breed (but we coudn't catch it now).

- PRA - none, but it is said that in this breed it causes blindness before the dog is 3 years old so I didn't expect to see a dog with PRA on BASE.

- Retinoscopy (this is whether the dog is short-sighted or long-sighted, intrusion by Olga) - most of the dogs were normal around -0,5 to + 0,5. We will compare it with ETO answers. 

We found few more abnormalities related to age and few puzzles that we need to solve after recheck in a year. 
The full results will be available in the publications in the future! 

So as you can see the day was full of surprises and gave us a wide view of what is going on in eyes of working Pyrsheps.
It would be a great thing to look at them in a year and also check dogs that don't work to have a better understanding of the eye problems within the breed. 
The breed was considered "healthy" and some people assumed it didn't need eye exams, but I think after this day nobody has doubts that they are needed and there is a great value in research on your breed. 

I hope you enjoyed this day with us even though we broke the "healthy Pyrshep" image!
I want to thank you all again for a great cooperation and patience!
Special thanks to Virginie de Andrea and Olga Kwiecien for help and Radka Kopecka for organization of BASE 2019!

Hope to see you soon,
Natalia Kucharczyk"


Le contrôle des yeux chez le berger des Pyrénées n’est toujours pas une pratique courante, pas tous les éleveurs le font et il y a plusieurs raisons à cela. Tout d’abord, nous n’avons pas vraiment de test génétique pour les tares oculaires dans notre race (à l’exception du test pour la prcd-PRA qui ne couvre cependant pas toute les sortes d’APR observées chez le BP, comme dans le cas de l’APR précoce décrite par le Dr Chaudieu dans le manuel ECVO actuel). Une des seules ressources disponibles est donc le test de dépistage ECVO, c’est un examen clinique, c’est pour cette raison qu’il n’est valide qu’une année (certaines maladies sont progressives et peuvent se développer tardivement, l’examen dit en quelque sorte : « A ce moment précis le chien est cliniquement sain »). Selon moi, cette procédure n’étant ni onéreuse ni invasive, je pense qu’il vaut la peine de faire cet examen avant de faire reproduire le chien, afin de minimiser les chances de transmettre quelque chose de problématique à la progéniture.

Une autre raison est que souvent les gens ont la certitude qu’un chien ayant des problèmes de vision montrerait des signes évidents de ces problèmes et considèrent donc leur chien comme étant en bonne santé - ceci est très compréhensible. En effet, pour nous la vision est tellement importante que nous remarquons tout de suite si quelque chose ne va pas, mais ce n’est pas vrai pour les chiens. La vue n’est pas le sens principal chez le chien et ils peuvent très bien s’en sortir avec une vision limitée. Nous en avons fait l’expérience avec l’un de nos chiens : Flaszek. Tous nos chiens ont étés testés au début du printemps, lorsque l’idée d’une recherche à grande échelle sur les bergers des Pyrénées a été lancée. Nous avons appris que Flaszek a d’énormes lésions sur sa rétine, l’une d’entre elle en plein centre de sa vision. Son œil gauche, lui, est normal pour son âge, mais son œil droit a probablement un gros point noir en plein centre. Ces lésions sont très certainement le résultat d’une inflammation et nous ne saurons probablement jamais ce qui les a causées (peut-être une infection dentaire qui est passée inaperçue). - Nous allons l’examiner dans quelques temps pour voir si les lésions progressent, mais nous ne pensons pas que ce sera le cas. Nous n’avons jamais rien observé d’anormal dans son comportement. Enfin maintenant nous pensons que c’est PEUT-ÊTRE pour ça qu’il a toujours couru doucement en agility, jamais en pleine vitesse, bien que lorsqu’il s’agisse de courir après une balle dans un champ il soit le plus rapide de nos chiens.

Flaszek, oeil gauche, sain

Une des lésions dans l’oeil droit

Une lésions plus conséquente, toujours dans l’oeil droit

Je comptais vraiment sur les agilitistes d’être intéressés par l’idée de participer et de faire tester leurs chiens et je n’ai pas été déçue - beaucoup de personnes se sont portées volontaires et cela a déjà montré l’importance de faire ces tests.
Bien sûr, il est important de noter que la majorité des chiens testés étant des chiens actifs en agility, le panel n’était pas totalement représentatif (NDT nous ne nous attendions pas à trouver des problèmes véritablement handicapant car il est plus facile de les discerner sur des chiens pratiquant l’agility). Dans certains cas, il faudra aussi retester afin de voir l’évolution et ainsi savoir si ces problèmes peuvent être liés à des conditions plus sérieuses. Des prélèvements d’ADN destinés à la recherche ont également étés faits. La publication de l’étude complète va prendre du temps et ne sera pas disponible tout de suite, mais je vous partage un résumé rédigé par la responsable de l’étude, Dr Natalia Kucharczyk:
(NDT, ceci est un rapport préliminaire qui ne comporte que les observations faites lors des examens cliniques réalisés dans le cadre de la BASE et en comparaison avec les données actuelle du manuel ECVO concernant les bergers des Pyrénées)

"Merci aux organisateurs et aux participants de la BASE 2019, nous avons pu examiner plus de 70 bergers des Pyrénées, c’était une opportunité unique d’étudier la race.
Jusqu’à maintenant il n’y avait aucune publication dédiée entièrement à cette race et la majorité des informations que nous avons proviennent des certificats ECVO.
J’ai fait un bref résumé de ce que nous avons pu observer et le résultat est surprenant!

Certaines lésions observées sont dues à l’âge et certaines sont probablement génétiques.
Aucune de ces lésions ( à part pour une cataracte) ne cause de gros problème de vision - du moins pour le moment. Car les cataractes peuvent progresser vers une perte totale de la vision!

Afin de partager une partie de ces résultats avec vous, voilà un petit résumé:

- Cataracte - 2 formes étaient décrites dans le manuel ECVO (NDT 1. Anterior/posterior cortical, dogs > 3 y.o. 2. Posterior subcapsular (suture lines) in 2 y.o. dogs, maybe associated with uveal hypoplasia). Nous en avons observé une 3ème la cataracte dite « fibre de verre » (NDT il s’agit d’une traduction littérale de « Fiberglass-like cataract »). Nous avons observé 12 chiens avec de la cataracte. Certaines de ces cataractes vont progresser et d’autres non. Nous devons prévoir un deuxième examen dans une année (sûrement à la prochaine BASE) pour connaître la vitesse de progression et s’il est nécessaire d’opérer. Dans ce groupe, le nombre est élevé bien que dans la majeure partie des cas, ces petites opacités ne causent pas de problèmes de vision pour le moment

- Dégénérescence vitréenne - haute prévalence - présumé héréditaire; les modifications du vitré lié à une rupture de l’état de gel peuvent prédisposer a un décollement de la rétine! Dans la plupart des cas observés à la BASE cela ne pose pas de trop gros problèmes mais à un stade avancé cela peut causer des problèmes de vision, des glaucomes et des luxations du cristallin (dans les races prédisposées). Il y a actuellement des discussions entre ophtalmologues à ce sujet, car nous avons commencé à observer cette dégénérescence chez de jeunes chiens, lors de questions concernant l’alimentation nous avons observé qu’une grande partie de ces chiens était nourris au BARF. Mais pour le moment nous ne rendons pas le BARF responsable car nous devons recueillir plus de données à ce sujet avant d’établir des corrélations, mais la coïncidence est intéressante. (Nous allons très certainement vous poser des questions par email concernant l’alimentation de vos chiens).

- Hypoplasie choroïdienne - caractérisée par un développement inadéquat de la choroïde, présent à la naissance. EXTREMEMENT INTERESSANT, car selon ECVO il n’est pas causé par le gêne du CEA, et nous allons tenter d’identifier le gêne responsable chez le bergers des Pyrénées. Ce qui est intéressant c’est que chez les collies cette anomalie se manifeste dans certains cas avec un colobome du nerf optique ou un décollement de la rétine. Nous ne nous attendions pas à trouver cela chez des chiens pratiquants l’agility, il serait dont vraiment intéressant d’examiner des chiens ne provenant pas de la discipline afin de pouvoir éventuellement observer ce problème (car nous ne l’avons pas vu pour le moment).

- APR - aucun cas, mais celle décrite dans le manuel rendant les chiens complètement aveugles dès l’âge de 3 ans, il semblait peu probable de l’observer à la BASE.

- Retinoscopie (si le chien est myope ou hypermétrope) - tous les chiens étaient normaux, entre -0.5 et + 0.5, nous comparerons avec les réponses données concernant l’ETO (early take off).

Nous avons trouvés encore d’autres anomalies, certaines liées à l’âge et certaines plus mystérieuses qu’il sera nécessaire de revoir dans une année.

Les résultats complets seront disponibles dans le futur dans la publication prévue!

Comme vous pouvez le constater, cette journée nous a réservé un bon nombre de surprise et nous a donné une idée de ce que nous pouvions déjà trouver dans les yeux de bergers des Pyrénées «sportifs».
Il sera vraiment intéressant d’étudier la progression dans une année et il serait encore plus intéressant de voir d’autres chiens que ceux pratiquant l’agility, afin d’avoir une plus large compréhension des problèmes qui peuvent être rencontrés dans la race.
Jusqu’à maintenant il n’était pas nécessaire de faire des contrôles car la race était considérée comme « en bonne santé » mais je pense qu’il est plus facile à présent de se rendre compte de la nécessité de faire des contrôles réguliers et surtout qu’il y a vraiment un intérêt à mener des recherches sur la race.

J’espère que vous avez apprécié cette journée avec nous, même si nous avons découverts des problèmes avec certains de vos chiens. Merci à tous pour votre patience et votre coopération!

Un grand merci à Virginie de Andrea et Olga Kwiecien pour leur aide ainsi qu’à Radka Kopecka pour l’organisation de la BASE 2019!

J’espère vous revoir bientôt!»