Archives for January 2014

Understanding the 'Why' of Training

Understanding the 'Why' of Training

You can run drills all day long, day after day, and you will produce a hunting, obedience, agility or whatever other kind of dog you're interested in producing. It's not until you understand why you're running them and what effect they, and any subsequent corrections or praise, have on your dog that you start to really become a trainer. Plugging along from Point A to Point B and beyond will build a foundation for your hunting dog. It's vitally important that your dog have that foundation to build upon, and it's also one of the biggest problems amateurs have with training.

We get excited to "get to the fun stuff" and skip all the small steps that teach a dog to correctly carry out that fun stuff. When someone says their dog doesn't do something correctly or only does X, Y or Z incorrectly, you can almost always bet that the issue was caused by glossing over or altogether skipping a step in their foundation.

However, just plugging along and running drills, exercises, obedience and applying praise, corrections and the like in a more or less ordered sense isn't what it's all about ...

Genetics 101: Dominant and recessive traits in your dogs

Genetics 101: Dominant and recessive traits in your dogs

The field of genetics has progressed rapidly in recent years.  Perhaps you’ve seen headlines about these top genetic topics in 2013. These stories show the importance of genetics and how it affects us as individuals and as a society.  To understand the impact, though, one may need a review of Genetics 101: dominant vs. recessive disease traits.

In order for our bodies to work properly, our DNA must be coded in specific sequences.  DNA sequences are grouped into units called genes, which tell our bodies what to make to build cells and metabolize nutrients.  We are all a unique combination of re-shuffled genes from previous generations.  Everything from eye, hair and skin color, muscle, bone, etc. is coded by genes.  A mutation in a gene usually causes something to change and many of these changes can lead to disease. There are thousands of genes, and in humans, thousands of genetic disorders that result from mutations. 

One way to classify genetic disorders is to group them by how they are inherited.  With the exception of the sex chromosomes, X and Y, each of us has two copies of our genes.  One comes from ...

Breed of the Week: Rhodesian Ridgeback

Breed of the Week: Rhodesian Ridgeback

Large, muscular dogs, Rhodesian ridgebacks trace their ancestry to southern Africa, and it includes hunting dogs, guard dogs and semi-domesticated tribal dogs. The ridgeback is notorious for two things: first, as an athletic lion-hunting dog that could chase down and keep lions at bay until hunters showed up to make the kill, and second for the ridge of hair on their back that runs counter to the rest of the dog’s hair.

With roots that begin in present-day South Africa and Rhodesia, the ridgeback descends from semi-domesticated hunting dogs of the Khoikhoi people. These dogs possessed a line of hair that ran against the direction of the rest of their hair, creating a “ridge” along their backs. These fierce dogs were noted for their guarding abilities. Dutch settlers eventually brought European dogs with them – including greyhounds, bloodhounds and great Danes – which were bred with these indigenous dogs of South Africa. This crossing resulted in the Boer hunting dog, which continued to possess the ridge of hair along its back, and which was eventually taken to neighboring Rhodesia, where it was bred with other hunting dogs. The results of these pairing established the foundation for the ridgebacks – athletic ...

Training: Carrots, Sticks, Drive and Enjoyment

Training: Carrots, Sticks, Drive and Enjoyment

There’s generally two camps when it comes to training: the positive-only camp and the aversive camp. Positive-only trainers eschew any use of punishment and use rewards to motivate, reward and shape behaviors. The aversive camp, in an overly simple explanation, tends to shape behaviors by punishing, in one form or another, the wrong behaviors – which doesn’t necessarily preclude rewarding proper behaviors. This is simple carrot-and-stick training: do this correctly, get a treat; do that incorrectly get punished.

Chad Culp, a certified dog trainer in California, does a great job outlining the carrot-and-stick approach to training. However, he takes it further and discusses a study done with human children (you can read it here The basic premise being that continual rewarding reduces, even destroys, intrinsic motivation (which is very interesting) – the child, or dog, no longer wants to work for the pure joy of it; they hold out for a reward. This has been one knock from the aversive side of the aisle: that sooner or later that cookie isn’t enough of a reward to counter the desire to carry out the undesirable act.

The knock on aversive training is that it can destroy ...

Training vs. Practicing

Training vs. Practicing

Back in my younger days I enjoyed skiing. A day on the mountain was filled with fresh, cold air and adrenaline rushes as my buddies and I pushed each other to do better. I used the mantra (sometimes it doubled as an excuse): "if you're not falling, you're not skiing hard enough."

The same might be said of training your dog: if you're not making adjustments, corrections or changes to your dog's performance, you might not be training hard enough. You might just be practicing. Now, I say might because with dogs it's very subjective and depends upon what you've already done with the dog.

If you haven't taught the dog what you expect and then suddenly throw him into a scenario that he has to figure out by trial and error, then corrections, be them verbal, physical or via e-collar, are woefully unfair.

However, if you've gone through the teaching phase, the dog understands what you're doing and what's expected, then pushing him to do better by challenging him mentally and giving him every opportunity to make the correct decisions is training the dog.

If you're simply running ...

Breed of the Week: Great Dane

Breed of the Week: Great Dane

Truly great, as much in majesty as in size, the Great Dane is one of the largest dog’s in existence. A gentle giant, the Great Dane possesses a friendly and playful disposition. It’s an ancient breed, with similar-type dogs appearing in frescoes and other artwork from Greece and Egypt dating to more than 5,000 years ago! A 5th Century Danish coin depicts a large hunting dog believe to be a Great Dane.

The most striking feature of the Great Dane is their massive size. Minimum standards dictate that male Danes are not less than 30 inches tall – 32 inches and above is preferable (females can be slightly smaller, standing only 28 inches or more). Their weight ranges from 100 pounds for females to 120 pounds for males – while the AKC no longer states a minimum weight, those are generally accepted standards, however, the tall dogs should appear well muscled and proportionate to its great height.

Their large size makes Great Danes easily identified, and their presence will draw attention from everyone in the immediate vicinity. The largest living dogs are usually Danes – currently the Guinness Book of World’s Records recognizes a black Great Dane named Zeus ...

The Health Benefits of Pet Ownership: Conventional Wisdom or Conventional Hogwash?

The Health Benefits of Pet Ownership: Conventional Wisdom or Conventional Hogwash?

Like many scientists, I despise conventional wisdom. Given that I’m a veterinarian, this is especially true when it comes to medical conventional wisdom; the type of beliefs I remember many adults from my childhood relaying as fact that, I too, held as true for many years. Despite what my family told me in youth, I’ve since learned that shaving my body hair didn’t actually make it thicker, that reading in low light didn’t hurt my eyesight, and that vitamin C didn’t cure my cold. Nearly every day you can find postings on social media that appear to be based on fact, but are actually pieces of 21st century conventional wisdom. One such Facebook posting recently struck near and dear to my veterinary heart. The posting was a link to an article discussing the ways dog ownership can improve our health. After reading the story, I decided to do some digging to see if there was science behind the claims being made. Since childhood, I had heard that pet ownership was good for our health. I heard it lowered blood pressure, prevented heart attacks, and otherwise improved our quality of life. But is it true?

Finding good evidence to support ...

Breed of the Week: Maltese

Breed of the Week: Maltese

An ancient breed with a somewhat muddled history, the modern Maltese is a companion dog that has maintained its regal appearance and lovability.

The small, long-haired white dog weighs less than seven pounds (ideally four-to-six pounds) and stands seven-to-12 inches at the withers. Their long hair is silky white and lacks an undercoat. Regular grooming is required to keep it from matting, but by keeping the small dogs’ hair clipped in a “puppy cut” the maintenance can be reduced.

While the Mediterranean island of Malta is the origin of the dog’s name, the breed’s exact origin is somewhat in lost. Popular belief is that it originated in the central Mediterranean area, but there is some evidence to suggest that it came from Asia and made its way to Europe with nomadic traders.

A very old breed, Maltese-like dogs have been cited in writings since 500 B.C. Throughout history, Maltese have been linked to royalty and the affluent, including the philosophers such as Aristotle, Pliny the Elder and Strabo, the Roman Governor Publius of Malta and Queen Elizabeth I. The AKC says that even in the 1500s, the little white dogs sold for as much as $2,000!

Maltese have ...