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Category Archives for How To

Scent Work: Where to Start

I wrote a piece last week for Healthypet magazine. Set for publication in fall 2009, I can’t tell you what it’s really about, but I can say that I learned a couple interesting things about teaching dogs about scents. If you want to start doing scent work with your dog, BEER is the best place to start. Yep. Beer.

Dogs most easily find smells in the butyric acid category (earthy smells, sweat smells), which BEER mimics quite well. Wine and other liquor can work as well. Based on scent alone, in fact, you could teach a dog to alert to only one kind of beer (over others). The second scent to try, I’m told, is a lightly perfumed lotion or something similar. After that, you can move on to people, but avoid cleaners (too strong) and avoid food (dogs may try to eat it rather than use their noses).

But, we’re still on beer.

The expert I interviewed suggested putting a little scent on a cotton ball and then the cotton ball inside a container with holes in the lid. Easy enough, right? Get a clicker. Click for the dog noticing the scented object.

Well, we’re working on getting Lilly to notice the scent, but I’m not sure she gets the game yet because she usually picks up the container. Once she was doing that consistently, I added a second identical container and rewarded her for goign to the correct one.

Is she using her nose? I honestly don’t know.

I tried those plastic party cups, with the cotton ball taped inside, so that the cup made a nice cone of smell for her to find.

I tried putting a cotton ball inside a cardboard tube with the ends taped, but punctured.

Next, I tried a bigger yogurt container. Thinking it might be big enough she’ll be less likely to pick it up, but she’s still just pushing the container around or trying to pick it up, so I don’t think she gets it yet.

I’ve abandoned the two containers for now, and I’m back to working with just one until I think she understands.

I shot some video yesterday, but learning how to edit takes a lot of time. Tic-toc. Tic-toc. So, give me a couple days to figure out how to do a compilation of clips so that you don’t have to watch the whole thing. I’ve figured out how to make one clip from a video recording, but now I have to figure out how to do more and then stick them all together. *sigh*

While it’s fun, the techno learning curve also gives me a bit of a headache — between the thinking, the computer screen, and (lately) the glare off the snow outside the windows.

Stay tuned. Offer scent shaping advice. Anything. :o)

Just got a note from Gigi (our trainer) recommending this book:
Fun Nosework for Dogs

Might have to get that OR find a way to attach the scent containers to the floor.

Baseline Training for Fearful Dogs: The Relaxation Protocol

Does the Relaxation Protocol work to teach dogs to be calmer? We first began using the Relaxation Protocol in fall of 2007. Back when I first posted these audio files, I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of this detailed, tedious form of behavior modification. Today, some 18 months later, let me be clear. This Relaxation Protocol provides critical baseline training for fearful (or reactive or aggressive) dogs. I honestly think it sets such an important foundation that I will likely use it with all dogs in my future — whether they are fearful or not.

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Dog Walking 101

Longtime readers know that Lilly and I often take little trips off the mountain for Mommy & Lil dates. We run errands. We take walks in town on busy paths. We share patio lunches at our favorite local restaurants that allow pups to dine outside. Now that the weather is warmer, we try to get out at least once a week. Even with spring barely underway here in the Rocky Mountains, we see more and more people and dogs out during our adventures — much more so than in the winter. Recently, a couple of things have really started to BUG me. So, I developed these 10 tips for walking dogs.


But, first my mini-rant. Two things that bug me!

1. People who ignore their dogs on walks.

Now, I understand that my fellow rural types enjoy leisurely outings, where it’s enough to just walk through our valleys, up our mountains, across our creeks. I’m not talking about that nearly meditative experience of togetherness. I’m not (for once) talking about people who have NO IDEA what’s on the end of the leash and thereby allow their dogs to be rude or menacing.

I’m talking about people who are either on the phone, chatting with someone else, or just plodding along with no regard for the dog’s presence.

Maybe I’m too “me,” but walks serve many purposes for us. Sure, it’s absolutely exercise for both of us. Many times, it’s just the joy of being together. But, often, I keep Lilly working during our walks. In part, I strive to keep her from being bored, but … especially when we are in town, which is much noisier and scarier to Lilly … I keep her focused to control her fear better. Even if I just ask WATCH ME as we pass people or dogs, it helps Lilly cope.

So, perhaps to others, I look like the crazy chattering lady who talks a LOT to her dog and hands food over like a human PEZ dispenser, but I see them, and I think … Geez! Give that dog a little social interaction. Merely being connected by a leash isn’t enough.

2. People who use harsh methods with any dog, but especially puppies.

I watched two young women (late teens, early 20s) jerk a small, young pup up and down the path on Saturday. I have no idea on breed mix, but I’m guessing based on coloring and a docked tail, it might have had some Rottie. The poor little sweetie looked about 10 weeks old, tops. And, she was wearing a choke collar.

This was a doh-dee-doh kind of puppy. Not unruly at all. Probably too young to be very unruly anyway. Nonetheless, it required a choke collar apparently for “control.”

Anytime, this sweet pup showed any interest at all at anything, even just sniffing along the trail, it received a sharp jerk on the collar. It made me so sad.

I fought the urge to say something


Dog Walking 101: Ten Tips

  1. Flexible leashes suck. Use a nice leather or cotton one instead.
  2. If strength/control is an issue, try a head collar or harness… instead of some horrible choking or pinching collar.
  3. Bring lots of high-value treats to reward your dog for being good.
  4. Break out all the praise words you can think of to let your dog know this is a fun time.
  5. Throw in a few cues now and then (sit, wait, whatever) to keep things interesting.
  6. Let your dog sniff around (as is safe) along the trail. Dogs need to use their nose. It’s good for their brains.
  7. Don’t let your dog greet any other dog without permission. It is not polite.
  8. Rather than bomb through when the trail is busy, ask your dog to sit nicely “off trail” until the coast is clear.
  9. Take a few breaks to sit down and cuddle.
  10. Scoop the poop.

How To: Animal Communication

Twice in the past, I’ve had an animal communicator “talk” to Lilly for me. The first time, I wanted to know what was going wrong in agility classes. The second time, I wanted to know why she suddenly hated other dogs so much. Somewhere in this whole process, I even took a class from our communicator to learn how to do it myself.

People call animal communicators “pet psychics,” but there’s no psychic ability involved. Instead, animal communication is a form of telepathic meditation. “Everybody has this ability. It is innate,” says Anna Twinney, who did sessions noted above with Lilly. “Really, you’re not so much learning to communicate with animals as you are unlearning to ignore the messages.”

Don’t expect to hear voices, however. You may see images or feel rushes of emotion or pain. “You know it’s not coming from you when one moment you’re fine and the next moment you’re completely anxious or upset or happy or hurting,” Twinney says.

Here’s how you too can learn to talk to the animals:

  • Eat healthy, avoiding red meat, and drink plenty of water.
  • Sit in a favored meditative pose and focus on your breath.
  • Use visual images to ground yourself, like roots extending into the earth.
  • Open your heart and your mind by focusing on a photo of the animal.
  • Keep a notepad and pen nearby to jot down what you see and feel.

Try not to analyze or judge anything you “get.” Just write it down and figure it out later.

I haven’t tried to do this in a long time, but back when I was working at it regularly, I had the funniest experience. I was laying in bed one morning, sort of half awake, when I tried to connect with Lilly. All of a sudden, an image of a mouse popped into my mind and I had the urge to laugh out loud.

To this day, I don’t know what it means, but my initial interpretation was that Lilly was trying to tell me a joke. The punchline is forever lost, but for a split second, her intent to make me laugh seemed crystal clear.

My Lame Attempt at Scent Work

While casting about for something new to teach Lilly, I threw together a quick and easy scent discrimination training session. One word, my friends. HA! What seemed logical to me made ZERO sense to Lilly. But, first, here’s why I thought Lilly might be good at smells.

During a recent snowstorm, Tom ventured up to the main road to get our mail. Lilly did NOT know he was outside when I let her out, and the fog, etc., made it hard to see him if you didn’t know to look.

We play hide-and-seek all the time with Lilly in the house. In fact, most mornings, she has to FIND DADDY before she can eat her breakfast. I’m told this game is very helpful in teaching dogs to track scents. We’ve never really played outside, though.

Anyway, I let Lilly out, and I watched her — nose to the ground — follow Tom’s footsteps around our cars and toward the road. She didn’t pick her head up for a long time. She just followed his footprints in the snow with total concentration. She must have heard him at some point because she finally broke into a sprint right toward him.

In addition, the animal communicator told us that Lilly enjoyed using her nose, so I figured it’d be a fun wintertime game.

So, I put coffee, sugar, flour, and peanuts in separate baggies and laid them on the floor. My goal? To click/treat her when she sniffed the coffee. Lilly’s response? To lay down next to all the baggies and smile at me.

I waited and waited and waited.


Gigi, Claire, and I talked about it a bit at last week’s class, and I found this training sheet on an obedience scent work on the Clicker Training site, which begins with object discrimination. I guess when the mood strikes again I’ll start there.

I’d love to hear how you trained scent work or about any resources you can recommend.

What’s your (blog) type?

A writer friend tipped me off to Typealyzer, which analyzes blogs, using the Myers-Briggs model to categorize blog content. I have no idea how it can automatically figure out our type, but Lilly and I test out as ESFP (The Performers). I suspect that might be true for many blogs because almost everyone I know got the same answer.

The analyzer goes on to say this about Champion of My Heart:

The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to
pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft
fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present
moment and don´t like to plan ahead – they are always in risk of
exhausting themselves.

The enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a
concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely
initiate confrontation – qualities that can make it hard for them in
management positions.

What’s funny is that in every Myers-Briggs test I’ve taken in my career, I come out as VERY much an ENFJ.

I found a site that describes ENFJ as follows:

As an ENFJ, your primary mode
of living is focused externally, where you deal with things according to how
you feel about them, or how they fit into your personal value system. Your
secondary mode is internal, where you take things in primarily via your
intuition. ENFJs are people-focused
individuals. They live in the world of people possibilities. More so than any
other type, they have excellent people skills. They understand and care about
people, and have a special talent for bringing out the best in others.

main interest in life is giving love, support, and a good time to other people.
They are focused on understanding, supporting, and encouraging others. They
make things happen for people, and get their best personal satisfaction from

The sentence highlighted in PINK, I suspect, explains why I can continue the work I do with Lilly, despite all indications to do otherwise.

Check Out These Shaping Videos

Our friend Hilary, who was Lilly’s first trainer at the shelter, emailed me a link to these videos from someone she knows through a group of “Truly Dog Friendly” trainers. The 2 videos (about 9 minutes each) show a Boston Terrier named Humbug learning to put his toys away. It begins with a regular game of fetch, then Suezanne M. Law from Sympawtico shapes the behavior into something new. Rather than a clicker and treats, she uses a marker word and the toy, but you get the idea.

Here’s a link to Suezanne’s blog entry, which includes the embedded videos. Since they are on YouTube, I could also embed them here, but out of fairness to her, I won’t. I’m sure she’d appreciate the blog traffic.

What’s interesting to me is the waiting and waiting for Humbug to figure it out. Watching this made me realize how much additional patience I need when shaping a behavior. I tend to jump to fast into asking Lilly to “Try again” when she makes a mistake.

I still think “Try Again” works, if it’s a behavior she already knows, but I should probably remove it from my early training vocabulary.

Come back here and tell me what you notice.

Agility Tunnel Cleaning in 1,000 Steps or Less

Lilly’s competition-grade agility tunnel spent most of the summer stacked up in the shade near our chimney. But, with winter coming, I figured I’d better clean it, condition it, and get it stored inside — away from the brutal, high-altitude snow, wind, and sun. Except, it turns out that cleaning a full-sized, ribbed tunnel isn’t a simple thing.

My back and neck still hurt.

First, I scrunched it up and lugged it around to our tiny patch of real grass so that I could water the lawn while washing the tunnel. I really wanted to drape it down our big hill so that it would drain better, but Tom said the lawn was a better idea since the hill is so dusty.

So, I blasted the heck out of the outside with the hose. All those crinkles between the ribs really hold in the gunk.

Then as I rolled it around, the tunnel’s exterior drained no problemo.

The inside, however, was a total pain. I tried stretching it full out and blasting each section from both ends. I tried scrunching it for a better reach.

I mostly succeeded in loosening the dirt that encrusted inside, but getting it OUT was pretty much impossible. I was already pretty wet from hose splatter, but I was NOT about to crawl inside and squeegee the middle. While amusing, for sure, I didn’t want to get stuck inside.

So, I sprayed and tilted. I tilted and sprayed. I shook it. I rolled it. I lifted it from the middle … hoping each end would sag enough to let the water out, but those ribs really form a barrier.

Eventually, I gave up and let the tunnel sit in the sun, hoping for evaporation.

With Tom’s help, I treated the outside with some vinyl reconditioning polish, but the inside still looks pretty gritty.

Is there some huge bottle-washer thing I don’t know about? Surely, there’s a better method.

Rebuilding Lilly’s Strength

As part of building back Lilly’s strength, I developed a little routine. I thought you might find it useful.

We’ve resumed our morning walks and are working up to full distance, which is about 3 miles and takes about an hour due to terrain. Here’s how the elevation profile goes:

  • Slight hill from house to road
  • Mostly flat with slight incline to corner
  • Steep hill
  • Mostly flat for a good half mile
  • Steady incline to our turn-around point
  • Then back … which is a steady decline, except for that one big hill

Sometimes, if we feel up to it, I throw in a 30-second run every 5 minutes. For those who know the lingo, they are pump-flow-volume intervals, which I’m told are proven to increase cardio strength much more than a steady walk or even a steady run. And, because I’m only mildly athletic, when I say run … I mean a good trot.

Lilly, by the way, has a beautiful trot. She could kick butt in the conformation ring in another universe.

But, the first day we did 3 intervals, she hid/slept in the basement much of the day, so I clearly had her do too much.

We work on core strength and rear strength in 4 ways. We play fetch up and down the steep hill in our middle pasture. I get Lilly to walk backwards, which I’ve read is really good for their hips and such. I call her to me, then I step into her and say BACK UP, and she takes a few steps back. Then, I call her to me again, and repeat. I’m also asking for her ROLL IT trick and her DANCE trick (pirouette on hind legs) to work on her core.

Lilly has a good STRETCH cue, which means put your paws on my chest, throw your head back and really stretch your whole body.

I also ask her to SPIN in both directions to limber up her spine.

Some Jumping and Weaving
A couple times a week, we do just a tiny bit of agility work … mostly jumping and weaving … and only for about 1-2 minutes.

Boo-boo toe

While clipping Lilly’s toenails the other day, I accidentally cut one of her dew-claw nails too short. I used that quickstop stuff to get it to stop bleeding, but then every time she went out in the snow, it would bleed again. So, being the Mr-Fix-It he is, Tom devised a solution.

He used a little superglue and a bit of paper towel to make a little cast-like thing, and it worked really well.

Once it dried, I had to trim away a bit of excess that got in her fur, and she licked the area for a few days, but we kept it clean, and all is well. She’s no worse for wear.

I know other people swear by the nail grinder, but I can’t imagine trying to get Lilly used to the noise and vibration. For now, we’ll stick with the turkey-for-toenails program, where I trade her food for each one she let’s me trim. I take just a tiny bit off once a week, and that seems to do the trick.