Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Schutzhund Training ~ Niki, Assistant

One of the activities I have enjoyed most as a pet owner is the sport of Schutzhund. In the past fifteen years, I have owned a total of four Rottweilers, all of whom have competed and won Schutzhund titles. My last Rottweiler, Tyson (pictured below being adorable), was a rescue who was four-years-old when I adopted him, so his training started later in life. However, this did not seem to be a problem for him, because he was very eager to work and loved to please me. We went on to get our Schutzhund 2 (intermediate) and AD (endurance) titles.

Schutzhund training began in Germany. It was used primarily among breeders of German Shepherds for suitability testing, which provided reliable results concerning a dog's character, temperament, and physical ability. This type of testing allowed breeders to use only the highest quality of working dogs for breeding purposes. Other working dogs that adopted this testing were Belgian Malinois, Rottweilers, Doberman, and Pitbulls. Today, Schutzhund in the U.S can be a very rewarding, albeit grueling, sport for both the handler and the dog. In one day, the dog and the handler are put through three separate challenges. The end result of this sport is having a strong, confident dog who is willing to joyfully perform the tasks that the handler asks of him or her.
It should be noted that Schutzhund is not for dogs who already have temperament or aggression issues. Dogs who are shown to be aggressive or have temperament issues will be disqualified. (This usually means that if you have a dog who has bitten people in the past for unknown reasons, Schutzhund is not a good fit for you.)
Phase A: Obedience
The obedience phase shows the dog’s "want" or "enjoyment" to perform for their handler. The handler and the dog must have an exceptional working relationship in order to perform the tasks required in the obedience portion of Schutzhund. The obedience phase requires the handler to have complete control of his or her dog during the tasks of heeling on and off leash and walking through a crowd of people (the dog must not stop to sniff or allow for any distractions). The handler must be able to give the “sit” or “down” command at any time in a crowd or standing alone, and the dog must obey. Other activities include the dog staying in a “down” position while another dog or group of dogs works around it. Also during the obedience challenge, two shots are fired from a blank gun, and the dog must not react unfavorably.
Phase B: Tracking
In the tracking phase of Schutzhund, the dog must use its innate aptness to track a person, as well as  things that might have been dropped or lost along the path. Many people mistake Schutzhund tracking for search and rescue dogs. Schutzhund tracking is very specific and is judged based on the precision of the dog's ability to track a person’s  steps, whereas search and rescue dogs predominately use air scenting for tracking. This phase is usually conducted in dirt or grass.
Phase C: Protection
The last phase of Schutzhund is the protection category. Protection work should not be attempted until the obedience phase has been mastered by both the dog and the handler.  People should not confuse this phase of training with personal protection training or attack dogs.  In this category, the temperament and character of the dog is tested. The handler must have complete control at all times both on and off leash. In this level of competition, the dog must be courageous, but not vicious. This requires the working dog to have self confidence, prey drive, the willingness to obey its handler (being aware and responsive of commands given at all times), and the ability to perform under pressure. Protection work includes both on and off leash tasks. During these tasks, the dog must be protective of the handler without biting until given the command. The dog is only allowed to bite the sleeve of the "helper" (i.e. the “bad guy”) and is judged on its bite (full mouth vs. front teeth only). During this exercise, the dog MUST release when given the command to do so, or it will fail this phase of Schutzhund. The "bad guy" in this phase might hide behind a screen or in an open field, then approaching the handler in an aggressive manner.
Schutzhund training, while challenging, has been very rewarding for myself and for my dogs. If you think that you might be interested in trying this with your dog, start early. While some adult dogs like Tyson will pick it up quickly, it is best to instill at a young age.
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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Walk in the Park ~ Trisha, Technician

The very best part of having a weekday off (since our hospital is open 55 hours per week, I simply can’t be there all the time) is that Ruby and I are able to hit the trails with much less traffic! Our favorites are Eno River State Park and Duke Forest, both of which are within walking distance of our home in western Durham. We also will make the trips beyond and have been to Occoneeche Mountain State Natural Area, Umstead State Park, American Tobacco Trail, Horton Grove Nature Preserve, Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail, and the variety of Durham city parks & greenways.

Ruby LOVES her walks, and it’s a way for me to stay mildly fit since we go for 2-7 miles depending on the day, time available, weather conditions, park conditions, etc. However, there are factors that I have to encounter and think about before every walk.  
Day Pack & Planning Ahead:  The bag has a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, energy bar, water bottle, phone, wallet and keys for me.  (It also now gets an Epi pen given my recent encounter with fire ants!). For Ruby, it includes a water bottle, collapsible water dish, and bag of kibble. Keeping her hydrated while on our adventures has been challenging. I’ve tried various ways, but we struggle nonetheless. I’ve tried the bottle with dish attached, the folded cloth-like dish, the pop-out rubber dish, and I’ve even tried carrying the large metal dish she uses at home. She hardly ever drinks, even when she’s panting and eating grass, and if she chooses to drink, it’s from the puddles or streams flowing by. This makes me super nervous with the prevalence of Leptospirosis in this area. (Lepto is a bacterial disease that is spread through the urine of infected animals, most often in and around lakes and streams or in heavily wooded areas.)

The best way that I can get her to drink is to toss kibble pieces into the water bowl, then scoop them into my hand and encourage her to “eat” them while floating in the water. And although it’s more difficult in our blistering summers, really my only other alternative is to walk her early enough that I won’t risk putting her into heat stroke or overheating. And whether I’m wearing it or carrying it, I also try to having something that I can pull off and use as a sling/ towel-drag should anything injure her to the point where we have to exit. It’s also why I won’t own a dog greater than 60 pounds, since that is about the most that I can reasonably carry (and even that would be a LONG walk depending on how deep we are in the park).

Walking gear: My preferred gear is a Gentle Leader head harness. We will also sometimes walk with the Easy Walk harness, but my personal experience is that the Gentle Leader is easier to prevent her eating something unintentional while on the trails since I have more control of her head. The harness is better than a collar at potential neck jerking, so if neck pain ever becomes an issue, I definitely will use that. When we get home, Ruby has developed a habit of rubbing her nose around the couches (even when we walk on the harness) following the walks, but she really does so well on the Gentle Leader that we predominantly use that. We also have a poop-bag dispenser with plenty of back-ups to ensure that we can pick up after ourselves and carry it back out of the park.
Staying leashed: Every place that I regularly go has signage reminding people to keep dogs on leashes, but I cannot tell you the number of times we’ve encountered off-leash dogs. This is the most frustrating part of my walk. Ruby is a fantastic dog around every single human she’s ever met, but other dogs can be hit or miss. Most of the time, we’re fine. But a few almost-altercations have happened, and every time has been when a really excited dog rushes into her space and then she feels threatened by the otherwise friendly intentions. Ruby is a rescue, adopted 2 years ago at the age of 4 where she was previously the breeding female at a puppy mill. Her socialization is actually pretty darn good considering her history, but I also fear the day that something may ruin her good relations. Whenever we’re on the trail, we avoid saying "hi" to the passing dog and keep our distance as we pass, or even pull off the trail to let the other dog pass if there’s not enough space. The bag of kibble is also great at distracting Ruby since she is so food motivated. But dogs off leash don’t always understand my intentions of creating space, and with the human yelling at the dog, who is not responding, and then the dog coming into our space, I cannot blame Ruby for feeling threatened.  Even if your dog is VERY friendly, everyone should keep dogs leashed since you don’t know the disposition of other dogs on the trail; I would hate for your dog to get injured due to the lack of verbal control when my dog is following the rules.

We love our walks.  There is not a more peaceful place for me when I can hear birds and/or frogs, running water, rustling wind, etc.  Be prepared, and hopefully these tips will help make you enjoy your time outdoors as well.
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