TheOtherEndoftheLeash Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, has made a lifelong commitment to improving the relationship between people and animals. Tue, 25 Aug 2015 17:56:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Repeating Cues: Information or Affect? (Repeated) Mon, 24 Aug 2015 17:13:45 +0000 I can’t resist repeating a post from 2012 on repeating ourselves. (I know, the irony!) It’s such an important and interesting issue, given how often our communication must confuse our dogs, and how tiring it must be for them to try to figure us out. From March, 2012:

A blog reader asked a great question recently, in response to my comment that I couldn’t help myself and repeated “Stay, Stay, Stay” to Willie when in a dangerous situation at the side of a busy highway. We all know that repeated cues, like the ever popular “Sit, Sit, Sit” are not exactly “best practice” in dog training. And yet, they are commonly used, especially by beginners; just go to any beginning family dog training class and you’ll hear repeated cues thrown around like confetti at a homecoming parade. It was that very occurrence that helped inspire me to write The Other End of the Leash, about how the evolutionary backgrounds of people and dogs both help us (we’re both crazy social and insanely playful) and hurt us (direct facial contact is polite to people, rude to dogs). “Sit, Sit, Sit” sounds a lot like “Wooo Woo Woo” coming from a chimpanzee, and that is not a random association. But why? Why do we repeat ourselves like agitated apes, and why is it so hard to stop? We all know why it is a problem in training: If you want your dog to sit the first time you say “Sit” you are teaching the opposite if you say it three times in a row.  But besides wondering why we do it, might it be useful, ever, to repeat ourselves?

First of all, why do we repeat ourselves when it makes no sense? A look at the science of vocal communication is helpful here. We know that individuals who are emotionally aroused tend to produce short, repeated vocalizations. Think of repeated whines from a needy dog, whimpers from a child upset about something, and your own predisposition to repeat yourself when you are nervous. In The Other End of the Leash I talk about a good friend who had never ridden, and yet was inappropriately placed on a nervous, high strung horse. The faster the horse went, the more my friend said “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” and the more he did, the faster the horse went, and the faster the horse went, the faster he said “Whoa Whoa Whoa”… You can well imagine that it did not end well.

This linkage between emotional arousal and short, repeated vocalizations is so common in mammals that some have speculated that all animal vocalizations were nothing more than indicators of their emotional state. As arousal increases, so does the rate of vocalizing. Thus, it makes sense that when we are nervous we tend to repeat ourselves, and who isn’t nervous the first time they take a dog into a dog training class, no matter how kind and benevolent the instructors?

But there’s more to vocalizations than the internal state of the producer. An important aspect of my dissertation research was to shift the focus and look at a sound’s effect on the receiver. I had found that across language groups, cultures and species of receiver, people use short, rapidly repeated notes to speed animals up, long and slow ones to soothe or slow them and one sharp sound to stop a fast moving animal. And the study I did on puppies showed that they indeed were more active in response to short, repeated notes than to long, slow ones. That’s why I argued that sounds do more than provide information about the internal state of the producer (or predict future behavior), but can be used to influence the response of the receiver.

Go back now to the story I’ve told about having to get Willie out of his crate beside a busy highway (while trying to save a wild turkey hit by a car). Picture cars and trucks whizzing by at 65 miles an hour, a huge bleeding, flapping turkey barely contained by Jim’s arms, and me needing to open the crate in the back of my RAV to get Willie out and put the turkey in.  Describing everyone as “aroused” is appropriate here: If Jim had lost the turkey it could have fallen/ran/flown just a few feet into the highway and caused a horrible accident. If I didn’t handle Willie right he could have been killed. Tom Turkey must have been the most agitated — injured and now captured by monsters, he must have been terrified.  Here’s what the scene looked and sounded like, as best as I can describe it:

I opened the door to the back of the car (the door to Willie’s crate facing directly to the back). While holding my hand out, palm toward Willie in the universal “Stay” signal, I began repeating “Staaaaaaay, Staaaaaay, Staaaasaay” before I opened the door to his crate. Notice there were two important variables in the sounds that I used here: I repeated myself, but I was using looooooong, sloooooooow notes designed to keep Willie calm and still. I was also consciously keeping my voice low, the better to sound confident and inhibiting. Thus, there were 2 functions to my “cue.” One was using sound to inform Willie what I wanted him to do. The other, which over rode the first,  was focused on using sound to influence his emotional state and motor activity levels. This had an indirect benefit for me, in that speaking as I did acted to calm me as much as it did Willie. (Not a small benefit at the time, believe me.)

Was that a “perfect” use of sound in that context? Nope, I don’t think so. It was adequate, and it worked, but here’s a tweak that would have made it better. Ideally, now that I have time to think it through, it would have been better if I had said “Staaaaaaay” once, and then, as Willie did stay (which he did, bless him), I should have said “Gooooooooooood boooooooy” and repeated it as long as I needed to until I had him safely by the collar. That avoided repeating a cue (and undercutting the power of it when spoken once) but would, at the same time, have served to keep all of us calmer and safer.

Lots to think about here: First, think about what you say to your dog. Are you using vocal cues to convey information, or to influence your dog’s emotional state? And how do the sounds you use influence your own internal arousal levels? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Heaven knows I will never use sound ideally in every context (I have been known, on occasion, to shriek like a massive mouse when truly panicked) but I find the more I understand about acoustic communication the better I am at it. You?


MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Crazy, wonderful, late summer/early fall weekend with friends, and the inauguration of The Tent Camp at Walnut Grove. I’m not sure it’s possible to have had more fun. Thank you Kelly, Meg, Matt & Randy for making Jim and I  laugh so hard our sides ached.  We’re not the only ones who will miss you–Tootsie, Willie & Maggie got non-stop petting pretty much two days running. Here’s Kelly loving up on Maggie; if that’s not doggie bliss, I don’t know what is.

Kelly &B Maggie small

And here’s a dear friend’s Cavalier, asking us why we humans can so bad at communicating what we want…

brody sharpened




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Accepting That Your Dog Might Be In Pain Tue, 18 Aug 2015 13:13:38 +0000 Years ago I saw a client whose dog, let’s call him Charlie, entered the room with a neck twisted slightly to the side. It wasn’t extreme, but it was obvious, if you paid attention to the way the dog moved. The owners had brought the dog in because after six years of being a docile and loving dog, he had become aggressive in a variety of contexts. Except after we talked it became clear that there was always a consistent trigger–any time someone, anyone, reached toward Charlie’s collar he growled or lunged forward, teeth flashing. The week before he had finally connected, biting a friend who had reached toward his collar to attach the leash.

Charlie had been left in the car while we talked, and predictably, when the owners began to attach the leash to his collar he lunged forward, ears flat, eyes round. They literally couldn’t get him out of the car until I went to get a slip lead, which we looped around his neck with our hands well out of range. I noticed his neck as we all walked back into the office, and asked if they had seen their veterinarian recently because I suspected that Charlie was in pain.

“Oh no, he’s fine!” they answered. “He eats like a horse and loves to play fetch. We get tired before he does. Really, he couldn’t be in any pain, and besides, we recently took him into the vet clinic for his annual physical and the vet said he was doing great.

“Well, here’s why I asked,” I said. “First of all, if a dog becomes aggressive after having been friendly and docile for its entire life, usually something is going on, often related to the dog’s health. Second, every time Charlie growled or attempted to bite, someone was reaching toward him. The circumstances that you noted may have varied–in the car, in the kitchen, when you tried to get him to come away from the window–but in every case, someone reached toward Charlie right before he began to growl. Third, look at how he is holding his head. Do you see how it’s titled to the right?” Charlie’s owners shook their heads again. “No, I’m sure he’s fine. Really.”

I mention this case because lately I have been wondering why it seems so common for people to dismiss the idea that their dog might be in pain. A good friend got me thinking about it when she stopped by with her adorable, elderly dog. Her vet had suggested that the dog’s weak hind end might be related to arthritis, and to try giving the dog an anti-inflammatory and pain killer to see if it helped. Her first reaction was to dismiss the suggestion that her dog was in pain (although after we talked she called her vet clinic right away).

She is not alone. An experienced veterinarian told me that about 25% of clients who bring in a limping dog say “I don’t think he’s in any pain.” “Well then,” the vet asks, “why would he be limping if he’s not?” I asked a second veterinarian, who also does acupuncture and treats a lot of cancer patients, if she had also experienced owners denying that their dog could be in pain. It seems she’s had a similar experience: She reported that clients often asked if their dog was in pain, but then tended to discount it if she answered that the dog might indeed be in pain. In addition, she found on follow ups that people often stopped giving their dog pain killers very soon after even a major surgery, one that would have their owners moaning for days without medication.

None of us need convincing that pain is important. Besides being at best unpleasant and at worst horrible, pain in companion animals can be an unacknowledged cause of behavior problems, including aggression. Given that most people who take their dog to a vet or behaviorist have no problem believing that animals can feel pain, my question for you is this: Why is it so common for people to dismiss the idea that their pet is in pain? Of course, animals can’t use language to tell us that their stomach aches or their paw hurts, and the symptoms of pain are highly variable. But humans too can be in a lot of pain and say nothing about it and show no visible signs of it to others.

I have no good answers to why it is so common for people to deny that their beloved dog might be in pain. Certainly, in a general sense, our species is adept at denial.  Perhaps we deny pain in pets because our animals can’t complain out loud about it? Because we have such a strong dividing line between “human” and “animal?” Because we tend to discount our own pain often? (Raise your hand if you’ve tried to ignore a pain for a long period of time, then finally found relief and thought “Why did I wait so long to deal with this?! I’d write more on this, but both of my hands are raised up in the air….) Here’s an engaging post, “Denying Denial”,  by Kirby Farrel that might explain why we are so good at it: He argues that it’s a useful way of coping, and sometimes has its benefits.

And so, dear reader, I toss this question out to you. Why it is that behaviorists and veterinarians find that owners are often resistant to believing that their pet is in pain? I await your wisdom.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: I’m calling this The Summer of Everything. Move the business office. Redecorate the living room. Build a bedroom on top of the hill. Take the gardens to another level. Finish the memoir. Busy yes, but lots good.  And, soon… Spain! I am beyond excited to go to Spain, in less than a month from now. Por favor, ven y saludar en Madrid los días 19 y 20 de septiembre!

Speaking of knowing what’s going on inside your dog–here’s Maggie after a long play session with Willie. You can see she’s very hot by the length and curl in her tongue. She tends to heat up fast, so we watch her carefully, but at the same time we need and want to increase her heat tolerance a bit. So we’re always walking a balance with her, not letting her get too hot without over protecting her and making her even less heat tolerant. I suspect she’s a tad uncomfortable right now, and wouldn’t push her any farther than this. But she is getting more heat tolerant as we work on it, which is important here when it can be so hot and humid in summer.

Maggie tongue





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The Puppy Culture DVD & Early Development in Puppies Tue, 11 Aug 2015 21:59:21 +0000 You gotta love a woman who names one of her Bull Terrier puppies “Betty Pork and Beans.” But there’s a lot more to love about Jane Killion’s latest work, Puppy Culture DVD. I’ve watched every minute of it, and highly recommend it. I’d get it and watch it whether you will ever raise, or even get, a puppy yourself. You’ll learn a lot about dogs by doing so.

The focus of the DVD is the effect the first twelve weeks of a dog’s life on its emotions and behavior as an adult. In the introduction, Ms. Killion correctly argues that many of a dog’s genes can switch on or off, depending on the environment in which its raised (including in utero). The video (all 3.75 hours of it, not counting the hour-long ‘recap’), follows Jane and her Bull Terrier bitch, Daphne, as they together raise seven puppies. The program is divided into sections, correlating with the development of the pups. Starting our journey with the very pregnant Daphne, we listen to Jane talk about research that suggests females who receive “caressing and affection” will give birth to more docile puppies. Watching Daphne’s face as Jane rubs her belly and talks about the importance of affection is almost worth the price of the DVD. [Note: Julie Hecht and I looked for a study that validated this claim and couldn’t find it. There is good research that shows gentle handling has positive effects on pups after birth (Gazzano et. al. 2008, Appl An Beh Sci 110.), but nothing we could find on an in utero effect.]

After the pups are born, we listen as Jane describes the importance of low light and a quiet atmosphere, arguing that too much of either, even though the pups can’t see or hear yet, can cause permanent damage. (She doesn’t mention the research that supports this, but it makes sense, given the evolutionary background of bitches birthing in an underground den.)

Puppy Culture continues through each stage of the pup’s development, Terv Pups nurseemphasizing how the right environment can interact with genetics to create a stable, inquisitive pup who learns well, is resilient after surprised or when faced with novelty, and is affectionate to both people and dogs.

Jane emphasizes that a true “socialization period” is only from 3 to 12 weeks (give or take a week, depending on the puppy). It is a specific period in neural and physiological development during which the brain is programmed to take in certain information. Taking a dog to meet other dogs when it is six months old may be “socialization,” but it has a much different effect than if it occurred during the “socialization period.” Make sense?

We viewers continue watching the puppies grow and develop, as Jane shows us how she makes the most of each state of development. The puppies get new objects and toys in the box starting at three weeks, to help them habituate to novelty. At three weeks, once their ears are functioning, Jane begins habituating them to loud, abrupt noises–a perfect time to help them learn resilience, because their fear period has not begun. The puppies startle briefly, then recover, takingTerv pup tongue surprises in their stride. (If three -week old puppies can be said to have strides.) Contrast this with the fear period, (beginning around five weeks of age in most pups), when pups are now mobile enough to get themselves into real trouble. I love that Jane advises breeders to continue to introduce new things when the pups are five weeks old, but never to push pups, and to always give them a secure place to escape to. Excellent advice. I do have a small quibble when she says that both “sides” are correct when each argues that you can can or can’t reinforce fear. I’d put it another way: You can’t reinforce fear, but you can reinforce ways to cope with it. I do like her advice to let pups figure things out on their own, unless they are truly frightened, in which case, of course, they should be rescued and soothed.

There’s a great section on preventing resource guarding. Around six weeks of age, Jane suggests that all pups should be conditioned to feel happy anticipation when someone takes away their treasure. She interviews Jean Donaldson, who wrote Mine! A Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs, Newf pup and mewho describes the standard “take away and give something better” routine. I’ve used it myself with hundreds of dogs, and can attest that it can be extremely successful. But doing it at this critical stage of development means, at least theoretically, that just a few sessions can be enough to prevent resource guarding for a lifetime in an adult. (Next minor quibble: At one point it is stated that conditioning the pups to prevent RG is “100% successful.” My ears pricked up and my skeptic radar began flashing, but then later both Donaldson and Killion say that nothing in behavior is 100%. Whew. Flashing red warning light went off.)

As long as I’m on quibbles, I’ll mention my only other one: Several times Jane states “Research shows that…” without giving us any information about the study, who did it and where to find it. I suspect that many of the people who are going to take this DVD to heart are the kind that would love to see the study them selves. Second, it’s standard in science that if you’re going to summarize a study, or quote from it, you  have to refer specifically to it. I found it frustrating that there was little detail about what study was being referenced.

That said, the DVD is full of good information. It has many invaluable sections, including a detailed discussion of why the pups should start learning polite behavior through the use of positive reinforcement, not force-based punishment, how to have a good puppy party, and the real value of “puppy testing”. Jane does a particularly good job here, making it clear that puppy tests, as commonly done, aren’t necessarily predictive of an adult dog’s behavior, but a good diagnostic to see what a pup might need help with during the important first twelve weeks of life.

Overall, the production values are off the charts, watching the puppies grow and development is beyond charming, and Jane includes interviews with a variety of experts. Well done. Besides the wealth of information about the development of the domestic dog, here are my favorite two parts:

1. Watching puppy Betty Pork and Beans learn to go around a barrier rather than through it. The rest of the litter figured it out within seconds, but Betty P & B couldn’t consider an alternate strategy for the longest time, and began ramming the barrier with her bull terrier ram-like head. I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes.

2. When Jane Killion sits with a puppy at the end of the first disc and explains why it is so important to teach pups how to tell their humans they want something. (She uses a clicker to teach a pup to sit when it wants something, rather than jumping up or barking.) I got all gooey eyed when she explained how important it is for any social animal to have a way to be heard, to have a voice. That’s why I got into the field myself, to give dogs a voice, and her words melted my heart.

Why should everyone watch this video? Especially, one might say, since there are so many homeless dogs in the world who need homes? Why highlight a DVD that focuses on breeding yet more dogs? Ah, I’m glad you asked. Here’s the reason: Because this video, as much as anything one thing I can think of, highlights how important early development is to a dog’s health, happiness and behavior as an adult, and how important it is to raise puppies in the best way possible. No matter how many adolescent and adult dogs need homes (see Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home), the fact is that some people will always want a puppy instead of an older dog. Puppy Culture sets the gold standard for responsible breeders, and illustrates why good, responsible breeders should be celebrated, not castigated.

Thanks, by the way, to Dawn S and Beth V for letting me take photos of their pups, and spend the morning in a bath of oxytocin. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

 MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Home Sweet Home in the Walnut Grove Tent Camp! Jim, son Zach and partner Sarah and I spent Saturday afternoon putting up the tent and bringing in the furniture. We are up and running! A few glitches, of course, but overall it is a great success. After we were done we grilled out steaks from the fire pit that Jim built, and munched on cole slaw and potato salad, made of veggies all from the CSA down the road. And brownies. Did I mention the brownies?

Maggie was afraid of the fire at first (a reasonable reaction one might argue), but soon decided that hunks of steak outweighed her concerns. Willie took to it like a duck to water, and by the end of the evening the dogs took over the tent interior as if it had been built for them. (The old rug from the living room is now in the tent, no wonder it feels so homey.) Tootsie hasn’t been up yet. The hill is too long and steep for her, so soon we’ll carry her up, let her sniff around, and then settle her onto the bed, her natural habitat. Then Jim and I will try our first overnight in the tent; it’ll be so fun to see how the dogs react. I expect they are going to love it there.

Here are the BCs on the tent “porch.”

dogs in front of tent

The sheep were afraid of the tent, not surprisingly. Maggie helped me move them around it in circles so they wouldn’t avoid the good grass close by, and overgraze in other areas. Can’t wait for our first night in the tent!

sheep by tent

]]> 43 Meanwhile… Sun, 02 Aug 2015 18:08:56 +0000 It’s all “MEANWHILE, back on the farm (and the office) today: For one thing, the weekend is crammed full of preparation for next week’s launch of “The Walnut Grove Tent Camp.” As I’ve mentioned, Jim has worked all summer building a platform for a permanent tent that will be erected next weekend. It situated on the highest point of the farm, under a shady grove of mature walnut trees. If there’s a breeze, that’s where you’ll find it, and we’ve already spent one lovely evening grilling out and enjoying the view. We have guests coming in a few weeks who will be our first tent camp visitors, but we’ll no doubt stay up there ourselves before they come. Basically, we’re creating a way to go camping in our backyard. It’s also up a very long and steep hill, so I assure you there will be nights when I say to Jim, after hiking up the hill two or four or five times already that day, “Nah, you go ahead and go up, I’ll see you back here later.” But, then, I’ll think of this view and probably hike back up the hill yet one more time that day.  Who could resist?

The platform is done and the tent and tent fly has arrived, now we just have to put them all together next weekend! Wish us luck.

J & W platform 8-1-15

In addition, our office of twenty five years is moving. It’s “just across the street,” but you still have to pack everything up, load it into the truck, unload it and unpack it in the new office. Driving everything from A to B, whether it’s 100 yards or 100 miles doesn’t make much difference. We are down-sizing because we’ve partnered with the good people at Dogwise to do fulfillment for all orders of books and DVDs. They are already doing a great job, and this way I’ll have more time for writing, and maybe some more talks along the way.  The building we’ve been in, The old Black Earth State Bank building, has its challenges for sure (yeah, it’s really old), but it has great character and I have to admit I’ll miss it.

But as I said, they are literally across the street from each other, so the little Midwestern town of Black Earth, WI will still be home, the website, blog and Facebook will all be the same, and cross your paws, I’ll have more time to write and give some more talks when my memoir is done. And goodbye to our old home, a lot of history here!

bank building

But there’s a lot of packing to do (boy can you accumulate a lot of stuff in twenty five years!), and we’ll be off line later this week while the equipment is being disconnected and transferred, so I thought I send out a light post this week. However, I’ve already got next week’s half written… stay tuned, it’s gonna be fun!

Wish us luck!

]]> 12 What is a “Hard Eye” in a Dog? (And What Should You Do When You See One?) Mon, 27 Jul 2015 19:18:21 +0000 Little Nell, a fox-faced Border Collie, came to visit the farm over twenty-five years ago, when I was just getting started as a behaviorist. A sweetheart of a dog, she melted when petted and came when I called, eyes shining, radiating joy and exuberance. However, one day she didn’t respond when I called her. Her face was buried in the tall grass by the driveway and I could hear her snuffling at something under her nose. As I got closer, she turned her head toward me, and… I froze. I didn’t even know why at the time, it seemed to happen automatically, and too fast to consciously evaluate. And then I realized  that Nell’s eyes had gone “hard,” a look that people had been telling me about, but I had never seen.

“Watch out for it,” trainers and behaviorists with more experience than I had at the time had told me. “But what does a ‘hard eye’ look like?” I’d ask. “How will I know it when I see it?” When Nell came to visit I had just finished my degree in Zoology, and had been well trained in the importance of detailed and accurate observations. “What changes when an eye “goes hard” I’d ask? “What should I look for? Does the color change? The pupils constrict?”

“No, it’s not about the color or the pupil dilation or constriction,” they all said (although pupils changes can be important).  Everyone could tell me what is wasn’t, but not what it was. All anyone could say was “Their eyes go cold” or “You’ll know it when you see it.”

And I did, when Nell’s eyes turned icy and my body told me to stop reaching toward her. Since then, decades later, I’ve seen it far too many times, from dogs as large as ponies and as small as squirrels. I know now, too, why it’s so hard to describe. I’ve thought about this for years, and the only thing I can compare it to is one of those hyper-edited photographs, the kind you see in some magazines in which the”color saturation” and “resolution” was set on high, so that what you see doesn’t look quite real anymore. To me, those kind of photographs don’t look appealing, they look flat and strange, like some alien whose semi-human form looks chilling precisely because he is human-like, but then, isn’t.

The look is as hard to capture in a photograph as it is to describe. The dog below, a lovely little girl named Fly, is staring intently at Willie at the moment, the better to play “you move and I’ll smash into you! Won’t that be fun!” Her eyes have something of the quality of a “hard eye,” but not because she is challenging anyone, but because her stare is so intense.

fly stare

I’ve looked at other photographs in books under the “hard eye” description (Handelman’s excellent Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook, for example), and none quite captures what you actually see in person. Handelman states that hard eyes are “squinty,” but I haven’t found that always to be true. Nor do I think the pupils always constrict. Actually, I think the only accurate description is that the eyes “go cold.” But how do eyes “go cold?” My major professor, Jeff Baylis, speculated that eyes go “hard” when the sympathetic nervous system engages and the eyes momentarily stop their usual “nystagmus.” Not the large, lateral movements associated with vestibular disease, but the microscopically small side-to-side movements that the eyes of all mammals do to help locate objects in front of them. This seems to be the best explanation I’ve heard so far.

Whatever causes them, “hard eyes” can be signs of trouble.  Big trouble. (And not just in dogs. Ever see it in a person? Scary.) Most trainers and behaviorists associate the look with the potential of aggression. I see it as a clear threat: “Continue doing what you are doing and there will be consequences.” In a few rare cases,  I suspect the message is “Make my day.”

How should we respond to a dog whose eyes have gone hard? Don’t faint, but I am not going to say “It Depends.” At one level, the answer is simple: “Change what you are doing.” If you are reaching toward an object that the dog is guarding, stop reaching. If you are trying to enter the house of friend who is on vacation and whose dog needs to be taken outside to potty, throw treats behind the dog before entering the house. Of course, exactly what you do next depends on many things–is it your dog, or someone else’s? When did it happen, and do you know why? After little Nell’s eye went hard over a treasure in the grass, I began conditioning her to enjoy it when I reached for something she wanted by associating it with food more wonderful than what she was guarding. (See here for information on treating resource guarding.) Willie’s eyes went hard on me once, just once, when I was toweling off his back legs. He was an adolescent, still fearful of other dogs, and highly reactive to noises, but a sweetheart to me. But when he was about 10 months old, I began toweling his butt and he turned his head to look at me as his eyes went a little hard and he growled, ever so quietly, under his breath. Because I knew him so well, my reaction was to laugh at him. “Oh Willie, don’t be silly, Willie-silly-billie-boy.” I did pause for a moment, then I teased him, and went right back to rubbing him down. That was the end of it. But I did change my behavior, even if briefly, and if there’s one thing that I think is important to do if a dog flashes you “the look,” it’s that. Change what you are doing.

Needless to say, I’ve seen a lot of dog’s eyes go hard over the years. I’ve had the dogs of some clients turn to face me and knew instantly–or, at least, believed,  that they were clearly communicating that I had a choice: Continue doing what I was doing and get bitten, or change my behavior and avoid stitches. BUT, and this is an important qualifier, it is essential not to ignore the behavior. Any time a dog’s eyes go hard, it is important to note the context, and speculate about why the dog was threatening you.  Was it over a treasure? Then begin treatment for resource guarding. Was it about  a reach toward the head by a stranger? Then immediately implement both a safety-based management plan and treatment with classical and operant conditioning.

That’s been my strategy. 1) Change behavior in the moment. 2) Reflect on context, see if you can find a pattern and then a) manage to avoid it while b) using good conditioning exercises to take away the motivation. What about you?  Have you ever seen a dog’s eyes go hard? (I think this doesn’t happen at all in most pet dogs. I guarantee you that some dog’s eyes simply never go hard. I wish we had some research on how often it really happens, in what context, and by what kind of dog.) If you have, how did you react? I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm. It’s been so hot that I’m not working the dogs much on the sheep, just enough to move them from the barn to thei120px-Jbadultr pasture each day, then back down again in the late evening. I have been doing lots of gardening, which includes about an hour a day of picking Japanese beetles off of my plants and dropping them into soapy water. As much as I dislike the creatures, I have to admit I’ve enjoyed learning about them.

During the afternoon hours they seem to break into committee meetings, and I’ll find 10 or 20 on the same leaf, all the better to push them off into my awaiting bowl of soapy water. Willie and Maggie follow me around for a few minutes, and then decide whatever I’m doing is boring, and go off to entertain themselves. Often they’ll lie down in the shade and watch me. I do wonder what they are thinking!

Here are some of the plants I’m trying to protect. They make me happy every day, beetles or not.

Wall garden 7-26-15

]]> 116 Upcoming Talks. Wheeeee! Tue, 21 Jul 2015 02:04:14 +0000 Many of you know I’ve been holed up working on my memoir every morning for the last millennium, and thus haven’t done a lot of speaking. (Okay, maybe it’s not been that long.) The good news is that I am making progress on the book (actually, a “mutual memoir” about me and Willie). I finished a manuscript last December, and sent it out for review. Lots of insightful comments by some great writers and editors led to re-write that now keeps me busy from 8 am to noon. I’m about half done with that, having started again in June after finishing teaching at the university in late May. Cross your paws that this new version, once done sometime in late fall or early winter, will only need some tweaks. I’ll keeping working throughout 2015, but by the end of the year, I think I will have run out of stamina. I’m sending whatever I have to publishers by early 2016 at the latest, and hoping someone wants it!

The other good news is that I’ve got three enticing speaking engagements coming up. Here’s the list:

SEPT 9, 2015, ROCKFORD, IL   I’ll be speaking at the Swedish-American Hospital on the topic: The Power of Pets.  Here a description:

Join Trisha as she talks about the power of pets in our lives. Learn the biology behind why we love our dogs and cats so much, hear about recent studies that underscore the therapeutic value of our interactions with animals. Come help celebrate the love we have for our four-legged and feathered friends!

This topic is of special interest to me for so many reasons: Because I have Tootsie, a Pet Pals ‘therapy’ dog. And because there has been so much good research done recently on the effect of animals on wellness and psychology. And because, well, you’ll see when the memoir comes out.

SEPT 19TH & 20th, MADRID, SPAIN Yup! I’m coming to Spain, and I can’t express how excited I am about visiting this wonderful country. (Note to Spanish Chamber of Commerce: Does everyone who goes to Spain come back raving about it? That’s been my experience so far.) Jim and I will enjoy Spain as tourists for a few days, and then travel to Madrid for the following two talks:

Book launch! Spanish version of Love Has No Age Limit-Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home
6 PM Saturday, September 19th, Madrid, Spain
Barceló Castellana Norte, Avenida de Manoteras, 20 | 28050 Madrid
Sponsored by Dogalia

Hola! Come meet Patricia and join her in a discussion of the joys and challenges of bringing an adolescent or older dog into your home. Puppies are delightful, but older dogs, those who have lived in other homes, come already having learned a lot—sometimes good, sometimes not so good! Love Has No Age Limit is designed to help “the new dog” become the “best dog ever!” We’ll also talk about training methods, and the importance of using (and understanding) positive reinforcement as the best way to have a the relationship we most want with a happy and responsive dog.

A Casual Chat about Dogs and Dog Training with Patricia McConnell
10:30 AM Sunday, September 20th, Madrid, Spain
Barceló Castellana Norte, Avenida de Manoteras, 20 | 28050 Madrid
Sponsored by Dogalia

Come visit for an informal chat with Patricia McConnell, the subjects are up to you! She’ll be happy to take questions as broad ranging as “What have you seen is different regarding training here in Spain than in the U.S.?” to “Why Does My Dog Roll in Stinky Stuff?” This is a great chance for everyone who loves dogs, and who works with them professionally, to brain storm about canine behavior (not to mention the more difficult species—homo sapiens!). Bring along photos of your dog, Patricia would love to see them!

NOVEMBER 6th, WAUKESHA, WI  Trisha will be participating in The Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books in a panel discussion on pets and our relationship to them. Stay tuned for a specific time and place once the schedule is set. Hope to see you there, supporting animals in literature and great writing on any topic!

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Whew. Hot. Here’s what hot sheep looks like: Poor Cupcake was too hot to eat. Willie and I moved them back into the barn soon after, where there’s a fan and 2 sides are underground, so it is much cooler.

cupcake hot

A question for the village! Who knows what flower this is? The flowers are about the size of a dime, or a bit smaller. The plant has spread in one of my gardens, which is truly lovely, I’m happy to have it. But I never planted it, and have no idea what it is. Any guesses, oh botanical whizzes out there?

flower id last

]]> 27
The Movie Max & Concerns about Breed Popularity Tue, 14 Jul 2015 18:07:32 +0000 As you may know, a movie about a military dog, Max, is getting a lot of attention. I just read a summary of the plot, which convinced me that I’ll be better off watching bad TV at home while rubbing my dogs’ bellies than going to see it. It might be a great movie, who knows, (although the reviews are not stellar), but in it Max the Malinois is brought back from Afghanistan after watching his handler be max_650-1shot and killed by another American soldier, later is chained and abandoned alone in a backyard, then severely injured fighting off two “bad guy” dogs. Next, he is accused of seriously biting a person, taken away by animal control to a pound, from which he escapes, and then… Enough. Sorry, I had a hard enough time watching the Border Collie in the movie Babe be wrongly accused of killing sheep. And that lasted about ten minutes. This is an entire movie.

But whether you find a dog in distress entertaining or not, movies do a lot more than provide a distracting, air conditioned environment on a hot day. Movies with dogs can have a significant effect on what kind of dog becomes popular with the public for as much as the next ten years. Research by Ghirlanda, Acerbi and Herzog found it was indeed true that that the breed of a dog in a popular movie movies affects breed choice. The authors went beyond looking for a correlation between a movie’s release and the breed’s popularity, given that a breed could be chosen for movie stardom because it is becoming more popular–a chicken and egg kind of problem. Rather, the researchers looked for a change in trends in breed popularity, a better marker of whether a movie influenced the public’s selection of what dog to get next, or not.

The authors found strong evidence that the breed of a dog in a popular movie had an effect on breed popularity. For example, registrations for Labrador retrievers increased at an average rate of 452/dogs/year in the 10 years before The Incredible Journey was released in 1963. But it increased at a rate of 2,223 dog/year in the ten years after.

It’s one thing to see a marked rise in the popularity of a retriever or a rough-coated collie, as happened after The Incredible Journey and Lassie Come Home. I think everyone in the field agrees, especially Malinois breeders, that the worst thing for this particular breed could be a surge in novice dog owners bringing home a Malinois puppy. The American Belgian Malinois Breed Club has a paragraph on their home page that doesn’t mince words. It includes: “This is NOT your Typical Pet Dog… If you are looking for a beautiful animal to just sit at home with you, or to be left to its own designs, do NOT choose a Malinois. These dogs are bred to be taught and assigned tasks, and then to perform them at the highest levels of their mental and physical capabilities. And underutilized dog is a frustrated dog. And a frustrated dog is not a good housemate.”

All good, but I remember the multitude of Border collies that ended up in the wrong home after the movie Babe came out. And this happened in spite of relentless warnings from breeders and experts that Border collies make lousy pets for most people. After Babe came out I saw a lot of clients who had bored, semi-crazy Border collies, and to a person, they said that they’d heard the warnings, and thought something like “It’ll be okay. I’ll be different.” The fact is, repeating a dog’s finest qualities (BC – smart, beautiful, responsive; Malinois – “highly intelligent, elegant, athletic & muscular”), and then saying “this dog is only for select people” is a great way to make someone want one. Just ask advertisers, who are well aware that “only for a select few” is inherently attractive to people and sells more of whatever they are offering.

Is there a way around this? I don’t know, but here, at least, is one idea taken from another context. For years I’d run into people who, when asked to stay a few feet away from a fearful and potentially aggressive dog would say “Oh, it’s okay! Dogs love me! I have a gift” (women) or “It’s okay, I’m not afraid of him,” (men). For years I’d swallow the impulse to say “But it’s not about you!”, and then position myself between them and the dog, mostly to protect the dog. But eventually I learned to do the following:

“Oh, thank you SO much,” I’d say before the person approaching could get too close to the dog. “I’m so grateful that you are clearly someone who understands dogs, and knows that getting too close would just set back our treatment plan. You know, I run into people all the time who just blunder up and scare the dog, rather than staying back and tossing the treats. I’m so glad that you are so knowledgeable about dog behavior!” No way is this person going to leave the select group of “dog experts” into which they’ve been elected, and become like “those other people” who don’t know enough to stay outside of a dog’s comfort zone during treatment.

Totally honest? No? Manipulative? Yes. But it helped a lot of dogs, and didn’t hurt anyone. Perhaps this is a useful tact to take when talking to a family with novice dog training skills who is considering getting a Malinois? “Oh, I’m so glad you mentioned the movie Max! Thank heaven’s you’re dog savy, and would never be one of those people who get a Malinois just because they saw one in a movie!”

That’s just one way to address the “dog breed in the movie” issue if it comes up in a conversation you are having. But surely there are lots of other alternatives that you’ve used over the years. I’d love to hear what you have to say if this this issue has come up? Or did you once get a breed of dog that, in hind sight, was perhaps not the wisest choice? (Can you spell “Saint Bernard puppy” and newly married 19 year old Trisha, about to move to the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona?) Would anything have influenced you back then to change your mind?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Well, just back to the farm. The BCs, Jim and I spent a lovely weekend at some good friends’ cabin in the woods. Long walks on beautiful trails through the woods, watching damsel flies mating on the pond sedges, being scolded by a pair of yellowthroats for getting too close to their nest. We took two relaxing boat rides on Lake Michigan, during which everyone else did all the work because Jim and I, farmers of the soil and not mateys of the water, are pretty much worthless in a marine environment. We soon discovered it was best for everyone if we just stayed out of the way. But when one of the fishing lines dipped, our hosts graciously turned to Jim’s to haul it in.  We drove home with a 10 lb King Salmon in the cooler and had some of it for dinner Sunday night. Yummmm. A huge thanks to Barb and Don for being such wonderful hosts; we needed a break from farm work, and the weekend was exactly what the doctor ordered. Here is the cabin’s charming woodshed, built with the same materials as the cabin.

Woodshed at Beechwood

We returned home to Tootsie and some very hot sheep. They had actually dug holes in the ground (deep ones, seriously) so that they could lie in cooler earth. Maggie and I got them herded back to the cool of barn, which is half underground and has a fan. It’s cooled off a bit, thank heavens, but supposed to heat up again later in the week. Poor babies, no air conditioning for them.

Once home, the day lilies said hello. Lots and lots of them.

daylily 2 7-15

daylily 1 7-15

Very July 4th-y colors, if you ask me. They lilies will bloom for weeks, so our garden is going to be great fun for quite a while. Now, if it would just cool off a little bit…

]]> 62 “It Depends” — The Answer, and the Next Question, to Everything Mon, 06 Jul 2015 19:30:30 +0000 If you know my work you know that “It Depends” is my answer to 95% of all questions asked about dog behavior.

Question: “Should I intervene if my dog growls at a puppy?” Answer: It depends.

Question: “What would you do if your well-trained dog looked at you when you called him back, and then takes off running in the other direction?” Answer: It depends.

I usually say “It depends” in partial jest, knowing how useless it must sound to the person hearing it. But “It Depends” has an important kernel of truth in it, because cookie cutter formulas don’t work with animals as complicated as dogs. How to handle a behavioral issue depends on so many things: the age of the dog, the level of training, the intensity of the distraction, etc.

I heard another version of this at the Derek Fisher sheepdog clinic I attended recently, hosted by the good folks at Cedar Stone Farm. The first day Derek had me encouraging Maggie to speed up, “be bad,” get in there and move the sheep, have fun, Eeee Ha! This is good advice for a dog like Maggie (and Willie), who are, paraphrasing Derek’s words, “inherently good dogs who need to learn to be a little bad.” (In other words, to be comfortable putting more pressure on the sheep, versus dogs who need to put less pressure on the sheep.) The next day, Maggie had taken her lesson to heart. She barreled the sheep toward me on the fetch, and, atypically, didn’t lie down when asked. I wasn’t concerned, since she was basically doing what we had asked the day before (“be bad”), but it did bring up a question from me to Derek that I knew was getting into tricky territory.

How long do I ignore an incorrect response while working on helping her learn to push? Part of the answer was simple: “If you ask her to stop, then she needs to stop. But you probably shouldn’t have asked her to stop at that point.” (Obvious now, of course… but then? Not so much.) The harder question was: “Given that I am trying to teach her to love to push, what should I do when I do ask her to stop, and she doesn’t?”

This is where I would say to a client, “It Depends.” Derek’s answer, not being me, was not “It Depends,” but what he said adds a lot of depth to it. He said “Imagine that every time you have a choice about how to respond to your dog there are four doors in front of you. You can go through Door 1, 2, 3 or 4. Once through, you’ll be faced with 4 more doors. Go through door #3, and you’ll find 4 more after that. In other words, there are always a number of ways that we can respond to our dog’s behavior. Only thing is, you can’t go backwards. Once you go through Door #1, you only have its doors in front of you. What’s most important is to avoid going through one that you’ll later wish you had avoided.

I loved this analogy, in part I suppose because it presents such a perfect visual image of all the choices one has to make when training. And it emphasizes the importance of not doing something you can’t take back. For example, if one gets angry at a dog when the dog is trying to learn something new… Well, that is a door you’ve walked through, and your next options are driven by having made that choice. You can’t go back through the door of “anger” and choose another door. The other doors may or may not be perfect responses, but at least you haven’t traveled down a road on which you wish you’d never started.

Of course, the question then becomes, how do you decide which other door to go through? Well, first, since you can’t go backwards, anger is a lousy choice in just about any training scenario. Second, which of the other doors to pick depends on many things, but I’d argue that the most important is based on WHY your dog did what it did. Why did Maggie ignore my lie down whistle? There are several possibilities: She was so charged up that she truly wasn’t listening, or she was afraid to stop, or she thought going fast was killer fun and didn’t want to stop, or my whistle signal was poorly blown and she didn’t understand it. Etc Etc Etc. In Maggie’s case, it makes sense that she wasn’t stopping because she had discovered the joys of “being bad,” which is just what we wanted. It was clear that the best plan was to ignore the lack of response, but then ask for a stop later, in another context when we weren’t asking her to throw caution to the wind.

Let’s take this out of the pasture, and into your yard. What if Chester takes one look at you, ignores your recall and chases a squirrel up a tree.  What to do? Well, first, try not to go through the wrong door. Getting mad probably isn’t going to help. Don’t go through a door that is going to limit your choices and destroy the relationship between you and your dog. Rather, ask yourself why you think your dog ignored you in the first place. Could the answer be because you haven’t proofed the cue at that level of distraction yet? If so, then time for a structured program of teaching a recall with gradually intensifying distractions. Did Chester ignore you because you’ve poisoned the cue, and used it to cut Chester’s nails and give him a bath, all of which he hates? Then it’s time to go back to using positive reinforcement for a recall (or to change the signal altogether?). Did Chester ignore you because you didn’t actually use your cue at all, and instead just said “Chester!,” instead of “Chester, Come?” Time, then, to practice how you use words to communicate with your dog. Did Chester ignore you because the reinforcement you have been offering is worth ignoring a dog down the street, but not a squirrel that just ran in front of him and scampered up a tree? Better get out the chicken, or better, yet, teach Chester that you’ll give him an even better chase game if he comes to you first. (If it’s safe, that might even include releasing him to go back to chasing the squirrel.)

You get the idea. Ask yourself WHY your dog did what he or she did, use that information to train in a similar context and while mindful of not going through the wrong door. (There are lots of ‘wrong doors’ beside the ‘anger door;’ I just used that because it is so common for us to go all “chimp-in-a-bad-mood” on our dogs…) I’d love to hear your examples of answering the question “It Depends” with WHAT it depends upon. How have you used that kind of reasoning to work through a training problem?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Busy weekend! Lots of yard and garden work, capped it off with homemade fried chicken and a sour cherry pie from a neighbor’s tree (thank you Sandie!) while cheering on the USA team at the Women’s World Cup Finals. Yay!

The sheep got to forage in the “Play Pen,” (originally designed years ago, for Luke and his daughter to play in) while Maggie and Willie watched. It’s about a quarter of an acre, and gives me a place to put them sheep when I’m too lazy or busy to herd them up the hill.

2 M & W watch sheep in Play pen 7-15

Polly and Nellie came over to watch too. They love the new stone wall, they spend lots of time up on it, while we get to enjoy watching them amongst the flowers. Here’s Polly enjoying the sun while I enjoyed her among the flowers.

Polly on wall 7-15



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Research on Resource Guarding Tue, 30 Jun 2015 18:22:11 +0000 Citizen science–be there or be square. Researchers from the University of Guelph are conducting a survey about resource guarding in dogs. You can participate by going to this link and filling out the questionnaire. I hope you do–you’ll see why as you read more…

True confessions: I originally tried to take the survey in April, but didn’t finish it. If you’re on Facebook, you can see my post on April 24th about it. In that post I wrote: I took the survey myself and loved the videos that asked the viewer how they categorized what they saw, but got a bit frustrated at the end when the questions began to seem endless, and worse, impossible to answer correctly. (Ex: “How many people did you expose your new pup to at these four different ages: 4-8 weeks, 8 to 12 weeks?”). As if I could remember accurately!

A few Facebook readers commented that they too got a bit frustrated and didn’t finish the survey. Those comments led to a lovely talk with Jacquelyn Jacobs, one of the researchers. Here is what she had to say about the intention and goals of the research:

This particular survey is exploratory and we intend to use the results to inform future, more specific studies on resource guarding risk factors. Our ultimate aim is to help owners identify the behaviour early and give them the tools they need to either manage the behaviour and/or prevent harmful behaviours from occurring.

One of my PhD projects has been the detailed video observation of dogs around resources to describe the different strategies dogs have to control access to a resource/item/object. We’ve identified at least three through this work: 1) avoidance (for example, grabbing an item and barking poodlesrunning away with it), 2) rapid ingestion (this involves a rapid speed of eating an item, usually a food item but it can be anything the dog chooses to ingest), and 3) aggression (biting and snapping)/threatening behaviour (e.g. growling, freezing, hard stare, teeth baring). One of the things we hope will come across in the results of the large risk factor survey is the relationship between some of these different resource control strategies. In the future we hope to determine if some dogs are more or less predisposed to showing one form over another, and if so, can we do something to encourage the expression of the non-aggressive forms instead of the aggressive forms (since it is a natural behaviour, generally speaking) and help owners to recognize them and respond appropriately?

These are great goals, and I hope that you seriously consider taking the survey yourself. (I took it again recently, and finished this time.  Good Trisha, Good Trisha. More on that below.) Before you do, here are some things to know:

The length of the survey: You are warned that the survey takes about 30 minutes to complete. Mea culpa; I didn’t believe it. I usually breeze through surveys in half the time that is allotted, and started mine under the dryer at the hair salon. Twenty minutes in, my hair dresser was standing over me, waiting for me to finish. I could have simply gone back to the survey and finished it later, an option anyone has, but for reasons not known to womankind, I didn’t take it. Actually, I think I do know why–see next issue.)

Being asked questions you can’t answer: That, in truth, is probably why I got out of the survey the first time. I knew there was no way I could accurately say how many people that Willie had met almost nine years ago when he was eight weeks old.  But Jacquelyn reminded me that one can always choose an option that says Unsure, which is what I should have done. I do worry, however, and I expressed this concern to Ms. Jacobs, that some people would guess, but not with any accuracy. We all know that memories aren’t always accurate. I would predict that people would guess that their dog met more new people than they actually did, just like people claim to eat more fruits and vegetables than they actually do. But Jacquelyn is aware of this problem, and it is only a small section of the survey. Now that I’ve had time to think about it (and am no longer under the hair dryer at the beauty salon), I wouldn’t let it be a reason to give up on the survey.

The videos: Bear in mind that the videos illustrate a dog responding to an Assessa-Hand. You first watch the videos that categorize different types of resource guarding behavior. Then you watch other videos of the same situation, and are asked to categorize what you saw. This is a way for the researchers to get an idea of how effective watching videos are at educating people about canine behavior around resources. (This is, of course, analyzed with the respondent’s level of experience around dogs as another factor.) I love this section of the survey, both because it’s great fun and because it should provide some great data. However, do NOT get caught up on the issue of whether Assessa-Hands are appropriate ways to evaluate dogs in shelters. This study has nothing to do with that: They are simply using the videos as a way to categorize the different ways dogs respond around a resource. There is even a disclaimer (good for them), that says ***Please do not ever attempt the types of manipulations seen in the videos with your own dog.*** So, please don’t get off track about the use of Assessa-Hands; the issue is resource guarding and how dogs do it.

After talking with Ms. Jacobs, I took the test, this time for Maggie. (You can do it for only one, or all of your dogs.)  It took me 25 minutes, far more enjoyably than the first time, because I started when I could focus on it for the time allotted. However, it didn’t take 30 minutes, because I got Maggie when she was over a year old, and so was not asked any questions about her early socialization. The only questions I still found troublesome include one question that asked me choose one of three options regarding my relationship with my dogs. There was no “None of the Above” choice, and I found it difficult to choose. But you can always skip it and move on. The other minor issue was the set of questions about training methodologies. Since, in Maggie’s case, they related to our work with another (sheepdog) trainer, I again had questions I couldn’t answer–like the one that asked if I and the trainer used “treats” (versus punishment), but there was no category for “positive reinforcement.”

So, is it a perfect survey? No. Is it worth taking? Absolutely! There will be a lot of great data that they can take out of it. I hope you jump in and take it yourself. Right now they have about 2,700 completed surveys, but want 4,000 in total. They need them all by August 1st, so jump on board and add your experience to the data set. For now, I’d love to hear about your own experience with resource guarding dogs, especially in relation to the categories mentioned above (avoidance, gulping food, or aggressive/threatening behavior). Right now I’m a lucky woman, and have no issues between any of my three dogs. If you do, or want to learn more about resource guarding in general, I wrote an extensive blog about the issue in May of 2013. Don’t hesitate to refer to that if you haven’t seen it and would like to learn more.)

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: The BCs and I spent two heavenly days at a Scott Glen sheepdog clinic. If only a person could clone a mini version of Scott and keep it on one’s shoulder for the next 6 months. We all learned tons. including that my whistle signals are, uh, weak. The irony of this will not escape you if you know that my master’s thesis was on the whistle signals of sheepdog handlers. Sigh.

Here’s a photo I took on Sunday. Apologies to FB readers, I already posted it there, but I do love it…

W and M Glen clinic 2015

Sunday I spent most of the day digging up chest high-poison ivy (poor Jim got a big dose of it a few days ago), clearing thorny raspberry bushes (ouch) and pulling up Virginia stick seed, the worst burr ever known to fur. All in sauna-like conditions. Ah, the fun of living in the country. It’s astounding how much grows that you really, really don’t want around. And that you have to get rid of when it’s especially hot and humid.

But here is one of the joys of living in the country: Check out this butterfly, looking toward the right in the photograph.

heads-tails butterfly

But, no, it’s not. The eye spot and wing extensions are there to confuse predators. Look carefully at the left and you’ll see the real head, along with the insect’s black and white antenna. I never would have seen this wonderful creature if I hadn’t been chest deep in raspberry bushes and pulling vines out of my wild plum trees. Check out this article on faking out predators, which includes a video of a somewhat similar-looking (Lycaenid) butterfly that also moves its wings back and forth to attract attention away from its head. Anyone know the species ID of the one in my yard? I’m in Wisconsin, so don’t go guessing a species that’s common in Thailand! I look forward to learning more about this lovely creature.

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Well, Stuff Happens. Tue, 23 Jun 2015 01:42:26 +0000 That could actually be a great title for a content-rich blog, but I’m afraid the blog I was working on got trumped by 1) the blog site crashing for several hours, 2) Tootsie’s recurrent and unexplained UTI and need for an X-ray, and 3) Nellie the kitty showing up limping and clearly very, very unwell.

Thus, instead of a blog about the questions to ask when someone (like me) says “It Depends,” I’m just going to go right to a report on the farm and the sheepdogs. But keep your eyes out for a blog on “It Depends,” and one on a survey on resource guarding in the near future.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Everyone but the sheep and the cats piled into the car yesterday to go to the Laughing Frog Sheepdog Trial in Kansasville, WI. Put on by hosts Tresa and Don Laferty, the trial is designed to be a small, supportive trial that welcomed people and dogs who may not be the “big hats,” but want to learn more about good work with sheepdogs. It was a great opportunity to take Maggie to a first trial, and fun for Willie too.

Who would have guessed that Tootsie would turn out to be the winner of the first competition run? I suggested to Tresa that she radio the judge (the helpful and benevolent Lori Perry) that there was a last minute entry, so Tootsie and I trotted out to take our place at the post. Imagine our surprise when she turned out to be the winner of the run due to some creative scoring! Ha!

Here we are getting “High in Trial” for our efforts. (Tootsie was awarded the only perfect score of the day. Amazing what you can get when you’re cute.

Tootsie wins the trial


Maggie had three runs. Her first was best described as “Eeeee Hah!” I was hesitant to stop her because she can get sticky, but after being encouraged to push the sheep at Derek Fisher’s clinic last weekend, Maggie came on full bore, and pretty much ran the sheep down the field to me. We slammed our way around the course, but managed to complete some of the exercises with some dignity. We placed second. When I showed Jim the ribbon he said “You’re kidding.” Yeah, it wasn’t exactly smooth.

She kicked butt on her second run. This time the sheep (a different group) began to run down the field like race horses before Maggie was halfway done with her outrun. This time I didn’t hesitate to lie her down. Needless to say, these sheep were fast and flighty, and reactive to a dog even 50 yards away. Perfect for Maggie’s personality, which explains in part why she did so well this time. (I deleted “she was brilliant,” because it sounded too much like bragging. But hey, just between us, she was brilliant.). She stayed far, far back to keep control, listening to my every cue, and was on the perfect balance point for the entire course. Judge Lori generously gave us 97/100 points. (You could get an extra 5 if you pointed out the lead sheep at one point, but my brain is too small to do all that at once.)

Here she is doing the drive. You can see how far away from the sheep she needed to be, any closer and they would have taken off at a dead run. She’s not yet always 100% on her flanks (meaning, “go clockwise” or “go counterclockwise) and she’s not confident yet driving very far, but she did perfectly on this one.  Okay, yeah, I was really proud!

Maggie drives

My small brain got the best of us on her third run. The sheep were busy eating grain and instead of letting Maggie do her outrun and get them moving right away, I stopped her at the back (thinking no doubt about the race horse sheep on our previous runs). She got stuck, a common problem for dogs who are “strong eyed, or who make eye contact with the sheep, get them settled and balanced between them and the handler, and stop. Job done. What else would there be to do? This is Maggie’s biggest challenge, and the type of situation in which she needs experience and more help from me over the next months. In this case I walked out to help her and we got things going again, but I knocked myself on my head for stopping her when I shouldn’t have. Hopefully I learned my lesson, and that’s what this trial was about, a good place to practice and learn away from the pressure of the big trials.

Willie got a chance to run also in the ‘non-compete’ class (non-compete because he’s run in bigger trials at a higher level) and had a great time. He’s almost nine now, and I can tell that he isn’t loving the pressure of precision flanking on long drives. But he was in his element, and did beautifully. This time I managed to squeak out who I thought might be the lead ewe, and Lori gave me the extra five points just for remembering, so Willie ended up with 103/105 points. I should be clear that Lori was more than generous, and I can guarantee you that those points would never have been posted at one of the bigger trials, but still. It’s such fun when it all goes so well!

Here’s Willie helping to pen the sheep. The sheep were not pleased about going into a strange, small wooden structure, and it took some work to pen them, but both Maggie (on her good run) and Willie got them penned.

Willie and I pen

Thanks to Jim for taking the photos, and to Tresa, Don & Lori, along with helpers Nancy and Diane, for putting on such a great trial. And thanks to everyone who attended; it was great fun spending the day together.

And here’s a photo I rather like that I took not too far from our farm. The light green field is an alfalfa field that had been cut a few days before. The hay was left to dry, then gathered up for the dairy cows down the road.

hay up at neighbor's

May all your own hay be cut in sunshine… By the way–Tootsie’s X-ray was clear (no stones, but still no answer to the mystery), and the vet found that Nellie had a bad bite on her shoulder. It got cleaned out, she got an injection of a slow release antibiotic, and I am considering tossing out the dog crate pad that she peed all over on the way to the vet clinic. A small price to pay if she heals up well.

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