Tuesday, December 27, 2011


  1. Such a shame  I see so many people out there training religiously.  Practicing day after day.  Practicing all the wrong things.  Conscientiously teaching the dog how to screw up in competition.  Wonderful work ethics misdirected.

  1. Great read  In the summer of 1972, Barbara and I spent a week in Nassau, Bahamas.  It rained every day.  I didn’t care because I was reading The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn.  The book is about the members of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s, one of the most exciting professional baseball teams ever fielded, and what became of those men after their glory years had passed.  Maybe it was because I had grown up in Crosley Field, then the home of the Cincinnati Reds, and I was so familiar with all those old Dodgers.  Or maybe it was because Roger Kahn is such a marvelous writer – just the inspiration I needed at the outset of my fledgling writing career.  Kahn and The Boys of Summer were to my writing efforts as Karen Price and Flash were to my obedience career.

Today, 40 years later, The Boys of Summer remains the best book I’ve ever read.  So what’s number two?  Recently a friend encouraged me to read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  Boy, can that guy write!  A bit slow to begin, but ultimately can’t-put-it-down gripping, it’s a powerful story told with depth and compassion through the eyes of a dog.  Which is why my strong recommendation finds its way into this blog.

  1. Demythifying rally  You may get the idea from what follows that I’m anti-rally.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  As you read this, I’m prepping Bravo! to begin his rally career late in January.  As those who follow this blog are aware, Bravo! has recently been retired from pursuit of his OTCH because an arthritic hip limits his ability to jump the heights required in Open and Utility.  But I want to keep him active, keep him working at my side, which he loves.  So we now move on to rally because it’s wonderfully appropriate.

What follows here is a little unsolicited dissertation on what’s inappropriate, at least in my opinion.  Which I’m fully aware is, as Helen Phillips has said for 40 years, decidedly a minority point of view.

There is a strong, almost overpowering myth about in Dogsports Land that rally is a wonderful place to start a dog on an obedience career.  Or just the place to help a newbie handler dip her toe in the sport of competition obedience.

I wouldn’t be caught dead taking my beginning dog into rally obedience.  Or encouraging a newbie handler to get off on what I regard as decidedly the wrong foot.  Not if the goal is to do well in the competition obedience ring later on.

It’s a given in rally that the judging, by design, is much looser.  Fronts can be almost straight, or maybe not even almost.  Heel position is OK if it’s in the same area code.  A team can be quite sloppy and still get a high score.  They can be a crying disaster and still qualify.

The whole thing is loose, loose, loose.  Is that how I want to imprint my little competition obedience dog?  Oh God no!  Of course there’s nothing that says you can’t do rally courses with discipline, even precision.  But how many handlers – especially newbies – can sustain the self-discipline to not gravitate toward the lowest common denominator?  I don’t believe there are many.  Certainly not I, I’m learning.  When Bravo! and I were hell-bent for our OTCH I struggled mightily (and not all that successfully) to get perfect fronts and finishes.  But not so much now that we’re rally-bound.  And I’m not nearly as demanding about head position as we heel those few steps involved in the rally exercises.

Then there’s all that hand-luring and all those chiropractor-friendly body gyrations and all the coaxing that’s permitted in rally.  I sure don’t want my young dog to be brought up that way.  Nor my newbie competitor to develop all those bad habits.  There are far too many sloppy teams in the obedience rings now; why create more?

Even some of  the rally exercises are designed to send your training due south.

Last weekend a member of my training group – a person with 30+ years of experience and enough obedience and agility titles to sink a battleship – was commenting on the new rally exercises, due to go into effect in April.  Specifically, she was expressing concern about exercise #210, Send to Jump.  In that new exercise (as opposed to existing exercise # 34 where the dog and handler run toward the jump, the dog jumps as the handler runs past the jump, then they meet on the other side in heel position and continue on to the next station) the handler stops short of the jump, the dog jumps, immediately turns and returns to heel position before they continue past the jump.

“I sure don’t want to teach my beginning dog to go over the jump and immediately turn and come back,” my friend was saying.  Amen!  Teaching a young dog to do that is just asking for trouble.  I see plenty of dogs – in training as well as in the competition ring – going over the jump, looking bewildered, then turning and coming back . . . while the dumbbell lies untouched in the grass.  This exercise is fine for a veteran dog, but just one more reason why I don’t want my young, fledgling dog anywhere near rally.

By the way, what’s wrong with Beginner Novice for getting Fluffy started?  Answer:  Absolutely nothing.

Just sayin’.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I regard myself as an authority on corporate arrogance.

After all, I grew up in Cincinnati, the corporate headquarters of Procter & Gamble.  Cincinnati is the world’s largest company town.  Procter & Gamble dominates that city with an iron fist . . . in a Charmin glove of course..  They’re on every board, involved in every municipal decision.  They support every worthwhile charity in the city, so long as that charity doesn’t get out of heel position.

At the same time, they add breadth and depth to the words smug and high-handed.  You don’t challenge P&G.

P&G’s headquarters tower is right in the center of downtown Cincinnati.  Years ago the company wanted to expand its campus to some adjacent land.  Only problem was, an historic old church stood in the way.  Undeterred, the boys on the 11th floor (the corporate poobahs) announced plans to raze the church and bulldoze ahead.  The local preservationists went ballistic.  They went to court and obtained an injunction preventing P&G from touching that church.  P&G fought the order and – to no one’s surprise – the court ruled in the company’s favor

The injunction was to be lifted at the stroke of midnight on a certain date.  P&G had everything in place.  At exactly 12:01 a.m., under cover of darkness, the wrecking ball slammed into the church.  The next morning when Cincinnatians arrived downtown for work the church was only a pile of rubble.

Which brings us to the American Kennel Club and the same “we walk on water attitude.”

Across the years, the now-defunct AKC Gazette carried, near the front of the magazine, a staple called the president’s letter.  The copy was always accompanied by a photo of President Dennis Sprung.  The available photos were rotated from issue to issue.  One showed Sprung seated stiffly in a chair with a large dog – a greyhound, if I remember correctly – seated by his side.  Every time I saw that picture the words that came to my mind were: imperious, regal, pompous.  The photo was appropriately representative of  a high-and-mighty organization.

For the two-plus decades that I’ve been in dog sports that’s the public face the AKC has put on.  Not just for me but for many others. From time to time someone has asked me, “Willard, have you ever sent a letter to the AKC and gotten no answer?”  At which point I’d chuckle.  “Oh yes,” I’d reply, “several times.”

And then there have been the disgruntled alums of various AKC advisory committees.  Mind you, the grumbling comes from credible, well-regarded leaders in the competition obedience world – because (and this is the way it should be) that’s who’s invited to serve on advisory committees – experienced people who know what’s going on.

I hadn’t been in the sport two years – scarcely long enough to figure out which end of the leash attaches to the dog – when I heard from a friend who had been on multiple obedience advisory committees.  A person who later would be honored by the AKC with a lifetime achievement award.  “It’s very disappointing, “ she told me.  “They send us a ton of stuff to study, all of the suggestions that have been submitted.  We read each one, evaluate it, work our tails off before and at the committee meeting.  Then when our suggestions reach the board, they ignore most of them.  Oh, they may throw us a bone or two, but largely our hard work goes for naught.  Advisory committees are only window dressing.

More recently another advisory committee member said, “We all work very hard to prepare for the meeting.  But every time they listen only to a couple of members of the group.”  And she named two names which screamed, “old, old guard!”

Most recently the AKC convened a rally advisory committee.  And, oh boy!  What a firestorm that one ignited.  A few weeks ago the new rally regulations draft was posted.  Here are excerpts from the comments of one prominent member of the group.

“We took our jobs very seriously and spent hours working on it.  We were shocked and dismayed when we discovered that what was being sent to the board of directors for consideration had very little resemblance (if any) to what we had proposed.  There are things in the document that we never/ever/ever discussed or even considered – (things that) didn’t cross our minds.

This blog post started out to talk about arrogance, and there’s a whole boatload of that here.  As well as a generous measure of stupidity.

Folks, this is Public Relations 101.  You don’t ask your public for advice, then blow them off.  If you don’t seek advice in the first place, you generally have a neutral situation.  But select a group of highly credible, highly visible opinion leaders, ask them to advise you, then flip a bird at their suggestions and you’ve created a bunch of well respected people bad-mouthing you . . . and being listened to and believed.  That’s what the AKC does each time they hold a “window dressing” advisory committee.

Recently I featured a series of posts on the subject of poop.  Nothing’s changed here.  This post is about the same thing.  About how the AKC keeps stepping in it.



ard myself as an authority on corporate arrogance.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


When I prepare these posts, I first write them out on a yellow pad, do some rewriting and finally enter them on the computer.  So there's a lag.

When last I communicated, Bravo! was on a regimen of 40mg. of prednisone each day, 20mg. of omeprazole twice a day and 37.5 mg. of azathioprine daily.  And of course the special diet.

All of which had zero impact.  The soft poops, punctuated periodically by old-fashioned diarrhea, continued.  After a few weeks, Dr. Matz said, "That's not working," and he made some changes.  Bravo! stayed on the prednisone, but the dose was dropped from 40 to 30mg. a day.  Which did nothing to reduce his insatiable need for water and the resulting pee,pee,pee, 24/7.

Dr. Matz eliminated the azathioprine, much to my relief, and added 100mg. of cyclosporine each day.  Ah, now we had graduated to the solid gold stuff -- $6 a day.  And he added three 250mg. capsules of tylosin each day.  "It acts pretty much the same as metronidazole," he told me, "but it's less toxic."  That was music to my ears.  Bravo!'s one bout with metronidazole toxicity was enough to last a lifetime.  He added that there were studies indicating that metronidazole, taken in sufficient quantities, is a carcinogen.  Wonderful.

And he again changed Bravo!'s diet -- at which point I threw away a nearly full bag ($80) of the previous diet.

So we set sail under the new regimen, and for a few days Bravo!'s stool improved dramatically -- I was picking up 8s (on my previously described 10-point scale) in the backyard.  His stool hadn't been that good since the poop wars started on May 16.

Then, on a Wednesday morning, things started downhill.  By late Saturday we were down to ones and twos -- diarrhea by any other name.  By Monday he was running like a faucet.  Curiously, only when it was a normal time for a bowel movement.  Not once since this siege began in mid-May has he asked to go outside for that purpose. And not one accident in the house.  Diarrhea, but no urgency.

I talked to Dr. Matz on Tuesday.  He was convinced that the current regimen is the right one.  But he said, "Try giving Bravo! a little Imodium AD.  It comes in 1mg. tablets.  Two-thirds of one of those three times a day should be right for him."

If you've ever taken Imodium AD, you'll understand this:  I defy you to come up with two-thirds of one of those tiny tablets.  So I bailed and gave him 1mg. in the morning, one in the evening and one-half at noon.

His stool began to improve immediately and sustained a level of 7 or 8.  Most recently I'm seeing more and more 9s.

The Imodium AD was added in, pretty much as an emergency measure, only a few days after we started the new drugs, tylosin and cyclosporin.  Which begs the question:  Is the improvement due to adding the Imodium AD or due to the new drug combination?  Seeking the answer, four days ago I began slowly withdrawing the Imodium AD while holding the rest of the regimen constant.  So far the quality of Bravo!'s stool has held -- in fact, I'm seeing more 9s.

And that's where this series of posts ends.  Bravo! isn't going to to be cured of the lymphangiectasia.  Perhaps if we're lucky we can keep it down to a dull roar.  In any case, lymphangiectasia is staggeringly expensive.  I have a friend who refers to her lymphangiectasia-deceased border collie as "my $10K dog."  Right now we're approaching $6,000 in vet bills.  Most who have followed this series had never heard of lymphangiectasia, certainly never encountered it.  Just hope you never do.

P.S.  It Never Rains But What It Pours Department:  To look at Bravo! you'd never know he has a problem.  And his desire to train and compete has not diminished.  Several weeks ago he competed in the Phoenix Field & Obedience Club trials.  And while they weren't his all-time best runs, he did place in Utility B.

A few days later he began refusing jumps.  I had his hips x-rayed.  His right hip, which showed no sign of a problem when he was x-rayed at one year of age, is now badly arthritic.  I retired him from obedience competition on the spot.  He'll do a little rally just to keep him active.  Rally novice at first, then we'll see if he's comfortable with the 16-inch jump.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I called Dr. Matz on Monday morning and told him about our Saturday siege with metronidazole toxicity.  “We’d better give him another day,” the Tucson internist said.  “Let’s move him from Tuesday to Wednesday.”  The endoscopy schedule was already full for Wednesday, “but we’ll work him in,”  Dr. Matz said.  “Have him here by 9 o’clock.”

So here we went again.  Up several hours before dawn. . . . same drill.  Only this time around Dr. Matz wanted him to start fasting after his breakfast on Tuesday morning.

“Working in” an endoscopy turned out to require a scheduling shoehorn. We arrived at 8:30; they finally took Bravo! in for his procedure at 4:30 that afternoon.

I had brought a lunch, which I ate in my van.  Early in the afternoon a person at the reception desk gave me directions to a gelato place a few miles away.  There I had not one but two large chocolate malts . . . made with chocolate chip ice cream.  Who ever heard of making a malt with chocolate chip ice cream?  And why is that important enough to chronicle here?

 Baby, you sit in a veterinary hospital waiting room for ten straight hours and a chocolate malt made with chocolate chip ice cream becomes the major adventure of your day.

Bravo! was out of the recovery room and we were pulling out of the parking lot at 6:30 that evening – 12 hours after we had left home and 37 hours since Bravo! had eaten his most recent meal.  I had brought a light meal for him, and my little guy wolfed it down in the back seat.

But we had a diagnosis.

Yes, Bravo had inflammatory bowel disease.  He also had a duodenal ulcer – bacterially caused, Dr. Matz presumed.  But the biggie, a condition secondary to the inflammatory bowel disease, was lymphangiectasia.  Until early that Wednesday evening in Tucson, I had never heard the word – and oh! do I wish that were still the case!

Lymphangiectasia can be caused by a host of things.  In Bravo!’s case, the inflammatory bowel disease seems to have led to inflammation of the lymph vessels in his small intestine.  That inflammation and the resultant swelling have caused reduced lymph flow, which, in turn, has created a malabsorption problem.  Hence the near-diarrhea and weight loss.

Treatment of the disease involves rigidly controlled diet and medication.  Lymphangiectasia is rarely cured but can remain in remission for a long time. It can be fatal if the dog is unresponsive to treatment, and many dogs are.  Since it became known that Bravo! and I are battling this disease, I’ve heard from several people who have gone through this nightmare.  I have yet to hear about one happy outcome. (If you have been there and have a story with a happy ending, please share it with the readers of this blog.)

And what is Bravo!’s treatment?  Oh Lord!  (What follows here is the regimen we started in mid-October.  There have been some significant recent modifications which  I’ll discuss later.)

Following the endoscopy, Dr. Matz started Bravo! on:

n      20mg. of prednisone twice a day.  I have never before had an animal on such high doses of prednisone, and the immediate effects have been an eye-opener.  Literally.  His intake and output of fluid are keeping us hopping 24/7.  His urination schedule is at least every two hours.  And if we’re smart – that is, if we want to avoid an accident in the house – we better get him out in the backyard at 90-minute intervals.  Which means someone has to be here.

“Why don’t you put in a doggie door?” I’ve been asked ad nauseam.  We live at the base of a mountain . . .  and there are critters.  No doggie door!

Three or four times overnight one of us gets up and sends Bravo! out.  It’s what happens when he gets out there that astonishes me.  How can a dog pee that long?  How can he hold so much urine to begin with – and not let fly in the house?  (So far, so good.)  Talk about a good dog!

I couldn’t resist.  Finally I took a stopwatch out there with us.  Picture this:  It’s 2:30a.m.  Bravo! and I are out in the backyard, illuminated by the floodlights.  I’m in my pajamas, holding a stopwatch on the dog while he pees.  1 minute and 43 seconds!  That’s a long time to hold your leg up and pee.  Try it.

Then there are the possible long-term effects of the prednisone.  Not the least of which is possible shortening of the dog’s lifespan.  Add to that increased susceptibility to viral, fungal or bacterial diseases enhanced by the immunosuppressive properties of prednisone.  To say nothing of possible pancreatitis.  And at least some amount of muscular weakness.

n      37.5mg. of azathioprine each day.  It’s an immunosuppressant – another one! Known by its brand name of Imuran, it’s often used to suppress kidney transplants in humans.  The side effects of azathioprine can be nasty and can include damage to red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.  To say nothing of the long-term effects of its role in suppression of bone marrow.
      The possible ravages of prednisone and azathioprine certainly warrant vigilance, in the form of frequent blood tests.

n      He’s also getting 20mg. of omeprazole twice a day.  Initially that was prescribed to treat the duodenal ulcer, but it also protects the stomach from possible damage inflicted by the prednisone.  We get the omeprazole at Costco, over the counter.  And you wouldn’t believe the packaging.  If you didn’t see the name splashed all over the multi-hued box or didn’t know what it meant, you’d think you were purchasing a box of cheap Easter candy.

* * *

What about the possible long-term ravages of some of these drugs?  In a word, scary!  But it comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils.  You can sit back and watch the progression of the disease wipe him out, or you can administer powerful (albeit risky) drugs that give him the best chance to recover – or in this case the best chance at remission.

The decision here is to stand and fight.

To be continued.



Friday, December 2, 2011


The hydrolyzed, hypoallergenic diet didn't work.  On to Plan B.  We rescheduled the endoscopy for Tuesday, October 11.

But nothing in this endless saga has been simple or has run true to form.  Since May 16 it had been a relentless daily battle just to keep Bravo!'s bowel movements from degenerating into runny (life-threatening?) diarrhea.  As I said earlier, none of the standard treatments even fazed the problem.

At the end of August we had put Bravo! on 500mg. of metronidazole twice a day.  That's 1000 mg. a day, a high dose.  But, as Dr. Toben put it, "not crazy high."  It fell well short of solving the problem but, as I told him, "It's keeping it down to a dull roar." 

I was made acutely aware of the risks.  High doses of metronidazole can have neurologic side effects -- one of which might be ataxia, inability of the dog to control certain muscles, usually resulting in loss of control of the legs.

None of that was happening with Bravo!  From time to time I told Dr. Toben, "So far so good."

The day Dr. Matz put Bravo! on the hydrolyzed diet he said, "Take him off the metronidazole and prednisone; they're not doing him any good anyway."  We did.  But not only did the diet not help Bravo!, by the third day after he was off the metronidazole he had yellow, runny diarrhea.  Back on the metronidazole he went.

Then, on Saturday, October 8, three days before Bravo! was due for his endoscopy, all hell broke loose.  When we got up that morning, he stumbled slightly as he went out the door into the backyard.  And his back end seemed a little wobbly.  After breakfast I set up a 20-inch high jump.  I wanted to test, to find out what I had there.  He jumped without difficulty.

But by 9 o'clock that morning he was staggering noticeably.  And around 10 o'clock he tried to get up from lying on the rug, only to roll over on his side.

Metronidazole toxicity, I thought.  Dr. Toben was about 20 miles away, at his kids' volleyball tournament.  I talked to him on the phone twice that day and voiced my fears about metronidazole toxicity.  Dr. Toben was unwilling to immediately jump to that conclusion.  "If he can't control his hind legs it could be a spinal column problem," he said. "If this persists I want to see him first thing tomorrow (Sunday) morning."

But as darkness fell that evening, it became clear to me that we shouldn't let things drift overnight.  We talked again at 8 o'clock.  Dr. Toben was on his way home from the tournament. When I told him Bravo! now could hardly stand up, he said, "Meet me at the hospital a little after nine."

When I got there he was waiting in the parking lot.  I carried Bravo! in my arms while Dr. Toben unlocked the door, turned the light on  and disarmed the alarm.

I set Bravo! down on the floor and he collapsed. "Oh!" Dr. Toben said, and he went to work.  Various neurologic tests showed a definite nervous system problem. Then he shined a light in Bravo!'s eyes.  That's when he saw the involuntary rapid eye movements, calle nystagmus.  And that's when he bought into my diagnosis, metronidazole toxicity.

Just to cover all the bases, he first gave Bravo! an intravenous injection of cortisone.  Then he added an intradermal injection of Valium, the treatment of choice for metronidazole toxicity.

"If he isn't a lot better by morning," the veterinarian said, "have him here by 7:30.  I'll call in a technician and we'll do an X-ray."

By the time we got home that evening at 10:30, Bravo! was able to move around on his own.  By Sunday morning his symptoms had disappeared.

So much for metronidazole.

To be continued.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Summer progressed and so did the disease.  We stumbled along on a treatment treadmill to nowhere. Day after day after day of the same old/same old.  Stool quality hitting an 8 occasionally -- just enough to raise false hope -- but far too often in the range of 3 to 5.

Through it all Bravo! seemed to feel good.  When it was time to cut loose, he cut loose.  When it was time to grab a toy and spin, he grabbed a toy and spun like a maniac.  Whenever he spied an opportunity he'd bring me his ball and we'd play until I wore out.

True, he was skinny, but his abundant, shiny coat hid that fact.  Until very recently, his coat stayed in perfect condition.  Now I'm seeing a little bit of rattiness in the area of his rear end.

At first I vacillated about his training.  Early on I shut him down for several weeks.  But it was clear he wanted to go train.  He couldn't understand how I kept forgetting.  And he was perpetually looking me directly in the face in the morning when it was time to leave for the park.

I talked to Dr. Toben about it.  "If he wants to go, I'd take him," he said.  "I think it would be good for him.  Just don't overdo it."

We went and he loved it.  On Sunday mornings, when our Wow Wob Bassackwards Utility Group did ring run-throughs, I had always done Utility and Open with Bravo!  Now I found that he was sharp, rarin' to go in the first ring (usually Utility) but a little less so in the second.  I described it as "flat" in the second ring.  So I began limiting our Sunday practice to one ring, usually Utility.  After all, my little guy is OTCH-bound and Utility is where most of the points are.

Several times Chuck Toben offered to refer me to a veterinary internist to get a specialist's take on our problem.  But two decades-plus of extraordinary success with Dr. Toben, two decades of the most wonderful veterinarian/client relationship imaginable, made me reluctant to go anywhere else.  But come September, approaching the four-month anniversary of this maddening saga, I was ready to seek an opinion from a fresh perspective.

Having reached that decision, I didn't need a referral.  In Part 1 of this series I spoke of Dr. Jim Boulay, the Tucson orthopedic surgeon who had done exemplary work for three of my dogs.  In 2004 Dr. Boulay had added entrepreneurship to his Renaissance man career.  He had built a multi-specialty veterinary facility in north Tucson.  The new hospital opened with 10,000 square feet amid rave reviews and architectural awards for functional design excellence.  By 2011, Veterinary Specialty Center Tucson had expanded to 32,000 square feet and houses 26 doctors, 11 of them board-certified specialists.  Anyone who has spent a career in university teaching hospitals, as I did, knows how beneficial it is to patients to have a group of specialists like that all within bare-headed walking distance of one another.

Above all, what I had taken away from my several previous experiences with Dr. Boulay was this:  Everything he touches turns to excellence.

So I went online to see who in that group practice was board-certified in internal medicine.  Two were listed.  So I called Jim Boulay.  He immediately said, "Oh Willard, Mike Matz is the man for you."  He went on to say that Dr. Matz is nationally recognized for his work with the very types of problems Bravo! is having.

During that conversation I told Dr. Boulay what has been going on and that we were quite certain we are dealing with inflammatory bowel.

"How do you know it's inflammatory bowel?" Dr. Boulay wanted to know.

"We did an abdominal ultrasound in June," I told him.

He was adamant as he said, "I would never, never accept a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel on the basis of an ultrasound.  Bravo! needs an endoscopy."

Before I hung up the phone that morning I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Matz for September 22.  The plan was we'd begin with a consultation, then Bravo! would get an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy.

I knew it wasn't going to be a wonderful  day for either of us.  Bravo! would begin fasting the evening before.  We'd be up at 4:30 a.m., out of there by 6:30 for our 125-mile trip.  And by the time the procedure and the recovery room were over, Bravo! was discharged and we'd schlepped 125 miles the other direction, a grinding day would come to an end.

Dr. Matz did the most thorough diagnostic medical examination (workup) I've ever experienced. Question- and answer-wise he turned me every way but loose.  Great!

Then it was time for the endoscopy.  Dr. Matz left the examining room and I had about 10 minutes to think before a technician would come for Bravo!  Alone in the room with my little guy, I replayed this part of the consult:

Dr. Matz was going to switch Bravo! to a hypoallergenic hydrolyzed diet.  Hydrolyzed means the protein in the diet is broken down into molecules too small to excite the immune system. He would be sending us home with a big bag of Royal Canin HP 19.  As I waited in the examining room, one comment Dr. Matz had made stuck out in my mind.  He had said, "Since hydrolyzed diets came on the market several years ago, I've had to scope 50 percent less patients."

Well then, I thought, might it not make sense to try Bravo! on the hypoallergenic diet for a reasonable period, see if the symptoms improved, then, if not, come back for the endoscopy?  Why subject the little guy to a general anesthetic, only to learn after the fact that diet could control the problem?  Oh, and by the way, why do a procedure estimated to cost between $1363 and $1467 only to learn later . . . . .?

So when the technician came for Bravo! I told him I wanted to talk to Dr. Matz again.  Back in he came.  And he said if I didn't mind repeating the 250-mile roundtrip, my reasoning made all kinds of sense.

We were outta there and home shortly after noon.  I heard Bravo! tell Cheddar, "They never laid an endoscope on me!"

To be continued.


Friday, November 25, 2011


In Part 1 (Nov. 22) we learned that Bravo! had started with the "soft poops" on May 16.  All the standard initial tests were normal.  So Dr. Toben X-rayed the little guy's abdomen.  That word again: "normal."

And, of course, he drew blood for the obligatory valley fever test (coccidioidomycosis, a spore).  The Valley of the Sun is also the valley of the spore, and if a dog even blinks wrong around here the first thing they test for is valley fever.  The spores emanate from the soil in our arid climate.  Valley fever is common among people here in the desert, and it's much worse among dogs because their noses are closer to the ground.  Bravo!'s valley fever test was normal.  Everything was normal except what I was seeing on the ground in the backyard.

So we took the next diagnostic step, called  fecal culture toxin panel 1.  I called it the "loudenboomer" test because it cost $300.  That seemed high at the time, but little did I know that, expenditure-wise, we were only beginning batting practice.  Again, every test included in that panel was normal.

And the soft poops continued.  "My guess, Willard, would be inflammatory bowel disease," Dr. Toben said.  His guess!  If Chuck Toben were a stock broker, I'd be filthy rich.  Twenty-plus years of hitting the nail right on the head have made Dr. Toben's guesses almost sure things in my mind.

Across the next few months, we exhausted everything in the veterinary bag of tricks known to treat inflammatory bowel disease:  amoxi-tabs, metronidazole, low doses of prednisone, panacur granules, and probably a few things my mind is fighting to repress.  Years ago, with earlier dogs, I had success treating (normal) diarrhea with a drug called Amforal.  That drug is no longer on the market, but when all else fails . . .  Dr. Toben had the drug compounded.  The result of all this?  Zilch.  Zilch.  And more zilch.

On June 24 Bravo! had an abdominal ultrasound (ka-ching!) which confirmed Dr. Toben's "guess."  One loop of the small intestine showed signs of inflammatory bowel disease.  That hardly satisfied us.  Both Dr. Toben and I reasoned that  Bravo! has a lot more intestine in there to to a job that clearly wasn't/isn't being done.

Overly simplified, here's how it works.  As food and water pass through the intestines, nutrients and water are absorbed.  "Bravo! has a motility problem," Dr. Toben told me.  He meant that food and water were moving through the intestines much too quickly, not allowing time to be absorbed.  Resulting in varying degrees of soft stool -- all the way from what I called the "soft poops" to occasional watery diarrhea.

Well, Bravo! had an absorption problem, all right.  Early in the summer, across a period of slightly more than two weeks, my 38.5-pound border collie dropped to 32.25, a loss of 6.25 pounds.  Scary!

I've said that the "wetness" of Bravo!'s stool varied from day to day and usually from bowel movement to bowel movement within the same day.  How do you effectively communicate that to a veterinarian who is not standing next to you in the backyard?  On the phone, he's asking:  How is it now?  Is it better?  Worse?  How much better?  How much worse?

So I dreamed up a 10-point scale to describe what Bravo! was contributing to our dilemma at any given time.  A 10 would be dry, perfectly formed stool -- like what Cheddar, my golden retriever, was offering up (down?) most of the time.  A zero would be the worst diarrhea you can imagine, gravy-like and running like a faucet.

I found this quite effective as I gave telephone reports to Dr. Toben.

Then, flush with my own brilliance, I created a second scale, the Residue Index.  This index, also using a scale of 1 to 10, described, for want of a better word, the smeariness of what was on the ground, how difficult it was to pick up (using the baggie-covered-hand method), how much residue was left in the grass.  Residue I would then dispatch with a now-always-handy hose.

Alas, I quickly found that the values recorded using my Residue Index were badly skewed by a troublesome variable -- the length of the grass.  So much for the Residue Index.

Through all of this -- from day one of the soft poops on -- one thing has had Dr. Toben and me mystified.  At no time -- not once -- has there been any urgency about Bravo!'s need to poop.  Not once in these 6+ months has he asked to go outside for that purpose.  And not once has he had an accident in the house.  When I take him out, after meals, in between, whenever it's appropriate, he does his thing.

Dr. Toben has asked me about it multiple times.  I tell him what I've said above.  He shakes his head and says, "I have dogs in here with diarrhea evey day.  And those dogs are frantic to go outside, seven, eight times a day."  He shakes his head again:  "I don't understand it."

To be continued.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Betcha can't pronounce it on the first try.  Or even the second.  Now look away from the screen and try to say it.  And that's the easy part.

But I'm getting ahead of my story.

Bravo! walked in through our front door on April 26, 2006.  He was a rescue, eight months old.  At the time, Barbara and I were active in Arizona Border Collie Rescue.  The plan was we'd keep Carson (that was his name at the time) for three days, until the person who was going to foster him returned from out of town.  As I post this, three days have turned into 2033.

Bravo! as I quickly renamed him, was an owner turn-in.  The people brought him to our house at 2 o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon.  The first thing you learn as you work in rescue is that everybody's lying to you.  Carson's owners' cover story was they were moving to Denver and would be living in an apartment for two years.  Blah . . .blah . . . blah (with an appropriate dash of tears).  The truth?  They had gotten in over their heads with a border collie.

Their car had hardly disappeared down the street when I had the little guy out in the backyard, a treat in my left hand, right above his nose, "heeling."  And it was unmistakeable:  "Oh, I like this!" he told me. Do you believe in love at first sight?  Bravo! and I do now.

At 4 o'clock that afternoon he ran into our master bathroom, jumped into the bathtub and pooped there.  The next morning he leaped up on our kitchen counter, walked across it and stole a loaf of bread.  At which point I gave a thumbs up and said, "This is my kind of dog!"

Later that day I told Kelly Quinn, co-founder and president of Arizona Border Collie Rescue, "Don't put Carson on the website just yet.  This is an extraordinary dog.  I'd like to live with him for a week or so; maybe I'll end up keeping him." 

One time a friend who is also an obedience competitor said, "Willard, you have the worst luck with dogs and their physical ailments . . . even though you always do your due diligence."

Indeed!  Broken bones, an anterior cruciate ligament tear, cataract surgery and lens implants, a total hip replacement, valley fever, and on and on.  All part of my history with competition obedience dogs. So before I irrevocably decided to keep the little guy, I spent $1000 to get him fully checked -- blood work, X-rays, the works.  And he was in mint condition.

Then I contacted the former owner who had never registered him. She signed the ownership transfer papers and I had him registered:  Lock-Eye Phantom of the Opera (to reflect his split face).  And what does the audience cry at the conclusion of an excellent operatic performance?  BRAVO!

And so it began.

The end of that July, coming out of the show grounds at the Conejo Kennel Club trial in Oxnard, California -- where Bravo! had hung out, heeled and socialized while Cheddar went high combined -- Bravo! was holding up his left hind leg.  Bottom line:  a badly fractured patella (kneecap).  No one has any idea how it happened; such a fracture would have required a mighty blow, such as being hit by a car.  But there had been nothing.  Nothing!  And a review of the preadoption X-rays showed no fracture.

A local veterinary orthopedic surgeon examined Bravo! and was all set to cut and sew.  But I turned to my go-to guy in Tucson.  Dr. Jim Boulay (formerly chief of surgery at the renowned Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston) had done one of the first TPLOs in Arizona on my golden, Honeybear.  Later, as part of a clinical trial he was involved in with the University of Zurich, Dr. Boulay installed the Zurich Cementless Total Hip in Bebop, my first border collie.  It turned out to be Bebop's strongest limb as he jumped like a deer (actually more like a maniac) for the rest of his obedience career.

Dr. Boulay recommended against surgery for Bravo!'s kneecap, saying, "If you can keep Bravo! relatively quiet (!!!), I think we'll get a fibrous union (cartilage), and that should be plenty adequate for what he wants to do."  Five months later Dr. Boulay turned Bravo! loose to resume training for competition.

Fast forward to this past spring.  On April 16, at a Grand Canyon German Shepherd Dog Club all-breed obedience trial, Bravo! finished both his UDX2 and his Obedience Master2 on the same day.  He had accumulated 39 OTCH points.  Seventeen of those points had come just a short time earlier as a result of a Utility B win.  Little did I know he would not see an obediece competition ring again for seven months.

On May 16 I took him out in the backyard for his after-breakfast bowel movement.  It was soft, almost too soft to pick up.  I didn't think much of it. That tends to happen for no apparent reason with dogs, and it usually clears up by the next day.  But this time it didn't, it got worse.  Not diarrhea, but plenty soft.

On May 18 I took him to Apollo Animal Hospital, to Dr. Chuck Toben who has been our veterinarian for more than two decades.  They did a fecal smear and sent a stool samply to the lab. Both showed no parasites or bacteria.  They were normal.  The word "normal" would become the bane of my existence across the ensuing months.

To be continued.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I've taught Bravo! to respond to hand signals using traditional methods.  I'm not completely satisfied with the end product.  If there's one thing that gives me anxiety in the Utility B ring it's that Bravo! will glance away just as I start to give the signal, and we'll flunk.  It's not a debilitating problem, but he's done it three or four times in his career -- just enough to make signals the only Utility exercise I'm uncertain about.

THEREFORE . . .  This is a series about attention.  My dog's attention to hand signals is nothing to write home about.  Sandra Davis is one of the most creative, successful competitors in our sport.  The method she uses to teach signals for dependability is interesting.  So here goes.

"To me," Sandra says, "there are two exercises where the dog's attention to the handler is crucial -- heeling and signals.  Of those two, the signal exercise is the most critical because if you lose attention you fail."

Sandra's method of teaching signals begins in her dining room, on the dining room table, when the puppy is about 12 weeks old.  She puts a rubber mat on the table and stands the puppy on it.  She teaches the stand, the drop and the sit, in that order.  No come, because the dog is on a table.  She teaches that separately for Novice.

I'll try, with words, to help you picture what her hand signals look like.

Stand signal  Sandra stands with her arms hanging at her sides.  She thrusts her right hand out, palm facing the dog, thumb extended.  The hand, flat and stiff, ends up about a foot from her thigh.

Drop signal  Right arm and hand extended straight above the head.

Sit signal  Underhand scoop with her left hand.

Sandra adds a verbal command to each of these hand signals and teaches them over an extended period of time.

As Sandra begins to train her dog he is on leash (on the table).  Later on a flexi -- "So that I have a little tension on the dog," she says.  Over time, she backs away gradually to six feet with the leash, 26 feet with the flexi.

During the period when the dog is on the table, Sandra is very precise about rewards and corrections.  If the dog responds correctly to a signal, Sandra first says, "Good," then walks back to the dog and rewards him (using the same kibble he finds in his bowl).  "I say, 'Good' before I take my first step," she explains.  If the dog misses a signal, Sandra says, "Aach!" before she takes her first step to return.

"I want the dog to know whether I'm coming back to praise or blame," she says.  "I think that's only fair."

Proofing begins while the dog is still on the table.  "I get my husband to say something or open a door," she told me.  "Anything to take the dog's eyes off of me.  Then I give the signal.  I set it up; I want to control this.  I don't want to go out in the world and have uncontrolled proofing."

During the proofing stage, the dog learns the corrections for not paying attention.  If the dog misses a drop, Sandra pops him on the shoulder.  If it's a sit, Sandra raps him under the chin.  "These are not severe corrections," she says, "but the dog knows.  He learns he better not take his eyes off of me.'

She continues.  "The dog learns that all these things that can distract him can also get him into trouble if he succumbs to them.  They are little traps, and he can avoid them by watching.  And because he learns this on a table, he isn't going anywhere."

When Sandra says, "Aach!" thedog's ears go down.  If it's a drop he missed, he belatedly drops.  But Sandra treats the situation as if the dog hadn't dropped at all.  She goes back and pops him on the shoulder, then returns to the signal-giving position.  Then she goes back to the dog and starts all over again by gently, physically putting him in a stand.

"It's a lot of walking back and forth," she admits, "until the light finally dawns:  'Oh, I win by watching.' "

Eventually the dog graduates from the table to the floor.  There Sandra places a stick in front of him so he won't travel forward.  Then the training proceeds on the floor, on a flexi, just as it did on the table.

Some trainers insist that their dogs pay attention to their backs when they leave the dog during the recall, the drop on recall or the signal exercise.  Sandra does not.  "The dog can look and gawk all he wants while my back is turned," she says.  "I think it would drive a dog crazy to be corrected for not looking at your back.  But when I turn around he'll be looking at me because he learns how long it takes me to walk across the ring."

End of series on attention.


Friday, November 4, 2011


Once you're certain that Rover is committed to following that treat . . . that's perched out at the end of the stick . . . that protrudes from your belt . . .directly above the seam of your pants . . . it's time to move the stick and the treat to the armband position.

Think about it.  What can you take into the ring as a training aid to help your dog maintain perfect heeling position?  Certainly not food concealed in your hand.  Certainly not a toy concealed in your armpit.  But what if you turn your armband into a focal point?  YES!

That's what we're doing here.  That's the end product of all we've done, beginning with the little follow exercises when Fluffy was a puppy.

The plate now attaches to a one-inch-wide strip of Velcro.  That Velcro strip goes around the bicep, over the armband. The stick, now considerably shorter, remains screwed into the plate.  I start this phase with the stick about two inches long.  Now my dog sees the treat perched on the end of the shortened stick emanating from the armband.  Once we reach this stage, I always have my armband on when I train . . . always, always!

Let's pause right here.  I want to caution as strongly as I can about a pifall that should be avoided if you want this system to work.

I'm never without the armband and the treat.  At practice matches I wear it in the ring.  At trials the Velcro band comes off right before we enter the ring.  People see me heeling around that way, my dog well focused.  Occasionally someone wants to know where to get one of those things they see on my arm.  I try to warn them.  I'm all too familiar with the trap they're about to fall into.  Because once upon a time I fell into it.

Back in the day . . .  Bebop, my first border collie, was a world-class forger/wrapper.  If points had been awarded for forging, we'd have gone high in trial at every show.  Unfortunately, they're deducted.

Once, in Open B, my little maniac decided to wrap almost all the way around in front of me just as our judge called a fast.  I leapt over him.  Bebop quickly scrambled back into heel position . . . and we won the class.

I'd see Louise Meredith heeling her dogs around before shows, her attention stick on her left bicep, her dogs in perfect heel position.  And I knew that device was exactly what I needed to fix that infernal forging.  So I asked her where I could get one of those things.  I didn't know Louise very well at the time and she was too nice to tell me I was barking up the wrong tree.

The attention stick came in the mail.  I put it on and away we went. It didn't make one bit of difference.  Bebop continued to forge until the day I retired him with a UDX 2.

Here comes the gospel, folks:  What I've been describing in this series is a process.  You can't let the problems take root, then slap the attention stick on and expect it to work.  It won't.  Let me repeat:  Pinpoint heeling is a long, arduous process. 

It was sometime later that Louise gave me a piece of advice I'll never forget.  "How do you stop your dogs from forging?" I asked her. Her answer:  "I never let them start."  And that's what pinpoint heeling is all about.

Enough warning.

Once the stick and the food get to my armband, I treat the introduction the same way I treat each step of the process.  We don't just go marching off.  We start with, "Look!"  Then two or three steps, then, Get it!"  Then we build from there.

I keep the stick and treat in their original position for a long, long time.  Eventually, after Bowser is really focused, I cut the stick way back -- a half inch, max.  Then I turn it around so that the treat is under my arm, not so visible.  When I say, "Get it!"  I raise my arm to make the treat accessible.

One more thing about where I carry my supply of treats.  Every shirt I own for training or showing has two generous breast pockets, preferably with flaps.  The treats that go on the stick come out of the upper left pocket.  Doesn't that make sense?  If you want the dog's focus to be up there, shouldn't he know that's where the treats come from?  Not from a fanny pack on your right side or in back, or from a pants pocket that you dig around in to eventually come up with a treat.  And certainly not from your mouth -- that causes the dog to focus on your face and invites wrapping.

The rest of this story can be summed up by the following old joke:  A stranger in Manhattan is trying to attend a concert, but he's lost.  He comes upon a hippie.  "Excuse me," the stranger says, "can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?"  And the hippie replies, "Practice, man, practice!"

* * *

The pinpoint heeling equipment mentioned in this series (as well as plenty of other good stuff) is available from Laurie Burnam.  You can visit her website at http://www.poochabilitydogtraining.com/ . Laurie can be reached at bellaluna@pacbell.net .  Or by phone at 1-818-784-8440.
Laurie told me she'll give a 10% discount to anyone who mentions this blog.  Such a deal!

Next (and last in this series):  One way to teach signals for maximum attention


Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Once you have proceeded through the process -- and don't be a doofus, it is a process; shortcuts don't work -- and you've got the treat at your waist with Trixie homed in on it, you're ready to introduce the attention stick.  It's sometimes called a "heeling helper," depending on who's selling it.

The attention stick seems largely to be a California thing, the brainchild of AnneMarie Silverton.  I find that most trainers in the eastern two-thirds of the United States have never heard of it.

It is about an eighth of an inch in diameter and varies in length.  I use one about seven inches long.  It's slightly beveled at one end to make it easy to slip little cubes of food on it. (I use Pet Botanics.  It's nuritionally balanced, comes in a roll and is available at PetSmart.  Red Barn makes a similar product.)  The other end of the stick is threaded to screw into a plate which the handler first wears on a belt, directly above the seam of the left pants leg; later it progresses to a focal point above the left elbow, wrapped around the armband.

But first things first.  As I introduce the stick with food on it, I hold it in position belt-high and aligned with the seam of my pants.  The pitfalls here have to do with holding the stick absolutely still.  Remember, you're trying to teach perfect heel position, not heeling in the same zip code.  So if you wave the stick around, heel position keeps changing, doesn't it?  Worse, if you allow the hand and the stick to drift forward, you'll pull the dog forward, encouraging forging and wrapping.  It's optional whether you carry the stick in your left hand or right hand.  I've chosen the extend my right arm across the front of my body, anchoring the stick/treat right where I want it.  Too, it frees my left hand to carry a leash if I'm using one.

The stick serves three purposes:
  -- First, it helps get my dog in the habit of looking up.  Two things are working for me here:  motivation (food drive) and habit formation.  And the teat is now very obvious, perched out there on the end of the stick.
  -- Second, properly  and consistently positioned, the stick teaches pinpoint heeling.
  -- And, properly and consistently positioned, it discourages a multitude of heeling sins -- forging, lagging, crowding, inattention.  And it keeps the dog in a straight line.

"But," you say, "isn't Fluffy going to try to steal the food?"  YES!  I tell my students this:  "As long as she's trying to steal the treat, she's looking at it.  Which is what you want, isn't it?"  You combat that by fending her off with your free hand.  And remember the command, "Get it"?  We introduced that way back when the little puppy was crawling up the front of you to get the treat out of your mouth.  "Get it!" has been your command to get the treat ever since.  By now that command is well-established.

So at the same time you're teaching Fluffy to get the food only on your command,  you aren't sweating the stealing.  I've found that stealing of the food somehow solves itself when the stick gets up to the armband.

But first, after you've gotten Phydeaux used to the food on the stick, you'll screw the stick into the plate on the special belt (right above the seam of the pants).   Note that both hands are free -- the better to fend off your plundering dog. And the stick can't drift.

Again, we stay at this point until the dog is doing really well.

Next:  The treat moves to the armband.



Saturday, October 29, 2011


Earlier we talked about the potential payoffs if your dog is giving you excellent attention in the ring.  Then we turned our own attention to the physical and mental aspects of getting your dog locked in on you during heeling.  We talked about letting Bowser find his own most comfortable head position.

OK, you've got his head in a position that's most likely to help him succeed.  Now what are you going to do with it?  There are many ways to teach heeling.  I happen to be partial to a method called pinpoint heeling.  And since it's my blog, that's what we'll focus on.  So there!

No one in competition obedience today is more proficient at or more of a proponent of pinpoint heeling than Louise Meredith.  Louise credits Anne Marie Silverton with introducing the method.  I, in turn, credit Louise with introducing me -- first by example at shows, then at multiple seminars, but mostly through emails and patient evening telephone conversations.  Louise is as willing to help as she is to clean your clock in the ring.

What follows here is basically Louise's method with a few things I've modified to suit my style or because I'm too dumb to know any better.

Puppy Games 
Ideally I get my dogs when they are seven weeks old.  Because Bravo! is a rescue, he came to me at eight months.  I didn't know what to expect because I had missed some of the most crucial developmental stages. I was pleasantly surprised when both the bonding and learning curves went right through the roof.  But for the purposes of this post let's assume you're starting with a seven-week-old puppy.

I start the first day the puppy is in the house. I sit on the floor, usually in the kitchen, with my legs open and a treat plenty visible between my teeth. As I say, "Watch," I want the puppy to come right up my chest and get the food from between my teeth.  I help him figure this out by pointing to the treat with both index fingers.  That is the first step in letting him know good things happen when he's looking at me.

Let's distinguish between "watch" and "look."  I use "look" to get him to look at me when he's in heel position for the purpose of heeling.  I don't use "look" for anything else.  All other look-at-me commands are "watch."

Also on the very first day, I begin what Louise calls "little follow exercises."  The puppy isn't in heel position yet.  I'm usually backing up, holding the food way down, almost on the puppy's nose.  A few steps, then, "Get it!"

Once he has the idea and is following eagerly, I introduce big circles, little figure eights between my legs, left and right turns.  He has to become really good at these little moves before we progress to the next step.  Which is holding the treat in my left hand with the puppy on my left -- not in heel position yet, just on my left.  I have a decent-size treat between my thumb and index finger, and the food is still very close to his nose.

I hold that treat pretty close to what will become heel position, but at this point it's not about precision.  It's still about following -- in a straight line, large left and right circles, eventually wide left and right turns. At this point it's mostly about orienting the puppy to my left side and getting him thinking that's a great place to be.  Meanwhile, I'm saying, "Look!" and "Get it!'

This method is not for the impatient.  It's for the trainer who enjoys the journey as much as she relishes the destination (titles).  It's about what Bobbie Anderson refers to as "building blocks."  It's about putting together a solid foundation.  If your foundation isn't sound, somewhere down the road the whole thing is going to crumble -- certainly when you get to Utility, if not sooner.

So I take it slowly.  The puppy is on my left.  The food is between the fingertips of my left hand, and now I'm holding it in perfect heel position.  The puppy is following the food.  How well he's following it dictates how quickly I raise it, in tiny increments.  And we're not talking long strolls here.  In the beginning, two or three steps, head up, focused on the treat, then, "Get it!"  And, Louise says, "He has to jump to get the treat.  That, too, reminds him to keep his head up."

Up,up,up -- in small increments.  This takes a long time . . . months.  Eventually you're holding the treat at your belt.  I like to emphasize to students that the food moves up along the line of the seam of your pants.  The worst thing you can do is wave the treat around.  You may catch yourself with the treat following the dog instead of the dog following the treat. That's easy to do.  Don't!  Once you're past the early stages of "little follows," you're trying to get the dog to identify and like heel position.  That's not going to happen if you're waving the treat around.  To avoid that, I grasp the seam of my pants with the remaining fingers as I progress upward toward my belt.

Once the treat is at your belt and Fido is good at focusing on it, you're ready the next step, the attention stick.

Next;  The attention stick.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Attention comes from the head.  Your dog attends with his senses:  sight, hearing, smell.  Those senses bring into play the eyes, ears and nose; all located in the head. Which explains why, in competition obedience, so many of us are obsessed with head position.  Particularly as it relates to the heeling exercises.

Head position is all about the dog looking at you.  But dogs can appear to be looking at you while in reality not looking at you at all.  In From Here to Eternity, James Jones coined the term "the 2000-yard stare."  That's exactly what we're talking about here.  We've all seen or been the victim of the dog who, on the signal exercise, stands out there looking right through you.  You give the signal and Muffie doesn't even twitch.

Debby Boehm, my first instructor and now a close friend -- the person who took me and my Novice A dog Honeybear from intransigence (mine, not HB's) to an OTCH -- has a wonderful definition of real, honest attention.  Here it is:

There are two kinds of attention.  One where the dog is really part of the exercise.  He's with you, spirited, working, strong.  The two of you are connected.  Then there is the so-called "attention" where the dog is only going through the motions.  The two aren't the same.

Dynamic, involved attention finds the dog doing more than just looking at you.  He's with you, a fully committed member of the team.

In the second kind of attention, which boils down to faking it, the dog has learned that to avoid correction he puts his head up.  His eyes seem to be looking at you but his mind is glazed over.  He's going to give you the minimum he can get by with.  And that minimum is going to drop off when he goes into the ring.

With real attention, dog and handler are connected in such a way as to produce strength, and that strength finds its way into the dog's performance.  That real attention spawns dogs who seem to get larger in the ring as opposed to those who seem to shrivel up and say, "I'm worried, I'm scared.

So, assuming you have a dog who, because of want-to, is giving you spirited attention, does that translate into heeling posture where the dog's head is cranked up to true vertical?  Not necessarily.

I like a comment that Midwestern obedience handler Mike Schragel made one time:  "God, (some people) expect too much out of their dogs.  They're heeling their dogs.  The dog's head is straight up, the handler's head is down.  If there was a brick wall, they'd both walk into it."

Mike has a point.  After tinkering with head position for more than two decdes, I prefer that my dog adopts a comfortable head position.  "Comfortable."  Now there's an ambiguous word.  What does comfortable mean?  How can you tell what's comfortable for your dog?  Your dog can't tell you.

"Oh yes he can," Sandra Davis counters.

"I don't ask for more than a dog can give me," she says.  "Structure has something to do with it, the shoulders and the neck.

"I use Dianne Baumann's method," Sandra explains.  "I sit my dog next to me on the left side, in front of a mirror.  I talk to him and he looks up at me.  Wherever his head is when he's looking up as I talk, I figure that's the head position that's comfortable for him."

Makes sense to me.

OK, now we've established that the 2000-yard stare is not acceptable.  And we've come up with one pretty darn good way, I think, of determining optimal head position when heeling. Now what are we going to do with what we've learned to come up with pinpoint heeling?

Did I say pinpoint heeling?  Voila!  That's exactly what we'll talk about in the next several posts -- Pinpoint Heeling.


Friday, October 21, 2011


Every once in a while, at a trial or a match, I'll ask someone, "Do you know what the most interesting thing in the world is? "

The person will look bewildered, then reply, "No, I have no idea.  What is it?"

And my response is, "The most interesting thing in the world is whatever is right outside Bravo!"s ring."

My little rescue border collie is a gawker.

Right about now I hear you thinking, "But I thought border collies have been bred forever to lock on and not let go."

Yeah, but lock on to what?  That's the rub.  And I'll go you one better.  Bravo! is a product of Lock-Eye Kennels in Oklahoma.  Lock-Eye is his first name:  Lock-Eye Phantom of the Opera UDX2, OM2. And  Bravo! is quite capable of living up to his name.

At a park where we practice the group exercises with friends, there's a basketball court adjacent to where we place our line of dogs.  Often we set them up so that the basketball game is going on behind them.  I think Bravo! is a closet NBA fan.  On evenings when the lights are on and the game is going full blast, Bravo! will spend the entire long sit (we practice a four-minute sit) with his head swiveled all the way around, watching the action.  Nothing else moves; his feet stay planted as if they're anchored in cement.  Actually, that's one time when I welcome his gawking.  I believe boredom is a major contributor to dogs going down on the sit.  And as long as Bravo! thinks he's at the NBA finals, I'm pretty confident he won't decide to lie down.

So given that I have a problem that requires constant vigilance and reinforcement, I've given a lot of attention to attention.  Admittedly, some of it belatedly.  Along the way I've learned a few things (many of them the hard way) which I'll pass along in this and the next few posts.  We'll sort of meander around, but the common thread will be attention.

When we bring up the subject of attention in competition obedience, the knee-jerk reaction is to think about two exercises, heeling and signals.  But I've come to think that attention between exercises is equally as important.  Years ago, before I had matured in the sport enough to appreciate such words of wisdom, Louise Meredith told me:  "If you lose your dog between exercises, how can you set up for the next exercise?  If he's gawking around the ring, why is he going to be interested in doing a drop on recall?"

That was in 1999.  It took me a long time to assimilate that.  Early in Bravo!'s career he would wander around between exercises.  Near me, but not with me.  Usually sniffing.  But once I got him in position he was ready to go. A few people got on me about that.  My stock reply was, "Bravo! is like the major league pitcher who stays out and parties all night. Then he shows up for the game and pitches a no-hitter."

I wasn't kidding.  Bravo!'s mastery of the exercises is just that good . . . when he is focused.

I can't remember exactly when I attained enlightenment.  There must have been a critical incident that triggered an epiphany -- probably a day when we bombed and I knew darn well that lack of focus was the culprit.  Anyhow, I decided to take control between exercises.  And it was ridiculously easy.

I used the words "right here," put him on leash after every exercise for a few days, encouraged him to be at my side as we transitioned, at a rapid pace, from exercise to exercise -- and reinforced all this generously with treats.

It took only a few days for Bravo! to figure out that "right here" is a nice place to be.

Guess what.  Our performances in the obedience ring improved.  To say nothing of the impression we were making on judges.

And then there were the incredible -- yes, incredible, and that's an understatement -- results with the scent discrimination exercise.  Those of you who have been following this blog (breathlessly?) may remember my post of April 18.  Although Bravo! hasn't blown a scent article in competition for well over three years, he had reached a point earlier this year where his results in practice were increasingly erratic.  I knew the sword was hanging over my head.  In that April post I related how I had started demanding a perfect "watch me" while he sat at my side as I rubbed up the article.  Perfect focus.  I spoke of how the improvement was dramatic and instantaneous -- the very first day.

And now, as Paul Harvey would say, for the rest of the story.  The thing really took off and I decided to keep score to 1,000.  We recently completed that journey.  Our score:  998 out of 1,000.

This is not a brag.  It's a resounding testament to what a difference attention can make.

Next:  Attention Comes From The Head


Thursday, October 13, 2011


I am having a problem with people trying to communicate with me directly, and seeking a personal answer, via the comments section of this blog.  Despite the efforts of several people who have tried to help, I can't make the comments section work -- and neither can lots of other people.

However, I'm always glad to talk with dog training people, preferably by phone.  Here are two ways you can reach me directly:  otchhb@cox.net  or 602-942-6069 (and leave a message when is the best time to call you . . . wherever you are).


Friday, October 7, 2011


For all the background leading up to this last segment, be sure to review my posts of September 28, October 1 & 4.

Having beaten to death the process by which Phoenix's unique leash law -- an ordinance the AKC endorses as a model for other municipalities -- came to be, let's look at the guts of the law as it applies to dog sports training, and how that law is enforced.

The solution we came up with -- minus the pages of legalese that must appear in an ordinance -- can most clearly be explained by describing the field test.  That is, the steps a park ranger will follow when he comes upon a person with a dog off leash in a city park.

First he'll observe for a few minutes, probably while seated in his truck.  What's going on here?  How under control or out of control does the dog appear to be?

Then he'll approach the person and ask her to call her dog.  Fido must come immediately and directly -- not stopping to visit (harass?) someone or someone's dog.  If Fido comes promptly, fine.  If not, the ensuing steps in the field test won't be necessary.  The owner and the dog have flunked and are subject to a citation or at least a warning.

Assuming the dog has come promptly and directly, the ranger will then ask the owner to leash Fido.  The owner must produce a leash, no longer than six feet, which she is carrying on her person, not 50 yards away in her car.  No leash?  She just flunked.

The ranger will then ask what nationally recognized dog sport they are training for.  The examples listed in the Phoenix ordinance are conformation, obedience, rally obedience, freestyle obedience, agility, hunting or field trials, tracking, herding, service animal training, flyball, scent hurdling, lure coursing, and earthdog.  The ordinance specifically excludes protection or security work.  And just playing ball or throwing a frisbee won't hack it either.

Assuming the owner responds by naming a legitimate dog sport, the ranger will ask to see a title certificate from a nationally recognized dog sports organization.  If the person is training for but has not yet titled her dog in the sport she has named, the Canine Good Citizen certificate will suffice.

If the person has met all the requirements mentioned here, the ranger will tell her what a nice dog she has, wish them good luck in their sport and be on his way.

And with that, I'll be on my way.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011


For background on what follows here, please read my posts of  September 28 and  October 1.

My primary reason for posting these four articles about our pioneering leash law is to let the dog sports world know what it took to attain success.

I get phone calls.  Not a lot, but now and then.  The voice on the other end says something like, "Dr. Burch of the American Kennel Club referred me to you.  She said perhaps you could tell me how you got your city's leash law passed."

"I'd be happy to share that information with you," I respond.  Then, with bated breath, I wait for what I've come to expect next.  And more times than not I hear:

"We're scheduled to go before (and the person names their town or city council) tomorrow afternoon to make our presentation, and I'm hoping you can tell me what you said that got them to vote in your favor."

Oh my!

So for the benefit of those who'd like to follow in our footsteps, here's what made us successful.

We worked on it for three and one-half years.  Not by choice.  Internal matters in the parks department slowed us down by at least half of that period.  That was frustrating at the time.  In retrospect, though, it gave us plenty of time to get our ducks in a row, to rally all sorts of community support.

Right from day one we had the parks department championing our cause.  I can't emphasize strongly enough how important it was that almost every time we went before a decision-making group Scott Covey was in front of the room making the presentation.  Scott, the head park ranger, representing the firing line people who would be out in the field dealing hands-on with the law we were proposing.  Scott, tall, articulate, uniform starched and pressed, shoes shined -- very effective as our advocate.

And, of course, Sharon Brady, in the background helping plan our strategy.  When things got topsy-turvy in the parks department Sharon advised us to sit tight, ride it out.  Then one day she called to say, "Now's the time."  And it was.

We were able to rally important support.  Maricopa County Animal Care and Control's endorsement carried tremendous weight.  As did the support of the Arizona Humane Society and the 4-H clubs.  And the strong letter of support the American Kennel Club sent to the mayor was invaluable.  As were the communications from and the presence at various hearings of representatives of local dog clubs.

We put people in the seats.  At the final council subcommittee hearing -- where that committee could give our proposed ordinance a thumbs up and send it on to the full city council for a vote, or they could kill it -- we met in a city hall conference room that had a capacity of 30.  More than 50 of our supporters turned out.  Extra chairs were brought in.  Standees lined the walls.  (Thank God the fire marshal wasn't one of them.)  That had to have impressed the subcommittee. Later, my councilwoman said, "Great, Willard!  You packed the room."

We had effective people in our little steering group.  In addition to Scott and Sharon, we had Debby Boehm and Billie Rosen.

Debby was concerned that the decision-makers -- all the way from the parks board to the council members -- had no idea what legitimate dog sports training looked like.  So she put her special skills in photography and audiovisuals to work.  Her materials were used in various phases of the effort.  They were so professionally done that Scott told us he was integrating them into the park ranger training program.

And after we figured out what we wanted, Billie, the veteran prosecutor, drafted a proposed ordinance, the guts of which became part of what today is the unique law which the AKC holds up as a model for other cities to follow.

Finally, during the week before our date with destiny, I phoned every city council member to make sure they understood what we had done and why it would benefit the community.

We succeeded because of thorough preparation, well-thought-out strategy and diligent groundwork.

Next:  How the Phoenix leash law works.


Saturday, October 1, 2011


For the background on what follows, be sure and read my post of September 28.

Billie Rosen had spoken:  "Willard, get the law changed!"  And there was no disputing the fact that she was right.  For us to allow a law that effectively wiped out dog sports training in America's sixth largest city to sit unchallenged on the books would be rank dereliction.  Sooner or later that piece of ill-conceived legislation would come back to bite us.

So, for the umpteenth time I turned to my long-time go-to person in the parks department.  I had met Sharon Brady more than 15 years earlier when I was training Honeybear on the polo field at Paradise Valley Park.  Sharon was the recreation coordinator for the northeast district of the parks department.  The polo field was a favorite place for people to turn their dogs loose, and the night 17 basenjis descended on us was the last straw.  The next morning I called the northeast district office, which happened to be located in Paradise Valley Park.  I was referred to Sharon; she instantly understood the problem.  For several evenings she had a park ranger hide in the bushes adjacent to the polo field.  And ,of course, wouldn't you know, those were nights when not one off leash dog showed up.

Years later, when I was writing Remembering to Breathe, I called Sharon several times, asking her where in Phoenix city government I could go to find the answer to whatever point I was stuck on.  And each time Sharon knew the answer right off the top of her head.  I came to realize that Sharon had encyclopedic knowledge about everything in the parks department as well as most of Phoenix city government. 

(Sadly, as I write this, Sharon has recently retired and, with her family, move back "home" to Michigan.)

So after Billie, in no uncertain terms, had dispatched me to put a stake through the heart of the problem, I sought Sharon's advice about how to attack that problem.  She was instantly on board and convened a meeting.  I brought Billie and Debby Boehm.  Sharon invited Scott Covey, the head park ranger -- a master stroke.  A series of meetings ensued in the conference room at the northeast district office.

One of the major sticking points for the rangers and other law enforcement officers had always been how to distinguish the serious dog training person from the scofflaw who's out there playing with the dog off leash.  The scofflaws had long since learned to say, "Oh, I'm training my dog for obedience competrition."  And how was the ranger to know?

During an early meeting of our little group I happened to say that since the early days of Honeybear I had been carrying copies of my AKC title certificates in my van . . . just in case I had to justify my activities to a law enforcement officer.  And I left the meeting briefly to get the certificates out of my van so that Sharon and Scott could see them.

It immediately became obvious that title certificates could be a major component in identifying those who were actually training for the competition ring.  Great!  But what about the newbie, the person who was training a dog for Novice A?  That person had yet to title a dog and in all likelihood might have only two traffic cones in the area where she was training.

We adjourned that meeting stumped.  The next morning Sharon called me.  "Willard, are you familiar with something called Canine Good Citizen?" she asked.  She had been burning the midnight oil the night before, perusing the AKC website, and she had come upon the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program.  We agreed that the CGC certificate might be acceptable for the entry level person training for the Novice A ring.

That got us into high gear.  By July Billie had drafted a proposed new ordinance and sent it to the legal department of the City of Phoenix.  Shortly thereafter, for reasons I've long since forgotten, I had reason to call Marvin Sondag, the city attorney who had drafted the draconian law that had been passed under the cover of darkness.  Here I was, the guy who was leading the charge to get his handiwork overturned.  I figured I'd get my head bitten off. 

Instead, Marvin said, "Willard, when I drafted that ordinance, I had no idea you folks even existed."  (Yep, sports fans, that's one of the purposes of the public hearings that never took place.)  Then, laughing, he added, " I even caught our own police department in that net.  They train their dogs in city parks.  Boy did I hear about that!"

From the April evening when I heard about the February 11, 2004 hijinks of Phoenix City Council until we made our final (successful!) presentation to that same council in October 2007, three and one-half years passed.  Nothing happens quickly in municipal government . . . that was one of the lessons I learned as a neophyte in city politics.

Illness at the highest level in the parks department, followed by an interim director, followed by a search process, followed by a settling in period for a new director cost us more than half of that period.  Then we went before the parks board twice (and got their endorsement), and we met with and received approval from two subcommittees of the Phoenix City Council. In the interim I worked hard to line up support.

As soon as it was decided to have Canine Good Citizen play a role in the new law, I called Dr. Mary Burch, director of AKC's CGC program.  She was delighted to learn about our effort.  Soon thereafter she got back to us with AKC's full endorsement of our proposed ordinance.  Further, she told us that, if the ordinance passed, the AKC would like to use it as a model for dealing with offleash training challenges in other municipalities.

As we proceeded, I sought and got the enthusiastic support of the major breed clubs, Jumping Chollas Agility Club, the Arizona Humane Society, 4-H, and, importantly, Maricopa County Animal Care and Control.  Importantly because, by agreement with the City of Phoenix, they enforce off of Phoenix's animal-related ordinances -- and Maricopa is one of the largest counties in the United States.

The only group to totally ignore the whole thing was  the board of the Phoenix Field & Obedience Club. Never mind that PFOC's dues-paying members -- some 250, many of them active in dog sports -- were the most vulnerable if the then-current ordinance stayed on the books.  PFOC's dereliction in that instance was not at all out of character.

On October 3, 2007, with our supporters more than 50 strong in council chambers, Phoenix City Council passed our measure with only one dissenting vote.  Afterwards, outside council chambers, I did several newspaper and TV interviews.  Later that evening, at the request of KTVK-TV, Bravo! and I did a competition obedience demo in Moon Valley Park.  And Bravo! became the first dog in nearly four years to train legally in a Phoenix city park.

Next:  Why we succeeded.