You know your dog “knows it”, right? They know what you want them to do. So you stand there waiting and they don’t do it. Why? Why won’t they heel or stand, or retrieve, when you have seen them do that behavior before? Ahhhhhh, the great quest in dog training, behavior momentum!! That is the response strength of that behavior. The stronger a behavior is, the less it will change when put under pressure. So, if you have very strong behavior and you put it in a new context/environment, you should see that behavior remain strong, if it immediately weakens, then your momentum doesn’t have much strength.
Three seconds is the maximum amount of time the initial greeting should last. When I say three seconds, it’s one alligator, two alligator, three and walk away. Number three does not get an alligator. I’ve seen it time and again where dogs loose it on the third alligator. Now, if there’s barking or growling that happens before that, walk away sooner. We don’t want it to escalate.
I love dog shows. I love everything about them. I love the spectacle, the fancy dress, the pretty dogs. I like watching breeds being judged, even if they’re not my own breed. I like listening to people talk, too. Some things get repeated over and over again, and after a while you start listening.
One is that our sport is greying. It’s hard to get young people interested in showing, and it’s hard to keep people in the sport, or get young people interested in breeding. Lots of reasons get thrown about for this: poor judging, bullying, expense, poor behavior by judges and by exhibitors. Some of those I’ve experienced myself. Judges who should have known better leaving me standing waiting for them to finish marking their book and handing out awards, because they were busy talking to people outside the ring. Long-time exhibitors who are flat out rude because I’m inexperienced, and they’re not. The politics. (I love the politics, too, even as I hate the politics. What can I say? I like drama.)
Another reason that gets brought up a lot is the divide between the professional handlers and the owner handlers (or breeders who are handling a dog they bred). Some judges have reputations for “looking up the lead” — giving placements to dogs based on who is on the other end of the lead, rather than judging the dogs on their own merits. In the many Facebook groups devoted to showing dogs that I belong to, this is a huge and contentious issue. Some people are adamant that the problem is not judges judging handlers, that the problem is that professional handlers are professionals. They do this week in and week out, 52 weeks a year, presenting several dogs in a single day. They have nothing but time with which to hone their craft, so of course they’re going to win. They have the skills to take a good-but-not-great dog, and make him look great. Just up your game, owner handlers are told: practice more. Wear nicer clothes (hello? are you judging me or my dog?), get sharper skills, smile at the judge.
I know, though, that perception is a funny thing. So I got curious about whether or not the data would support this idea that some judges only judge faces. I took two names out of a Facebook group that exists for the purpose of sharing notes on judges: one that “the crowd” agreed was a handler judge, and one that “the crowd” agreed would find a good dog, regardless of who was on the end of the lead. I then took the most recent assignments of those two judges, and started counting. For both judges, I disregarded breeds that were single entries, and breeds that did not have both handlers and owner/breeder handlers in competition. If there was no handler listed, I assumed that the exhibitor was the owner or the breeder for the dog. I wasn’t trying to be super scientific, but I wanted as much as possible to be comparing apples to apples. For the handler judge, I needed to cross to a second day of competition to achieve the same number of breeds as the fair judge.
What I found was that each judge ended up at 13 breeds where they had more than a single entry, and the exhibitors were mixed between profession handlers, and owner/breeder handlers. I also found that both judges put up handlers 9 times out of those 13 breeds.
Wait, what? How is it that the numbers can be exactly the same, but one judge has a reputation for being fair, and the other does not?
Perception is everything.
Saturday and Sunday this weekend in Wrentham, Best of Breed in Rhodesian Ridgebacks was awarded to the same dog (a top dog in our breed), who is being handled by one of the biggest handler names in our sport, buuuut … On Saturday, our judge gave us a cursory exam, barely touched the dog during the exam, and didn’t even watch us through the entire movement phase of individual judging. I knew we had lost before I even made it half way around the ring, because the judge couldn’t even be bothered to watch us for a full five seconds of movement. We stayed after Ridgeback judging, and I watched this judge on their judging in several more breeds as well. Same story in every breed: cursory exam, going through the motions. I can’t say for sure that this judge had their mind made up before examining the dogs, but my perception of the judging certainly made me feel that way.
Sunday’s judging under a different judge felt completely different. Our judge on Sunday took his time when going over Loki. This judge was deliberate when going over my dog. They checked the length of the ridge, the quality of the inner thigh muscle. They felt for bones and checked angulation; watched us intently through the movement phase of judging, and gave every appearance of considering each dog on their merits. After examining Loki and watching us on the go around, I thought to myself, “I may lose to this other dog again today, but at least I feel like the judge actually looked at my dog.” Did Sunday’s judge actually give my dog any more consideration than Saturday’s judge? Only the judges themselves know for sure, but my perception is that Sunday’s judge was considering every dog for Best of Breed.
(I also studied the hell out of the professional handler on the top dog. If I have to lose to them, I can at least try to learn something for being a better handler. Afterwards, it occurred to me they probably thought I was glaring at them, but I swear I was just trying to learn!)
We still lost Best of Breed on Sunday, same as Saturday, but I walked away from the ring with a completely different feeling, all because of how I perceived the judging.
Going back to our numbers, obviously this isn’t a scientific tallying, and it’s not proof of anything. I do think that some judges could do a better job of making all exhibitors feel welcomed in the ring, and of giving the appearance of fairly considering each dog in judging. This isn’t going to fix every problem that might be driving away exhibitors from our sport, but it’s a damn good place to start.
There are other dog activities (such as protection sports) where crating in a vehicle during the day is commonplace and expected. Thousands of us make it work every day. Being contained in a vehicle on a hot day is not necessarily a death sentence, no matter how much some people like to think it is.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to greet a dog, and the choices you make at this juncture can make a huge difference in whether or not you and the dog in question become lifelong friends.
Obviously, the love of any dog is something worth having — we’re talking about an animal sweet enough to be a nanny and brave enough to be a rescuer, after all — so it’s definitely a good idea to take the time to learn exactly what to do to befriend a pup you’ve never met before.
“This forced banter was entirely worth the effort because I got to watch your dog’s puffy tail-nub wag really fast for thirty seconds.”
So, way back in the day when we only had one dog, I blithely told Nate that I wanted a pack of dogs when we had a house and yard to contain them. Nate asked what I meant by “a pack” and I said four sounded good to me.
Well, we’ve been living with a four-dog household for just over a year now, and it’s definitely not as easy as I thought it was going to be! So, I have in mind a three-part blog series on managing a multi-dog household: cleaning, feeding, and inter-dog relationships. Today, I want to talk about cleaning.
When we moved into our new house, we bought a new area rug, and a new vacuum cleaner (the old one died while we were cleaning out the old house). I knew when we bought the rug that I wanted something short-pile because plush and shag carpets just can’t hold up to foot traffic over time, and it would hold less hair and dirt, and it let me use my hand-held vacuum cleaner to keep things clean until we bought a new upright. But what I learned is that my innate lackadaisical housekeeping nature is very much at odds with the amount of cleaning required to live with multiple dogs. I needed some coping strategies.
Enter: my housekeeping calendar. There’s a certain purple-loving woman on the internet who is the queen of housekeeping for people who were not Born Organized, and while I find most of her “inspirational” materials to be hopelessly hokey, her methodology and routine-building strategies really do keep the house clean … when I’m consistently applying them. If left to my own devices, however, I come home from work and laze about the house. So, before the turn of the year, I spent some time setting up a housekeeping calendar and tweaking it to fit my schedule (rather than the “control journal” recommended by the queen of cleaning). It starts when I get home in the afternoon, and I block off 15-minute intervals to do various vacuuming, dusting, mopping, and other chores.
Thanks, calendar, for letting the world know I’m sitting at my computer writing a blog post rather than exercising.
What I have learned about managing the dirt and odor generated by three giant dogs (and one medium dog) in a cute-but-tiny 1950s Cape house can be broken down like this:
Choose your surfaces carefully.
Deep plush carpets feel great under your feet, but are disgusting and impossible to deep clean dirt traps. Hard floors are a breeze to clean, but can be slippery for the dogs and cold in the winter. My solution is hardwood floors and tile throughout the house, but with carefully selected area rugs in specific locations. The rug we bought when we moved into the house was chosen because it was very low-pile and I thought it would hold up well to foot traffic. Turns out it also held on to hair like it was a precious natural resource and even with shampooing and vacuuming never really really looked clean. We’ve since replaced it with a natural fiber woven rug that I’m hoping will hold up better.
Four dogs carry in a lot of dirt and dander every day. I’ve basically resigned myself to the fact that I need to vacuum every day. And I need to wet-dust (with a damp rag) every week. And the baseboards need to be done pretty often, or else they get a fine layer of brown on them.
Make your soft surfaces washable.
Dog odor comes from shed hair, dander, and skin oils. (Oh, by the way, your body does all that too. You’re as bad as they are.) Really plush orthopedic dog beds are super comfortable, but can’t fit in my washing machine, and I am not going to haul them to a laundromat on a regular basis. Flat “crate mat” style beds can be layered for softness and take a trip through the washing machine once a week. Sofas covered in slip covers (or blankets and throws) stay cleaner and can be laundered at home.
See that bed? That’s exactly the kind of one that your dog loves, but your nose does not. Also, I swear I don’t leave dog beds on the chairs; I had put it up there so I could vacuum, and Jackson decided to be a jackass.
Keep your dogs clean and well groomed.
When Tippy was still alive, he got bathed two or three times a year, because I thought he wasn’t dirty. When we got Jackson and started showing, I learned just how wrong I was. You don’t realize how grimy your dog’s coat gets until you start bathing him every weekend or every other weekend. And trust me, when I meet your dogs out in public and reach out to pet them, I notice how long it’s been since they’ve had a bath.
In an ideal world, I would bathe the dogs twice a month. When we are showing, they get bathed about that often. When we are not showing, it’s easy to get lazy until I can’t stand feeling their grime when I pet them anymore. Clean dogs not only feel clean, but they smell clean, and they aren’t wiping dog-odor on your soft surfaces every time they lay down.
On top of the daily cleaning, the cleaning lady I mentioned above recommends breaking your house into “zones” and tackling a different zone every week with a detailed cleaning list. Starting with removing cobwebs from the ceiling and working your way down to cleaning baseboards and deep cleaning floors. I’ve added washing high-traffic walls from waist down to my cleaning lists. I never thought about the fact that dogs rubbing against walls would make them grimy until the lighting was just right in the hallway one afternoon and I could see how dirty the walls were. That kicked off a half-hour flurry with a Magic Eraser on every surface I could reach. You also come to find that every time a dog sneezes or shakes its head, tiny goobers end up all over the walls, leaving them spotted. Who knew?!
And, finally, I’ve had to accept that my first choices in decor are not compatible with “hides dirt.” The pretty cream-and-gray rug we bought for my office is now “gray-and-darker-gray” after two years of dogs. The microfiber sofa and chairs in light olive shades — which, to their credit, are probably ten years old now — have permanently stained arms where the dogs like to rest their heads on the low armrests. The seat cushions and backrests were protected by throw blankets, but the arms … not so much. White slipcovers may seem counter-intuitive, but they can be stripped off the sofa, bleached if necessary, and then replaced — removing the dirt before it has a chance to become a stain.
I haven’t spent much time acclimating Pike to a head collar, but I decided to grab him and Loki for a neighborhood walk together so I could meet my daily steps goal. He did great! Pike is a very different walker from Loki — Pike is on a mission. His mission is to get through the walk as quickly as possible. Ignore the trees and other vertical surfaces, just walk. That way. Very fast.
Loki is typical boy dog — if there’s a vertical surface, he wants to pee on it. All of them. After spending a full minute sniffing first. So it was nice having Pike along to keep Loki moving. We did a figure-eight loop around the house.
Walking isn’t nearly enough physical activity to even make a dent on the daily exercise requirements for the boys, but it entertained them, and I met my goal, so there’s that.