Thursday, December 23, 2010

Are you smarter than a border collie?

There's "caterpillar," "decoy," "tentacle," "bouncy" and, of course, "ball." If Chaser made a dictionary filled with all the words she knows, it would have many times the number that the average dog understands. The 6-year-old border collie boasts an astonishing vocabulary, and knows the names of 1,022 toys that she has been taught over the past three years.

Allison Reid and John Pilley, two psychologists at South Carolina's Wofford College, worked with Chaser in an intensive training program that included introducing new toy names one by one.

According to New Scientist, they tested her regularly to make sure she had retained the words — and she consistently did well. In total, the dog completed 838 of these tests over three years and never got fewer than 18 names right out of 20. She can also categorize them according to function and shape, something children learn to do around the age of 3.

Before Chaser, the dog who knew the most number of words was Rico, who trained at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He had a "vocabulary" of 200.

"We wanted to see if there was a limit to the number of words a dog could understand, and if they could understand the name of an object rather than just respond to a command related to an object, such as fetch," Dr. Reid told the Daily Mail. "We're not saying this means dogs can learn language in the same way children do, but it does show they are capable of learning many more words than might have been thought."


Whenever I find something really good, I'll share it with you. Well all my trainer friends are going nuts over this toy from Premier Pets. You put kibbles in the plastic jug part (the bottom unscrews for this) and your dog plays at getting them out.

This is a HIGH VALUE toy and you can use this to assist your training. Let's say, for example, you've been working on the "come" command. Your dog is used to getting a click and a treat for coming when called, but if you mix up the reward a bit and introduce something amazingly wonderful, you can plan to pull THIS out from under your jacket and give it to your dog to play with for a few minutes. Dogs love surprises.

Remember, your dog should not have constant access to all its toys all the time. That creates boredom. Get some good ones and save them to use as a reward. In order to "rev up their value" in the dog's eyes, introduce them the first time to your dog fully loaded with kibbles and a few smelly soft treats (a few bits of cheddar cheese, for example, or -- and use this very sparingly-- a few pieces of turkey hot dog ). Hold the toy and show it to your dog like it's the most prized possesion you've ever had. Act playful and happy and pretend to eat and nibble at the toy. Get that, "Oh boy, look what I'VE got!" look on your face. Run around the room with it and then let your dog smell it. Play with it together a bit, then once your dog loves it too, bring out another treat and trade your dog for the new toy (don't say "come" though-- don't ever say "come" and take your dog's toy away-- that makes you a Grinch). Now whisk it away and bring it out again when you want to reward a behavior.

Another example of using this kind of toy would be to give it to your dog when you put him into his crate and have to leave him alone for awhile (these are sturdy but if your dog is large and strong and is in the super chewy-destructive stage, don't leave any toy with him while he's unattended. You could be paying a vet to fish plastic out of his intestines, if you do!). Those of you who have dogs who get anxious when you leave can hide a few of these in the yard for your dog to find and interact with in your absence. (Stuffing and freezing some Natural Balance semi-moist dog food into a Kong toy is good for that, too).

You can get these Tug-A-Jugs in all sizes at Centinela in Redondo Beach. Pet Foods Market in Lunada Bay doesn't carry them, I checked (rats, because I love that store and want to support it). Petco in Rolling Hills has one small and two mediums in stock right now.

Friday, December 3, 2010

116 Borzois had to be rescued

I encourage anyone interested in adopting a dog to check out these wonderful, sweet, beautiful Borzoi that were placed into the care of the National Borzoi Rescue Foundation.  I am especially in love with "Reba" and want to see her go to a great home ASAP.

My Borzoi, Bella, has been a complete joy and I encourage you to consider this elegant, gentle breed for your family.   These dogs are sort of like greyhounds with beautiful, soft fur (but not fur as long or difficult to groom as the Afghan Hound!).

This rescue borzoi has my heart-- now she just needs a home

I'm putting the spotlight on little Reba, a small female 2-3 yr old Borzoi who is in rescue and needs a home.  I'd take

Clicker Training in the Equine World: An Interview with Alexandra Kurland

I love this interview with author and horse trainer Alexandra Kurland about how she uses clicker training with horses. I know people who think the Parelli method of Natural Horsemanship is great, but when I viewed the training DVDs for it I saw inconsistencies in cueing and cues that were actually slightly aversive. It's not awful, but it's not as good as clicker training in my humble opinion. I beg anyone involved with horses and ponies to learn about clicker training. It's non-coercive, effective, and fun for the horse. That's my kind of training!

Clicker Training in the Equine World: An Interview with Alexandra Kurland