I don't intend to write a lot of basic information that can be found with a simple google search on the Smooth Collie breed, but I do hope to let some more people know about this very little known breed and its amazing versatility.
The Kennel Club keep a list of 'Vulnerable breeds' on their website, which mostly indicates the number of breeds with less than 100 puppy registrations per year. It's quite an extensive list and some of these breeds are so typically English it's surprising they are even on the list at all. I decided to start with my favourite breed on this list and the breed we have chosen to bring into our family next. The Smooth Collie.
The Smooths are the short coated and lesser known variety of the Rough Collie. They maintain the same basic shape and proportions of the Rough yet due to lower demand, breeders have been able to retain the health and temperament as close to it's original intention as possible. Smooths are of course a herding breed and therefore a working breed and so they retain that willingness to learn, the intelligence to think for themselves and the stamina to run all day if necessary. They are of medium size on average.
However they are also a breed which seems well suited to a family life. That easy to train nature does not develop into the somewhat obsessive traits border collies can show. In fact they seem to be, in my research and exposure to the breed, every families dream dog. They are just as happy curling up having cuddles as they are out in the fields working sheep, running an agility course or even as a therapy dog. They adapt to the environment they are placed in, be that with young children and other family pets, or to a life destined as a full on working dog. The smooths I have met have been well tempered, calm and amicable. Not a sign of aggression. I would call them a subtle dog, they do not seem to demand your attention or shrink into the background. They seem calmly confidentof themselves.
In terms of behaviour these dogs do not show that many behavioural problems, though the most likely would be separation anxiety if anything were to develop, however I am sure as with any dog, it could display aggression if necessary. Healthwise the most concerning problems are the MDR1 gene which can prove lethal if the status of the dog is not known. This is multi drug resistance, meaning only specific drugs can be used safely on the breed. However this is not uncommon in a lot of collie types, as well as the other consideration, CEA ( collie eye anomaly) and PRA ( progressive retinal atrophy). Both known eye conditions that can be either progressive or the dog can be affected at birth causing problems with sight. The majority of breeders within the Smooth community do test for these health conditions as a matter of course.
Some breeders are now pushing for hip and elbow testing, though the breed currently shows no specific problem in these areas, many are suggesting it as a prevention rather than a cure to a problem which already exists. It is recommended that a dog has it's hips tested before partaking in any strenuous sport such as agility, but this is to help prevent problems by being aware if the sport could aggravate any small issue already existing.
The Smooth seems to excel at agility, however many have said if you want to compete at a high level the smooth is just a bit too slow to compete against the likes of the border collies, so perhaps working trials or competitive obedience can be an option. In other countries the smooth is also regularly used as a therapy dog such as guide dogs, or medical alert dogs, they are also used in search and rescue. This shows the great versatility of the breed, and coupled with its amazing temperament and excellent health status, it is shocking to think it is such a rare breed in it's home country. If you are interested in the smooth, it is well worth chatting to the vastly knowledgeable breeders in the smooth community, all seem to be very welcoming and happy to discuss their dogs, you can even spot them at Discover Dogs every year with a great team and an information filled booth.
I hope I may have given you a bit of an insight into this superb breed. Remember to fully research any breed you are interested in, attending shows, talking to owners and breeders, examining the health status of the breed and its longevity. Always buy a puppy from a breeder who health tests and keeps their pups in a clean and stimulating environment and ensures the puppies stay with their mother until at least 8 weeks old.
I decided to have another pop at The Kennel Club's annual photography competition again. I missed out last year and the competition is getting tougher each year. I wasn't even sure I was going to enter this year, but I found with the deadline just a month away I wanted to give it another shot. There's no harm in entering. I have seen other professional photographers entering and not getting placed, so it really is a tough one as a lot of the choices are subjective to the judges personal opinions.
On Friday I decided to put a call out on my local village's facebook page requesting doggy models and the response was fantastic. I've just had a fully booked weekend and I have another coming this week. I've spent time with two puppies and three 3yr old dogs. This weekend I have an 8 month old Vizsla and a family of three labradors. It is always lots of fun, especially when the dogs seem to freeze up in front of the camera. I think yesterday was lazy Sunday syndrome, I am sure dog's suffer with it too as our lot always seem to be less energetic over the weekend.
Yesterdays shoot was spent in back gardens, and this weekend we will be out trudging through the muddy countryside to get our shots. I got soaked legs the last two days from kneeling down on the grass. I'm sure I must look funny almost laying on the floor to get my photos, but hopefully I will get a few worthy of entry into one of the most famous dog photography competitions, and I can hope that everyone who has helped me will be crossing their fingers that I will get a win. At least they have all had the joy of getting some free photos, which I think is a fair enough way to say thank you for their time in helping me :)
My models so far
Some people are lucky, they manage to find dogs whose personalities suit each other really well and they seem to just form a nice happy relaxed little family. For others it is not always that easy. People of the former group don't always understand if you have multiple dogs who clash at times because they have clashing personalities, and it can sometimes make you feel like you are doing a bad job. But the simple fact is, not all dogs get on well, even if they live in the same household. So what can you do to make it easier?
First thing to bear in mind is that all dogs are different, some have a tendency to be possessive over things, others require more exercise, some may be over confident, some shy, some need a firmer approach, others more gentle. When you have a group of dogs it is often a good idea to have a routine with them. This makes their day more predictable meaning there is less chance for anxiety to build which can be a pre-cursor to an altercation. Right from the beginning decide which dog will get the training first, or if you will train them together, who will be given the reward first and stay in that order. That way each dog knows where it stands and when it will get its reward.
When out walking, if you have an anxious dog, walk it with the more confident dog and use lots of encouragement. Sometimes you will get a confident dog who may take on the behaviours of the less confident dog, in which case it would be easier to walk the less confident on its own allowing for full commitment from you. Ensure that the dog which requires more exercise, gets it, even if that means 10 minutes longer off the lead, or an extra run around or training when you get home from your walks.
When you go out be sure each dog has its own treats and they have their own safe space to go to with them to avoid another dog stealing said treat. If you feel this could happen, invest in crates and crate train, or use room dividers so the dogs can see each other and be relaxed whilst not risking the chance of altercations happening. Ensure you have regular feeding times give or take an hour each way to allow for times when you can't always feed them at that time. This again reduces anxiety.
The biggest thing to remember is that an exercised dog (physically and mentally) is a happy dog which means there is a much reduced risk of any inter-dog aggression. As the owner it is also your job to ensure that you recognise signs of anxiety or tension within the group and react accordingly, such as temporarily separating which ever dogs seem tense, taking them for a short walk together or sending them to their safe spaces with something to occupy them. Always ensure that tension and arousal are kept to a minimum and be aware of situations as they progress.
I have been thinking for some time about what to write in my next blog post as I wanted to write something helpful. I have in the last couple of years, and personally myself experienced and been witness to a 'condition' in new puppy owners which seems to be becoming more prevalent, it is often referred to as 'Post Puppy Depression'. It is very similar in many ways to post natal depression and can really leave owners ready to rehome their new family members, they constantly question their decision to take on a puppy and whether they are doing right by the dog.
I feel there are many factors that accumulate to create a feeling of not doing enough, not doing the right thing, making bad choices etc. The general notion amongst the population is that puppies are these adorable bundles of fluff that likes to play and then wear themselves out and sleeping. The things most often considered the worst things with pups is the toilet training and chewing. If you're struggling with your puppy most people just say its a phase and it will pass, but what if you are having a particularly difficult time taking on the responsibility? What if you are the one solely responsible for training that pup, socialising it, caring for it.. it's a lot of pressure especially in the current climate with the dangerous dogs act. We are becoming more conscious of ensuring our puppies turn out to be well-adjusted and safe members of society. It is a huge job to take on, despite what a lot of people say and I feel this is often not addressed.
I personally went through a period of PPD about 10 years ago with my JRT. He wasn't interested in being trained, he was more interested in running off or chasing things. He liked to escape out of the back garden and my neighbours would bring him back after playing with him at or local playground. He would not toilet outside and I was constantly clearing up after him. He was noisy, disobedient, he embarrassed me at puppy classes by completely flunking. I seriously considered rehoming him as though I considered myself an experienced dog owner, he was my first puppy and I felt I was failing him. I remember crying in despair as I asked at the vets if they might be able to find someone willing to take him on. I despaired and really thought he'd be better off somewhere else. I am glad I persevered though as at around 14 months old he finally settled down and he is now one of the most obedient and sociable dogs I know.
It is hard though. When you see people out with their incredibly well-trained dogs and you look at yours at the end of the lead, tongue lolling out gasping because he won't walk nicely, or she barks at every dog and lunging, or refuses to listen to a command or jumps up at everyone and everything, and you think... why is their dog so well trained? what have I done wrong? You get other people telling you stories of their lovely bundles of fun who are behaving quite naturally nicely. The thing is.. it's actually quite normal to feel this way. There are many people who suffer PPD, who feel at their wits end, perhaps their puppy isn't as bad as yours, but still, it can be just as taxing. People are all different as are dogs, they all have personalities, natural traits, likes, dislikes, sometimes even odd quirks that make you cringe or scratch your head in confusion. We are all capable of making mistakes, even really experienced dog owners can do something unintentionally which they later need to correct. There is no magic trick to rearing a well behaved puppy. We have to adapt to them, find what motivates them, and keep working at it. Because we care so much that we are doing things right, this is why raising a puppy can be so emotionally draining. In worrying as much as we do, we don't realise what we ARE doing right, and it's up to us fellow dog owners, trainers etc to ensure that we let new puppy owners know they are not alone, it does pass and that we are there to help if they need it. We are supposed to be supporting a partnership to achieve their goals.
I've asked around and I am including an anonymous quote of someone who has dealt with PPD. I hope people can find it comforting that they are not alone
" I wanted to rescue a dog, I looked in rescue for a 2-3yr old dog and I fell in love with this beautiful Samoyed. I arranged to go and meet her, but there was bad news. She was pregnant. I couldn't have her. I was gutted, but I watched her progress online and when the puppies were born, I fell in love all over again with a chunky little bi eyed boy... But a puppy is such hard work and I have a dog at home that can be unpredictable with other dogs... yet still somehow this little bundle came home... I did all the right things, big puppy pen, careful introduction, right food, socialisation, puppy classes.. even so there would be times when this gorgeous furball was cuddled asleep on my lap that I would panic, or weep unconsolably... "what have I done? Am I the right home? Am I just selfish? what about the adult dogs I left behind, puppies always find families, but what about his Mom? What if he became dog aggressive, what if he grew too big/ he was such an enormous puppy. What if his unknown father was a complete terror?... if he got a sniffle I was convinced it was parvo (It wasn't it was a sniffle), if he threw up because he ate too fast, I would panic, he was choking... I had the vet on speed dial... He was so little, so fragile and depended on me for everything it was such crushing responsibility!... He's 18 months old now and a big chunky cuddly robust monster. Those sleepless panicky nights are behind me... I can't honestly say why he affected me so much. I have had other dogs, I have raised other puppies and none gave me the post puppy depressions like Dexter. Maybe it was timing, I had a lot of other stresses in my life at the time and I think I projected many of them to him. Whatever it was, it was horrible and I'm glad it has passed. He's a lovely dog, whatever I was doing, I did it just fine."
To some the reason may seem obvious, but there are two different meanings to the word co-operation :
I am specifically using the first definition when it comes to name selection. I have talked so many times before about working together, building a relationship and bond with your dog, both heading towards the same goal. Ultimately that co-operation will lead to the 2nd definition within your dog and this is where assistance dogs get well recognised and we all know that when you have an assistance dog it is often referred to as a 'partnership'. This is ultimately what we all should be aiming for with our dogs, a long lasting rewarding relationship built on co-operation and trust and respect.
This is why I use only non-confrontational training techniques and techniques which rely on the dogs innate nature to achieve the results we are after. A dog will not 'perform' a task if he is not happy or she feels scared, you will not have a well-rounded dog if you do not trust them and respect them as with people, you need to earn their trust and respect by understanding their needs and personalities and working with them. I hope this gives some better explanation as to why I have chosen this particular name for my business. I feel that the 'co-operation' part of our relationship with our dogs often gets left out, because it's not just the dogs that should be doing the work, but us as their trainers should be doing all we can to be the best we can be for our canine friends.
There is plenty of information online about dealing with various behaviour problems, I'm going to add my own ideas now.
Separation Anxiety is one of the most common behavioural 'issues' expressed within the domestic dog. But Why? This goes back to their deliberate and selected breeding to work with us, to enjoy our company and treat us almost as one of their own. Some recent novel experiments using fMRI scanners have begun to show the extent of this with exploring emotion in dogs and recognition of various sounds including the human voice (http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2014/06/06/dog-human-brain-response.aspx?x_cid=20140606_lead_facebookpets) . The fact dogs respond to these is unique in the animal kingdom except for with humans, we are also capable of recognising the difference between dogs vocalisations, even if we do not live with dogs (http://www.wired.com/2011/06/dog-bark-origins/). This mutual understanding has developed over thousands of years of cohabiting.
So if dogs have been bred to understand and want to be with people, it is safe to assume that separation anxiety is perfectly justified. With the neotinization of dogs to stay in a continued 'puppy-like' state, we can expect them to feel more comfortable and at ease in our presence. So how can we combat that sense of loneliness when a dog is well.. alone?
As with most socialisation and adjusting to human life, there is a lot of desensitisation going on when dealing with separation anxiety. The idea is to get a dog who is not anxious and can in fact be happy with his or her own company. This usually starts from puppy hood, though due to the start many dogs get, this necessary training is often left out and a large proportion of rescue dogs will have separation anxiety to some degree and can be made worse if over-attachment is allowed in the initial introductory stages. So one of the key things we need to remember is ' giving the dog the confidence to be left alone'.
So what are the basics in teaching a dog to be happy when left alone? Well we make it a positive and safe experience for them. This means while you are gone you want things to occupy your dog, toys, safe chewy things such as a nylabone or stuffed kong or a buster cube filled with treats that the dog has to work for. I do not recommend rawhide treats unsupervised, as dogs can swallow them in large chunks which can block the gut. Not good. If you have a dog with known separation anxiety, some things they can chew without you being too worried about it, such as old boxes with any tape or staples removed. Old blankets from a charity shop are great while your dog learns to be alone as they are cheap and it matters less if they get chewed or ripped. I do not recommend soft beds as these can get pulled apart, fluff everywhere which can get eaten by explorative puppies. Ideally introducing a large crate in which the dog can stand, lie down and move around with ease is ideal, though they should not be confined to one all day as this is unfair. Crate training would need to be introduced as well. If you have a dog that gets easily disturbed by noises outside, putting on the TV or radio is ideal. Classical music is best as it has been shown to have a calming effect on the dog (http://blogs.discovery.com/daily_treat/2012/11/can-classical-music-calm-stressed-dogs-study-says-yes.html). This would need to be loud enough to dull noises from outside which can stress the dog, but obviously not loud enough to disturb any neighbours. And lastly slowly introducing your dog to being left for longer periods of time. Even a puppy can be left for 10 mins and have this slowly increased as long as it is in a safe environment. With some dogs showing extreme anxiety, just removing yourself from the room for a few seconds then returning while the dog is calm and then slowly increasing this to a few minutes etc will help. Remember to always make the experience of being alone a good one.
Its also worth noting that over-attachment often coincides with separation anxiety, and teaching your dog to be away from you when you are in the house, such as lying quietly on their bed with a toy or chew, not being allowed to follow you from room to room can be a good way to improve confidence and help prevent the symptoms either worsening or even becoming present. It is important to remember that a dog should not be left more than 4 hours on their own, 6 at a push if you have an older dog who does not become anxious, though having someone to check in on the dog is a good idea. If you work it is a good idea to employ a dog walker or sitter who can come in regularly and interact with your dog, either in play,just keeping him company or taking her for a nice walk to break up her day. There are also various services where you can drop your dog off with a professional dog sitter while you work meaning they rarely have to be alone. There is the option of kennels also. So those are some basic bits of advice. Hopefully they may help in some way if this is a problem. Have fun with your dog!
When we talk about canine learning theory, what we are really talking about is how a dogs mind works in order for it to learn, and how we use this information as handlers to develop an efficient way of communicating with our dogs based on mutual understanding.
Dogs are born with a variety of innate behaviours which can be modified to suit our needs and we can even use those natural instincts to devise ways to motivate a dog to perform a certain task. Such as the desire to find food can be used to train a search and rescue exercise. The techniques used for this are known as classical and operant conditioning, made famous by an experiment by Pavlov and behaviourists such as BF Skinner. These scientists have helped us gain significant knowledge on how many animals learn. There is also the natural form of social learning.
What is Classical conditioning?
This is about making associations between stimuli, as Pavlov demonstrated by ringing a bell each time a group of dogs received their dinner. Eventually just ringing the bell made the dogs salivate expectantly for their dinner. This similar technique is utilised during clicker training where the clicker is associated with food and eventually the food can be phased out and the clicker used as a replacement.
What is Operant conditioning?
This is repeating an action or behaviour which consistently receives a reward. This is often used to create a ‘chaining’ effect where multiple behaviours are successively joined together to perform a complicated task, such as teaching a retrieve. The dog is rewarded for getting the toy. The dog is rewarded for returning with the toy. The dog is rewarded for giving the toy back. Eventually the entire chain can become self-rewarding or if it is rewarded with some form of praise or treat from a handler for performing the task successfully. This is also known as ‘shaping’.
What is Social learning?
This is learning from other dogs, handlers and other animals in the dog’s environment. A common example is bite inhibition and appropriate greeting and play behaviours. These are learnt through play as a young pup and via the young dog’s mother. Most of the typical canine behaviour we see is primarily learnt through time spent with mum and litter mates hence why this time is so important. It is further reinforced through social interaction with other dogs in the new environment.
What is positive reinforcement?
This is using a reward for performing an action, thus further encouraging the action to be performed again. It can be self-reinforcing or we can reinforce a desired behaviour as handlers. Though this form of learning is the most effective when dealing in behaviour modification, it can also backfire. Examples of positive reinforcement are a dog receiving praise reward from a handler for performing a ‘down’ or a dog gaining food for each time it counter surfs.
What is Extinction?
This is a behaviour ceasing to be performed due to it no longer being rewarding. For example, when a handler fails to reward a ‘sit’ even infrequently, the dog sees no reason to continue to perform the action. Or as with the counter surfing example before, if the food is removed, eventually the behaviour is no longer self-rewarding and will extinguish.
It is only a few short weeks until the Foxash Show on the 25th of May where I will be selling artwork, prints, doing personal photo shoots and giving behaviour and training advice. I have been trying to get some unique artwork done in the run up to the show so I am currently working on a series of mini paintings of the most popular dogs breeds. I also have some digital pieces I recently completed which are now for sale through my website or with Fine Art America. I have also completed a commission cat portrait and I am trying to complete an Irish Wolfhound painting I started just before the commission. I am a little worried I might run out of time, my main concern being I have a very important paintbrush which I use for fur detail and its decided to fray on me! So now I need to replace it and quickly. I am looking forward to the show though. I have a friend helping me on my stall so that if I am busy taking some photos she can help with art work sales and paperwork. I. am looking forward to meeting everyone there as I am sure it will be a great day out.
Personally I prefer to use as little equipment as possible, maybe some nice tasty treats, a toy or my voice when it comes to training. However this doesn't always work, especially if the early work wasn't quite put in properly, perhaps through bad advice or lack of time.
We had new members to our class recently with a very persistent puller. On the first lesson it was obvious this young 9 month old dog had learned that pulling was an ok thing to do because he was a very strong dog and could get away with it. This wasn't going to end well though with one of the owners pregnant and needing him under better control before the baby arrives. First lesson we tried all the usual techniques, keeping a treat by the nose and rewarding for a few steps at heel, stopping if the dog pulled in front and guiding him back to the owners side. However it was clear we needed something that could help move things along a little faster.
I am all for taking time etc, however when you have a situation like this sometimes it is better to utilise a tool or piece of equipment which can help move things forward a little faster. I've never been a huge fan of harnesses on pullers because the dog can get more of it's weight into the shoulders and pull even harder. However there are now some rather nifty harnesses available which can help control pulling, especially if you have a dog who is either used to a harness or dislikes head collars, which was the case with this doggy.
So last week I took one of these 'tools' down to class with me. Fitted the boy up, and the change was almost instant. This did not mean he didn't pull, he still had his moments, but he was so much easier to walk that even his pregnant owner was able to safely walk him for part of the class. This was huge because the poor couple were getting anxious about his pulling even getting aching arms. The basics still need to be put in place, getting him to walk nicely next to them using positive reinforcement, but this training aid worked! They felt so much more confident seeing that he can walk nicely, and of course the handlers mind-set makes a big difference when it comes to training. So we have put an order in for them to have one of these harnesses of their own so that they can work with him effectively outside of classes and hopefully soon help him realise that walking with his handlers is much more comfortable than pulling at the end of a lead.
This is the link to the Easy Walk Harness which I can now thoroughly recommend having tried and tested it myself.
Crufts was an enjoyable day out on the Saturday this year. I didn't do much shopping, I bought Serendipity a nice floaty firehose toy from Extra Dog also known as 'Katie's Bumpers'. Needless to say it was a hit though we do have to be careful she doesn't over-exert herself on walks so we need to stick to fetching in the water from now on. I got to take some nice photos of dogs in the show ring, at least the best I could get with the lighting and my camera. I also got to attend a couple of interesting lectures, one more about growing my business, and the other about temperament testing in the rescue dog discussing various ways to do so, the difference between temperament and behaviour and of course how to measure a dog's temperament.
Sadly I didn't attend the lecture on 'wolves to dogs' but my friends did and said it was very interesting but not much new to my friend and I who have been keeping update with all the current information regarding scientific perception of how the dog evolved. The gist of it is.. there was an ancestor before wolves and dogs that split off into the dog and wolves we know today. Dogs did not evolve from wolves, they evolved from a canine which was similar to what we see as the village dogs in many far off countries. So though dogs and wolves are from the same family tree, dogs are not wolves in domestic dog clothing.
This of course has big implications for a lot of current perceptions in the dog training and behaviour field when it comes to dealing with certain problems and the idea of 'pack' in dogs is almost completely irrelevant. In fact the idea of pack is most likely to be more obvious in the pack working dogs such as huskies and canadian eskimo dogs. These are bred to work as a team so its not surprising they will have some pack instincts. This could also mean that those dogs such as the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog which were created from the pack forming european grey wolves are more likely to still have that pack instinct. It will be expressed in different ways though.
However most domestic dogs do not have this pack mentality and tend to form more of a loose social collective. This is very fluid in the ways the dogs interact with each other and even us. Of course this is going to affect our relationships with dogs in terms of how we treat them and engage with them as we should no longer see them as trying to be 'dominant'.
Behaviour in dogs is such a fascinating subject though and was the topic of my investigative report in my final foundation degree year. It was basically a mini dissertation and I have decided I would like to expand on it at a later date, possibly if I succeed in gaining entry to the third year BSc in Canine Behaviour and Training at Bishops Burton. I know quite a few people who 'work' their dogs in sports, whether it be breed related or not. I wanted to explore if doing a sport or job which relates to the original function of the breed can decrease or increase the expression of behaviour problems. The results I found were quite interesting, though the small numbers did skew the statistics a little it is something to build upon and surprised me. I had expected different results so I was fascinated and indeed intrigued. I am including the full report here, including spelling mistakes and imperfections as it was submitted to my University. I received a 2:2 for it mostly because I forgot to title a few tables and graphs, didn't speak 'scientifically' enough in places amongst other mistakes, but the general content was very well received. I hope if anyone decides to read it, they too can see the unexpected results and perhaps relate this back to their own dogs.
here's the link for the toy I got for Serendipity: http://www.xtradog.com/shop/shop-by-brand/katies-bumpers.html
Dog Trainer, animal lover, artist and photographer