Luna Lovebug Dog Blog Pages

Monday, 14 July 2014

Making Your Own Weave Poles for Agility

Luna started her agility classes a few months ago. One of the first things we were told was: if you don't buy any other piece of agility equipment for your dog, buy a set of weave poles. This is because learning to perform the weaves well typically takes more time for your dog than most of the other equipment and usually requires some practise in your backyard between classes to really excel.

Unfortunately, a competition weave pole set costs around $200 for six poles (or $350+ for a set of twelve). If your plan is to compete, there is obviously some advantage to using the same type of set that you'll find in competitions from the outset. However, if you are still not sure agility is for your dog, or you are looking for a good, cheap alternative to practice with, you can create your own set of weave poles for a fraction of the cost using this do it yourself method. It requires very basic tools and materials that cost only around $20 from a hardware store.
Most DIY weave pole guides on the internet suggest using PVC for the poles and a base. The advantage to this is that the set can be moved around. However, that construction method forces your dog to skip over the PVC pipe base between each weave pole and will usually lead to them developing an inefficient weaving method that could take a lot of time and effort to correct later on. The below construction guide uses free-standing PVC pipes, supported by a steel rod core, so there is no base pole in the way between each upright pole. This allows the dog to learn how to weave in the most efficient way possible. The downside of this design is that the set is not easily moveable and is more suited to practising the obstacle in isolation (or for adding other obstacles around it). If you want a set that you can move around freely, I would strongly recommend that you invest in a real set with a flat base, rather than make your own with a PVC pipe base.
Making your weave poles
The short video below shows the full process. I have also written out the method below for further reference.
You will need the following items:
  • 6 x 3' lengths of rebar steel rods
  • Enough PVC pipe to make 6 x 3' lengths (2 x 10' of pipe should do it)
  • Measuring tape
  • A coping saw, mitre saw, PVC pipe cutter or hacksaw with jig
  • A hammer or mallet

  • Measure and cut the PVC pipe to 3' lengths
  • Lay out the rebar where you would like your weaves to go. Most regulating bodies use 24" spacing (TDAA for 'teacup' dogs are using 21")
  • Hammer the rebar into the ground. You'll want to get somewhere between a half and a whole foot into the ground for stability. If your ground is too hard, apply some water before you start hammering
  • Slide the 3' PVC tubes over the rebar to create your weave poles!
  • To provide better visibility for your dog (and to make them look nicer) you can decorate them with coloured duct tape, or spray paint stripes onto them.
And there you have it. The construction should only take an hour or so and you're ready to go.
Have fun!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Dog Agility - A Beginner's Guide and History

For various reasons, I've been very quiet on the Luna Lovebug Dog Blog recently. In the meantime, Luna has started attending agility classes (I went too) and is progressing well. As originally stated, the Luna Lovebug Dog Blog was also to be Journal of our agility training journey. Since we have taken up the sport, I have encountered a few blank faces when I've told people we're doing it. As such, before I get into Luna's progress, I've decided to post a brief explanation of dog agility, where it came from, what it involves and what might make someone want to pursue it with their dog in the first place.

Dog Agility - A Brief History

Dog Agility Demonstration - Crufts 1978
Crufts Agility Demonstration 1978
Copyright The Kennel Club - used with permission
Dog agility has not been around for very long. The sport started in the United Kingdom in the 1970s and gained notoriety in 1978 when it was shown at Crufts (the world's largest dog show, run by the Kennel Club in the UK) as something of a novelty item to keep people entertained between the usual conformation and obedience events. It resembled something akin to an equestrian show jumping event for dogs, which isn't surprising considering the committee member in charge, John Varley, was also heavily involved with horses.

The fundamental principles that were behind developing the 1978 demonstration still apply to the sport today: i) it must be fun, ii) it must be safe for the dogs involved and iii) it must have spectator appeal. Similarly, many of the original pieces of equipment are still used in the sport today, although sometimes in slightly different forms - note that you won't see many wishing wells in a modern day agility course, although you may, on occasion, still see similar clothing.

The 1978 Crufts demonstration was so successful that they were asked to do it again the following year. The 1979 event featured competing teams, which proved even more popular. Formal regulations followed in 1980 and the sport skyrocketed from there, spreading worldwide (formally entering the US in 1986 with the formation of the USDAA). It is now a global sport with many official sanctioning organisations, titles to earn and a world championship.

Dog Agility EquipmentDog Agility - An Overview
The sport of dog agility basically involves a handler directing a dog through a set of obstacles as fast as possible, with as few errors as possible. The standard obstacles include jumps, tunnels, poles that the dog weaves between and 'contact' obstacles that the dog must traverse. In a typical competition, there are a number of these obstacles set out around a square field. The obstacles are numbered by the order in which the dog must negotiate them. The number of obstacles and the difficulty of the route set typically increase with the level of competition.

In principle, mastering the completion of each of these obstacles individually is not too difficult to teach a dog. However, it is in competition where you begin to understand the level of bond and communication between dog and handler that is required to really do well in the sport. Every second counts and, as the dog sprints, jumps, climbs and weaves, it is looking to its handler for direction through the course which has to be given with accuracy and perfect timing.

In case you've never seen a dog run an agility course before, here's the winning run from the 'medium' category at Crufts 2012 as an example below. The commentators gloss over the dog's name as simply 'Dizzy', but I really like the pedigree name of this one: Raeannes Flipping Heck.

Dog Agility - Why Do It?
There are a number of reasons why someone might want to take up agility training with their dog. Typical responses might be that it builds a stronger bond with their dog, that the dog enjoys it, that it can bring a dog out of themselves or that they enjoy competing. For me, it is probably for all of these reasons and a few more. I find videos like the one above emotive, knowing how much work is involved and how strong the dog's bond with their handler is. Luna is a high-energy dog who loves to work, so it's not a surprise that she's taking to agility training well so far and most importantly, she's really enjoying it.

More soon!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Luna Lovebug's Dog Tricks and Obedience Reel - 5 Months in

In our second blog post on dog training tips, I promised to put together a short video of Luna's progress to date, ahead of beginning our agility training. Luna has been attending 'fun and games' obedience classes at J9's K9s dog training in the San Fernando valley and I have largely followed my own advice as given in the earlier training tips post. The video showcases what we have achieved in the five months since owning one other.

I have worked on the assumption that most readers don't want to watch Luna working on various lengthy down-stays while I go out of a room, or we provide some novel distraction - so instead, we've tried to keep it short and snappy and a little bit fun. I hope you enjoy it (and if you do, we won't mind at all if you want to go ahead and like it on YouTube).

Now that the easy stuff is in the bag, you can look forward to some show-stoppers in future video updates!

Sorry for the delay in getting this post out there. We have been moving in to the new house - as featured in the video! Another post on dog agility coming soon. Thanks for reading!

Friday, 25 October 2013

What Breed is My Dog: DNA Tests for Mixed-Breed Dogs

We often get asked what breed of dog Luna is. After many guesses from friends and interested strangers, we finally gave in and bought a DNA test, which came back with surprising results!

Luna Lovebug from all angles
Luna Lovebug: Ancestry Unknown

The Guessing Game
Luna was adopted from a shelter. As such, we'll never know her actual background and she isn't an obvious individual breed. The shelter described her as a Chihuahua mix and another rescue charity pegged her as a Corgi mix on their website. By the time we finally picked her up, she had been re-labeled by the shelter vet as a Basenji. We could see all of these as theoretically possible, but we had her pegged for a Border Collie/Chihuahua mix on account of her looking like a small Border Collie (the terms 'Collie-huahua' and 'Chih-huollie' were being played around with). However, we still hadn't really accounted for her very distinctive curled tail, or fully explained her disproportionately large pointy ears.

First guesses

Guessing Luna's breed is an activity that has been enjoyed by many people who have met her – both people we know and people we don't. Some of the suggestions that we've had along the way for breeds that might be in the mix have included Akita, Shiba Inu, Keeshond and Canaan dog. The suggestion of Canaan dog came from our dog trainer (Janine at J9's K9s) and was a breed we'd never heard about and had to look up. The picture is so close to Luna that for a while we were convinced we'd got a pure-bred rare-breed dog. That is, until we actually saw one – and it was about twice the size of little Luna. So what then, a Canaan-huahua with only the size gene inherited from the Mexican side of the family? The desire to know ultimately became too great and we sent off for a Breed Identification DNA test kit from Wisdom Panel.

The Science Bit
A few words to the science behind such a kit: The Wisdom Panel test kit is pretty simplistic – you receive an unnecessarily large box (perhaps to make you feel happier about the $70 price tag) which contains two mini brushes-on-sticks (to be used as swabs) and some simple instructions. The kit can be used for testing mixed breed, purebred or 'designer' hybrids of two purebreds (Puggles, Labradoodles, Maltipoos, etc.) All that you are required to do is twirl the brushes in your dog's gums (to pick up some cells) and then let them dry out before packaging them back up in the box and mailing it back.

DNA MarkersIn a rare opportunity to put my science degree to use, I can tell you that back in the lab they will be using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) process to multiply up the doggie DNA and then, most likely, electrophoresis to produce the kind of DNA bands you may be familiar with from Biology at school, or from watching a lot of CSI. A computer will then be used to compare the sample against the company's database of genetic 'markers', which determine individual breed characteristics found on the canine genome. The computer will produce a report which gives the likely percentage of the markers that match to various breeds. Based upon this, the company constructs a picture of how the dog is likely to be made up genetically. As the general public is not that keen on statistical reports filled with percentages, probabilities and standard deviations, the company is smart enough to then produce a theoretical family tree based on this information, which is based on the results, but could still be inaccurate from a genealogical standpoint (i.e. 25% of markers matching a breed could mean that one grandparent was that breed – but equally, two great-grandparents on different branches may actually have been that breed, producing the same result.) With all this in mind, we sent off the swabs and awaited the result.

The Results
The test results arrived by e-mail – slightly sooner than expected. Excitement and tension combined to create more drama than there should have been when simply opening a PDF on my phone. Loading… loading…'Congratulations! Luna Lovebug is a Pomeranian, German Shepherd Dog, Miniature Schnauzer Mix'.

Excitement was quickly replaced by scepticism as I suddenly became filled with the knowledge that I knew much more about Luna's genetics from just looking at her than some lab-coated chaps in New Jersey. We hadn't guessed any of those breeds in our extensive pre-work of trawling dog pictures and videos on the internet and our unscientific survey of other dog walkers on the street, not to mention the mechanics of achieving that sort of mix being somewhat mind-boggling!

Pomernauzer Shepherd
A Pomernauzer Shepherd?

Further delving into the report revealed that Luna was slated to be 50% Pomeranian, with the other parent a mixed breed, incorporating a German Shepherd great-grandparent and a Miniature Schnauzer grandparent. According to the report, there is also a reasonable possibility that a Black Russian Terrier may have also been involved in one of the mixes at some point.

The Sceptical Recipient
Confident in the knowledge that I am always right, I wrote to Wisdom Panel to inform them of my scepticism. They replied pretty quickly to ask for some photos of Luna and confirming the quality of our sample (97% of the markers were visible – I paused to congratulated myself on my excellent lab technique during our bedroom gum swabbing session).

I sent back a collection of photos and gave them some of my own suggestions for breed mixes. This time, I had a reply from someone from the veterinary science team'.  They ignored all my suggestions, instead buttering me up from the start by again referring to the excellent sample quality that I had provided, which was good enough to be comparable to a blood sample. They re-affirmed their belief in the results, as well as adding that there is 'additional evidence of the herding group' present in Luna's background.

Then it got a bit more sciency.

They pointed out that Luna has a short coat with black pigment, both of which are dominant traits (no need to reach for your old Biology textbook – it basically means that she only needed one of her parents to possess the short-coat or black gene to inherit and exhibit it). They point out that all three of the breeds identified can carry black colouration, whilst the short coat is likely to have come from the German Shepherd, or possibly somewhere from the mix. They went on to explain a little about white colouration and that Luna is, in essence, a black dog genetically, but as the colour-producing pigment cells start development from the spinal cord and spread out from there during foetal growth. As such, the areas furthest away can be without pigment (therefore, white belly, feet, tail-end and nose are all pretty explainable). Her upright (pricked) ears are a recessive trait (this time, requiring both parents to carry it). The Pomeranian and the German Shepherd both have these traits, so again – no problem explaining that, or needing to rely on the mix. They describe her facial features as her ancestry 'working towards the average'. Finally, her tail curl can be inherited from the Pomeranian (though clearly a larger version) or the Miniature Schnauzer (which apparently has a curled tail before docking).

That summary was the light version, but I was very happy with the amount of science they crammed into the reply e-mail and was pretty much convinced by it. But then, just to make sure I bought it all and didn't complain any further, they saved the best for last, 'Thus, as you can see, Luna is the unique result of the various genes that she has inherited from her diverse genetic ancestry which have all come together to make her one-of-a kind'. These guys really know what they're doing. How could any dog-owner not want to read that!

The Family Tree
The Family Tree

The Conclusion
So is it worth forking out the money for a doggie DNA test? All things considered, I would recommend getting the breed identification test if your dog is mixed-breed and you want to know more about their ancestry, either because you want to monitor potential health issues, or because you just want to know! Even though I was sceptical of the test results, I was ultimately convinced by the excellent after-sales service (and the smooth-talking) from Wisdom Panel. The only downside is that I would have wanted to see more of the explanation and data behind the report upfront, but since I'm probably in the minority here, I can understand why that's not the standard. If you want to test your own dog, you can buy the Wisdom Panel test from Amazon here.

People still merrily wade in with their own suggestions of what breed(s) she might be when they meet Luna and it's still a fun game to play. But now we have some real insight into what makes her her, and the all-important stamp of approval that she really is a one-of-a-kind.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Top Ten Tips for Training Dogs

Luna and I have been working on obedience and trick training since we met four months ago. She has a good number of behaviours down ahead of our intro to agility classes due to start in a few weeks. We will try to share a pre-agility classes video to show what obedience level she is at before we begin.

Since we've been practicing obedience and tricks almost everyday for a few months now, I wanted to write a little about that before blogging about something which we have absolutely no experience of!

Unfortunately, there's a lot of misinformation out there about what constitutes good dog training. Luna and I stick to, and strongly advocate, only positive training methods. This has also helped Luna go from rescue animal to confident pet in a comparatively short time. With that in mind, I'd like to share with you our Top Ten Tips for Training Dogs, distilled from everything we've been taught, read or watched so far. I don't mind admitting that it took some careful editing to get the list to ten tips for the alliteration effect.

Luna Lovebug teaches herself dog tricks
Skeptical dogs may want to confirm what you're saying for themselves

Luna Lovebug's Top Ten Tips for Training Dogs

  1. Nothing in life is free - You have to work for a living, so why should your dog get an easy ride? Aim to get a behaviour from your dog for anything they want in life. Want dinner? 'Sit' Want to go outside? 'Stay' Want dinner? 'down'. Obviously you will need to train these behaviours first, but following this is the easiest way to keep practicing with your dog and the best way to get them to associate doing things that you want them to do with getting things that they want.
  2. Your dog is a simple being - There is a lot of info out there on canine behaviour and cognitive processing, but unless you have a deep academic interest, everything you need to know can be boiled down to this: your dog will do things that feel good to it more and things that don't feel so good less, so...
  3. Praise all good behaviours and ignore ones that you want to see less of. Do this all the time, even if you're not actively training.
  4. Take responsibility for your dog's learning - Everything your dog knows about how to behave, it learned from you. If your dog does something 'bad' take a newspaper, roll it up, and hit yourself with it - bad parent. Then think of a way to train for the behaviour you would have wanted to see from your dog in that particular situation and start working on it for next time.
  5. If your dog is not doing what you are asking them, they're telling you its too hard - It is very unlikely that your dog is trying to spite you. Take it one step back to make it easier, then try it again before moving forwards. Pushing your dog harder won't make what you're asking any easier to understand.
  6. Have fun - This is too important to be saved for last. If you're having fun - your dog will have fun. Never work your dog without a clear head and if you get frustrated for any reason, stop and take a break.
  7. Avoid negative corrections - I say 'no' to Luna as little as possible and never when we're learning tricks. There will always be exceptions, but when your dog does something wrong, rather than scolding them - try to redirect them to a positive behaviour and praise them for doing it right. Imagine someone trying to teach you to use a new computer system and the only instruction you are given is being told off when you do something wrong. How much easier would it be if someone could just tell you what you should do.
  8. Always leave your dog wanting more - train in short, regular sessions, every day if possible. Finish before your dog gets bored, while they are still excited about training with you. If you have a puppy, this is going to mean really short sessions
  9. Train within your dog's comfort zone and set them up for success - Don't expect too much too quickly from your dog. Just because they can do a trick in the living room, doesn't mean they can do it in the park. Start every behaviour at home, then start adding distractions and trying new locations.
  10. End every training session with a win - If you've been working on something that's hard for your dog, make sure you end with a few things they know before you pack up and give them a great big fuss for being so darned clever!

If you want a copy of the Knack Dog Tricks book that Luna is reading, you can find it on Amazon here.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Agility: A New Adventure

Welcome to our new blog on dog agility, dog training and other things dog-related. 'Our' in this case refers to myself and my dog – Luna Lovebug. Both of us are new to blogging and both of us are due to be new to the sport of dog agility.

I can't pretend to know how this is supposed to be done, but it seems right to give a quick introduction of who we are and what we're doing. My wife and I are both British, but have been living and working in Southern California for the past year. Before that, we spent three years living in Z├╝rich, Switzerland. We have two well-traveled cats (Bella and Bobby) and a dog called Luna Lovebug.

We have been Luna's people for a little over four months. We rescued her from the SPCALA in Long Beach and even though we haven't had her long, she has become an integral part of our lives. She's probably between 1 and 2 years old, is black and white and weighs a little over 25lbs.

Since we've had Luna, we've been working on basic obedience and going to classes and she's doing very well. The purpose of this blog is to keep track of our next adventure: trying out dog agility. It isn't yet clear to me if this blog will turn out to be a complete idiot's guide to dog agility, or a guide to being a complete idiot in dog agility. Whichever it turns out to be, I hope that you enjoy sharing the journey with us.

Mark and Luna
Luna Lovebug