Greta Kaplan, CPDT, CDBC
Last week I traveled to Lake Tahoe to give a half-day presentation on Control Unleashed at the Entlefest. I realize this requires some translation. The Entlefest is the annual national breed club meeting for the National Entelbucher Mountain Dog Association. An Entlebucher (Entlebuch Sennenhund) is one of the four Swiss Mountain dog breeds. Many are familiar with the two bigger members of this group, the Bernese Mountain Dog and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. The smaller members, the Entlebucher and the Appenzeller, are much less common and less well known. The Entlebucher is rather low slung and powerful, and was specially bred to gently but firmly herd prized Swiss dairy cattle without knocking them off the numerous cliffs. Entles in the US do not do much herding, but enjoy lives as pets, obedience dogs and sports companions (there are a few very fast flyball Entles). The question most often answered by Entle owners is, “Is that a Beagle/Rottweiler mix?”
I was honored to be asked to present. CU author and developer Leslie McDevitt personally recommended me to the NEMDA members who inquired many months ago. Committee members Linda Planting and Leelee Stefanki were very patient with me as we worked out scheduling, programming, and accommodations. I was even more excited when they asked me if I could add another activity for the afternoon of the same day: Judging a European-style working temperament test for the dogs in attendance. I will write about that separately.
Along with able assistant Jett Wyatt, her Aussie, Kiva, and my Border Collie, Mellie, we drove the 600 miles from Portland to Lake Tahoe the day before the presentation. It was tiring and I’m very grateful to the nice policeman who decided not to ticket me for speeding near the Lava Beds National Monument. We were hoping to arrive at the lake before dark so the dogs could have a good run, but we didn’t quite make it. We stopped in Carson City to buy a good flashlight and the dogs got a short ramble on the beach before we collapsed.
The presentation started at 8:30, and I spent the first 20 minutes arranging the participants so that their dogs were in the most restful spots possible. A very big part of CU is learning to set up your dog’s environment to reduce arousal and stress. Instead of allowing participants to put crates in rows along the tent walls, I had them spread crates out to minimize strange-dog proximity stress. Then we got started.
We had anticipated about a dozen working dogs, but in the end, nineteen dogs’ owners wanted to participate. I decided to arrange things so that every owner got at least one participatory slot. I selected six dogs to work all the way through (three sections), and then divided the rest into thirds and assigned each third to one of the three sections. The owners’ questionnaire responses were invaluable in helping me to select which section would most suit each dog.
I talked about theory for about 15 minutes and then we launched into the first working section, which was about body language. As each dog entered the “box” (the working space in CU), the audience called out their guesses about how each dog was feeling. I was thrilled that so many members readily identified sniffing and lip licking as signs of stress. We added some more signs for them to recognize and apply: stretching, shaking off, yawning, and so on. The last demonstration was possible because one of the applicants for a working spot had an elderly dog who’d gone blind. We had her interact with a stable younger dog so that the audience could see what the younger dog did when the older one inevitable was unable to recognize early body language and continued into the younger one’s personal space bubble. The older dog handled herself fine and I hope the lesson was clear: Dogs are communicating by tiny body language signals all the time! A lot is happening before there is a growl or snap.
We then moved onto demonstrating the Give Me A Break game. This game is hard to visualize from reading the book. We had the usual range of dogs who were Velcroed to their owners to dogs who needed really long breaks. The audience was getting good at telling sniffing for information apart from stress (displacement) sniffing. All the dogs shortened their “breaks” on their own and the owners started to feel the value of allowing the dogs to choose attention rather than trying to compel it.
Last we examined the Look At That game. Probably the best known of the CU games, it’s a very useful one. We supplied distractions to suit each dog as best we could. I ran around one dog who sometimes grabs running children. (She was great, very hard to distract!) We brought in Mellie to tug, walk, or run near some of the other dogs. We banged a crate door and dragged a chair for one dog who startles at sudden noises. Finally, we worked with a formidable titled athlete who is obsessed with tennis balls. We showed how we could get him to “LAT Tennis Ball” as a way to get him to leave it alone. After five minutes, he was looking at the ball as Jett and I rolled it back and forth between us just a few feet away. His owner was impressed and could see how to expand this result to a more normal situation.
With this dog I also detoured for a few minutes to show how to teach a good Out with a tug. He is a mature, powerful dog who has spent 6 years being very hard to get toys from. In five repetitions I had him releasing his tug extremely readily and was starting to put a cue on it. Once I recovered my breath (we were at 6200 feet!), I could see that quite a few audience members were busy taking notes.
We wound up when the lunch crew was busy setting up tables. Our tent had become the lunch tent! People had lots of questions and I finally had to defer so we could give our hardworking dogs a break before the afternoon activities started up. We were thrilled to notice one of the attendees playing Look At That dog in the parking lot. I’m certain he’s on the way to agility success with his beautiful, athletic young Entle boy.