Sunday, May 28, 2006

Tracking, BSL, and Hold & Bark

Today's track went very well! I'd been something of a slacker, having given the dogs a tracking vacation, but today we resumed in a new field. I not only placed articles but dropped treats in occasional footsteps, making the track itself reinforcing as well as the articles and, I hoped, slowing down my little manic tracker puppy who would love to do the entire track at a controlled run.

It worked; Laev slowed herself down without help from me, and she overshot her corners by a foot or so instead of six. She also, for the first time ever, I think, downed on every article without any reminders from me. Why, yes, I did make that worth her while. :-)

In an interesting coincidence, the school lawn we were using for our tracks had a woman walking across it while I laid tracks. Oh, well, I thought; just a cross track. But it turns out that she was laying a TDX track for a friend! I've never bumped into another tracker, ever. How fun! And so we talked.

As most of you have probably detected :-) I am pretty adamant against BSL (breed-specific legislation). It should be absurdly obviously that phenotype does not determine behavior, and outlawing certain breeds or types of dogs because they are "inherently dangerous" is first unfair to all dog owners and second dangerous to the public, as it creates the idea that somehow all the remaining legal breeds are "safe."

Anyway, this tracklayer and her friend had Goldens, and they brought up the subject of breed discrimination. Yep, them, not me -- see, I was being restrained! I was very glad to hear that they were not biased on the basis of breed -- they said right off that it was breeding and training, not breed itself, which created or prevented problems. (We've had two awful and high-profile cases of dog bites this week locally. One toddler lost an eye in the attack -- but it was the *fourth* reported bite for this particular dog and owner. Why did it ever even get to this point? We don't need laws banning the breed, we need to enforce the vicious dog laws already extent!)

But even though these two experienced dog people knew that breed did not determine behavior or danger, it was sad to note how many discriminatory phrases were used in the conversation, simply because they have (I'm sure) never thought about it. Things like, "The kids were scared of my dog because she was big, and I said, It's okay, she's a Golden," and "I saw one of those attack dogs, you know, that breed that was in California." The first implies that Goldens are inherently safe (not true) and the second that the breed in question was inherently "attack dogs" (also not true).

Language is vital, and it's so easy to create an impression without thinking about it. For me, it's necessary to specify that not all small dogs are yappy and nipping, something that is easy to imply if I'm telling stories without paying attention. :-) For others, it's easy to say, "Mean dogs like Rottweilers and pit bulls" or something similar. But if we want to keep the legal right to have dogs -- all dogs -- we need to be careful that we're not giving any reason that we shouldn't.

Back to Laev. So then we worked on the hold and bark again. The data sheet shows a success rate of 60% and 40% for my defined criteria for our two sessions. My impression is that she actually stops herself better if I let the gate do it or just bump the leather collar, that bumping the prong actually drives her forward into or over the gates (not unusual, since the prong collar was designed to stimulate a dog rather than inhibit it! and now it's commonly used for a completely different purpose and usually poorly).

We varied angles, distances of sending, etc. Laev started strong on the second session and actually got worse as time passed; I think she was getting tired and hot and less capable of truly thinking. It was hot and humid today, the first really of the season after a very stormy spring, and the dogs weren't prepared to handle it yet. Laev carried the sleeve back and dove under the car with it -- "Shade!"

We'll see if the hold and bark continues to improve, but I think this gate bit is working far better already than using the lines alone. She just had to see the gate in the blind, one more step, to connect that the revier in the open is the same as the revier in the blind.

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