Category Archives: Fin

Finnegan

We say goodbye to the Big G

At the beginning of January, we were devastated when we lost our beloved Fin.  The Big Ginger, as he was affectionately known, has left a huge hole in our lives.  He had many conditions and a lot of our time was taken up with caring for him.  However, despite all his various illnesses, he was a happy boy and still enjoyed a walk, albeit slowly, around the park, feasting on sheep poo when he got a chance.  He also adored the snow and would gulp huge mouthfuls of it, at every opportunity.

He must have been at least 15 years old.  We adopted him in 2003 when we were told he was around 2.  We got him from Vigil German Shepherd Rescue in Surrey, after being sent his picture (above left) to post on our website.  We couldn’t resist him, and after a brief introduction, took him home.

Fin wasn’t always the easiest dog, he never got along with our other rescue Blitz but he was such a character.  Sometimes, when there was a full moon, he would throw his head back and howl like a wolf.

He is so sorely missed, but we are thankful to have had so many years with him, and he will always be in our hearts.

Sleep tight Big G.

Training your dog with a Target Stick

Teach your dog to target using a target stick or target wand. A fun training activity, but also a useful way to lead your dog without force.

Targeting or Touch Targeting is very simple – it is teaching your dog to touch something on command, such as your hand, a cup or maybe a ball, with either his nose (or paw).

How is it useful?

Fin is lured into a Down with the target stick

Targeting can be useful in a number of ways. For instance, sending your dog to his bed to ‘settle’, or training him to ring a bell to go outside are both forms of targeting where the bed and the bell are the targets.

Why use a target stick?

Almost anything can be used as a target, but the beauty of using a target stick is that you can move it around easily.  They usually have a target ball on the end which can attract your dog’s attention, they are easily portable, and they can be used to encourage your dog to follow. Some even have an integrated clicker.

Once he is comfortable touching the target ball, this behaviour can easily be transferred to other objects.  Floor standing target sticks are also ideal for distance work where your dog may need to work away from you (handy for dog agility/dog sports, but other situations too).

As soon as your dog is working with a target stick, it can be effective for leading his movement without force.  With your dog happy following the target, you can use it for many things – like encouraging a ‘down’ (right), leading him through the weave poles in agility, doing a twirl around you, or pushing objects on cue

Getting Started

Make sure you have your clicker, a quantity of small but high value treats in a treat pouch, your target stick, somewhere quiet with no distractions, and a dog that is hungry!

Your dog should already be familiar with the clicker (although the steps can be adapted to non-clicker training methods if you prefer).

Step 1

Start by doing a few simple tricks that your dog already knows to get him to focus on you.  Sits or downs perhaps, remembering to click and treat each time.

Once you have his attention, present the stick to your dog.  Be ready – out of curiosity he is bound to sniff the stick, and as soon as he does, or shows any interest, (anywhere on the stick, not just the end with the ball) click and treat.  Repeat the action and again click and treat each time he shows interest.

Try not to let your dog bite the target or stick

If your dog attempts to bite or grab the stick, try to discourage him without putting him off of the exercise.

Vary the stick’s position slightly in relation to your dog, and keep going until it is clear that he understands that if he sniffs or touches the stick (wherever it is) with his nose, he will receive the click and treat.

If your dog is really not interested, be patient and give him a chance to work out what you want him to do.  In some cases it helps to smear something smelly and tasty onto the target ball to help get your dog started.

Train in short bursts so that he doesn’t lose interest, taking regular breaks to do other things.  Only once your dog is touching the target stick 100% of the time, move on to the next step.

Step 2

So far you have said nothing when he touches, so now it’s time to add a verbal command, or ‘cue’.  Present the stick and just as his nose is making contact, say the word you want to use, like ‘touch’.  Don’t forget to click and treat. Do some repetitions and gradually introduce the word earlier and earlier until it is clear that the cue is making him act.

When your dog is 100% reliable, stop clicking for touches that are not done on command.

Step 3

Vary the position of the target stick

At this point you can start to move the target stick’s position a little more, still using the ‘touch’ cue.  Click and treat each time.  Most target sticks are telescopic so you can extend and get your dog to work further away from you.  You could also put the stick on the floor or on a piece of furniture.

Again make sure the behaviour is 100% solid before moving on.

Step 4

When your dog is reliably touching on command, you can start to shape the behaviour.

Your dog may only be touching the target ball already, but if not, it shouldn’t take too much encouragement to focus him on that rather than the whole stick. Just click and treat for nose touches on the ball itself, and nowhere else.  He’ll soon get the message.

Then, try moving the stick a little as your dog approaches, so that he follows it. As your dog understands what is needed, vary the distance and speed of movement.  Remember to click and treat the touch each time.

Before long, your dog should be touching the ball at the end of the stick on command wherever it is.

What next?

A floor standing target can encourage your dog to work away from you

If you have a free standing target stick you can begin to ask your dog to work away from you.  Start with the target close at first and use your ‘touch’ cue.  Click immediately and he should return to you for the treat (setting up the next go very nicely!).

Move the target to different positions relative to you and gradually increase the distance to it, repeating the command, and clicking and treating for each success.  If you have a hand held target stick, you could achieve the same thing by putting it on the ground where your dog can see it.

Dogs enjoy speed and excitement so it is good fun to turn this into a fast paced game.  Put the target down a few feet from you, give the touch cue, and when your dog touches the target, click and throw the treat out past it so that your dog has to run to get it.  On his way back to you, give the touch cue again, click and throw the treat again after a successful touch.

Remember…

If at any time your dog starts to get confused or frustrated, either go back and repeat the previous step, or switch to something simple that he can do easily.  This will make the training fun for him and keep him interested.

Take your time. Some dogs take longer than others, and it is important not to push forward too quickly.

Always put the target stick away at the end of a training session so that your dog is not touching it when you are not looking and therefore not receiving a click and treat.

Have fun!

The ginger one

Getting to the bottom of Fin’s problem

It’s been a difficult month with regard to our 13 year old rescue boy Fin.  We adopted him from Vigil German Shepherd Rescue when he was just 2 years old (who can resist a ginger GSD!), and for most of his life, he has been fit and healthy.  However, last year he was struggling to go to the toilet, and since he absolutely refused to be examined the nearest diagnosis we could get for his symptoms was colitis.  He had a course of steroids which affected him quite badly at the time but seemed to cure the problem, along with a complete change of diet.  He was doing pretty well until recently.

The symptoms were back so we returned to the vet and this time he was sedated to allow a thorough examination.  The conclusion was anal furunculosis, also known as perianal fistula, which may have an underlying allergic or autoimmune cause.  We had no knowledge of this horrible disease so set about researching it online and joined a group dedicated to it, which was very useful.

Although steroids helped last time we didn’t want to risk the side effects again so, along with our vet, looked for other options.  The most popular treatment seemed to be Cyclosporine (Atopica) which is incredibly expensive and although we were offered an alternative drug, it ran the risk of pancreatitis.  We rejected that and plumped for the cyclo, combined with Ketoconozole, which reduced the cyclosporine dose and therefore the cost.  Having agonised over it and made the decision, we discovered that the keto had been withdrawn due to severe side-effects in humans.

We were back to the Cyclosporine on its own, although once the problem was under control, we could use a cream to keep on top of it.  We requested a prescription from our vet, which they gladly supplied, and sourced the cyclo from an online pharmacy at a considerably lower cost.

Once again we had to change his diet to a “novel” protein to try to rule out food allergies.  Given that our dogs are raw fed and we raise a lot of our own meat here on the croft, it was difficult to find something that he had never eaten.  Buffalo or kangaroo came to mind!  In the end we chose duck.  He has started his diet and seems quite keen on it and we are awaiting the arrival of the drugs.

We will let you know how he gets on and if anyone has any experience of this disease or advice to offer, we would be pleased to hear from you.

On another note, lambing has begun with three sets of twins so far and the cameras are worth their weight in gold – no more spending hours in the freezing cold watching the sheep puffing and panting!