Archive for the ‘Leonberger’ Category

Today we did another photo shoot. We originally were schedule to shoot last week. It was an outdoor shoot and the weather last week wasn’t desirable. It was postponed until today, the day after our big “dog party”. The weekend we have a bunch of dogs and people over for dog fun- this year we had 20 dogs.

I knew when we rescheduled it for today I could have adrenalin-hung over dogs to handle. And maybe a little tired and sore added in there too. I didn’t think it’d be too much of a problem. The shot was to involve 2 little girls, big dogs and a wading pool.

We were doing the shoot on location and therefore not in the studio, but at a photographer’s house where there was green grass. They wanted green grass and sun. The original date had been overcast and cool…good dog weather, but not for the kids. Today was 88 degrees and high humidity. Good pool weather for the kids, but probably the worst weather to try to work Leonbergers-in full sun no less. I was hoping they would last a little bit before melting right into the pool.

We all met at the studio and then caravanned out to the location- a nice country home on a county highway with some acreage and no fencing.

I got out to survey the site while leaving the dogs in the air conditioned truck. I was greeted by 4 loose fowls strutting around the yard. Ledum saw them from the truck immediately. They were rounded up and placed in the hen and rabbit house facing the set up wading pools.  One rooster protested LOUDLY to this roundup. Ledum was following very closely from the truck.

When I knew the birds were secure I let the dogs out of the truck. Ledum’s brain was fully engaged in roosters. He knew where they were and he wanted to get a snuffle. He doesn’t hurt things, but he likes to chase them to snuffle and slime them. Snuffling a rooster was the ONLY thing he could get into his head. I had a leash and flat collar on him, but he was trying to convince me the most important thing in the whole wide world was snuffling a rooster.

I got Ledum, Mara and Tringa out of the truck. Ledum was super jazzed and it took me quite a lot to get him under some semblance of control. Mara and Tringa were put in a down while I was trying to bring Ledum back to earth.

While that was going on, the two little girls (7 and 4) were getting introduced to the dogs. Like our first photo shoot a few weeks ago, the youngest wanted NOTHING to do with the dogs.

While the photographers (3 all together) were setting up equipment, the mom and I were trying to get the youngest to just touch a dog-even fluff I pulled from Tringa and had in my hand. No success.

Then it was time for the fun.

The first shot they wanted was Ledum sitting in the wading pool towering over looking down at the tiny, youngest girl obviously upset he was in HER pool. The girl would have none of it. We had to use the older child. Ledum kept turning his head to look at the roosters and rabbits. He doesn’t have a good WATCH ME command…something I’ve never really taught him but is now top on my to-do list. We used toys and motions and all sorts of inventive things to get him to at least appear to be looking down at the girl. The girl’s job was to look up at Ledum, right in his face, with visual frustration. They wanted her hands in a certain way, her face held a certain way, her knees placed just so. Trying to get both the dog and the child to do what they wanted simultaneously was fairly challenging.

It was so hot Ledum was not interested in playing this game. True, he was sitting in a pool of water, but he was fading.

So the photography director who owned the house thought maybe a live rabbit would help Ledum focus where he need to be. Absolutely, it would focus his attention for sure.

Keep in mind, he is sitting in the pool approximately 10-15 feet (I moved around) in front of me. No leash. Mara and Tringa are in a down about the same distance behind me in the shade. They also are unleashed and aren’t even wearing a collar.

Rabbit came out and sat between director’s legs. She was caressing it and trying to get it to move in a more enticing manner. Ledum was sitting in the pool VERY interested, but kept his sit in the pool.

Then….the rabbit squirmed loose and was hopping away.

I grabbed Ledum as he leapt out of the pool. He tried to get me to lawn ski behind him after the rabbit, but didn’t succeed. It was taking me all I had to keep that from happening, but while I was working to keep Ledum under control, the bunny hopped right past Mara and Tringa. It was too much for them. They broke their downs and were off.

So there was the bunny, with Mara and Tringa following with all 3 photographers bringing up the rear-all headed towards the road. My commands were falling on deaf ears while I was getting a leash on Ledum hooking it to a conveniently located post on the patio. With Ledum secure, I could join in the chase.

As soon as I rounded the corner of the garage and said Mara! Tringa! OFF. COME. They stopped and came to me. The rabbit had come back in a circle and the director got it back into the pen. No one was hurt. I wasn’t too happy Mara and Tringa broke, but the photographers thought they were awesome because they could have had the rabbit more than once, but showed great self control. HA! Guess it’s all in the perception…

We continued on from that by doing some shots of all 3 dogs in the pool with the girl standing outside the pool. The youngest refused to do that, too. The older girl did these shots too. At least for these shots, the dogs didn’t have to look down into a face so it was much easier.

Then the kids were done. We shot a few more of Mara holding the hose with the water running filling the pool for the Leos.

It had been over an hour and half baking in the sun. We were all toasted and it was time to go home. The director’s husband walked with me to the truck. He complimented me on how well behaved my dogs were. They were incredible and I should be proud. They were much better behaved than the child…

I got in the truck and drove home, laughing and shaking my head most of the way home. Good thing I have a sense of humor.

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Recently I was asked to use one of my dogs for a photo shoot for a dog supply catalog. They wanted a large dog a small child could use as a pillow.

Not a problem for most of my pack, so I agreed readily. I did ask how old the child was and if s/he was comfortable with big dogs. I was told he was 4 and the son of someone on staff so it shouldn’t be a problem.

I took Ledum and Tringa with me. Tringa has a very striking photogenic face, but it’s very black and depending on the child and positioning, etc, I thought it may be more challenging technically. Ledum is oversized, very tall and long and fits BIG dog very, very well. As long as I had to take one, it wasn’t any trouble to bring two. This would give us choices which are usually a good thing when trying to shoot photos, especially those photos creatively living in someone else’s head.

Our morning turned out to be fairly crazy so when we had to leave for our appointment, Ledum was a little on the worked up side of things. We arrived a few minutes early and checked in. Ledum was being uncharacteristic and pulling slightly on his lead. I was trying to maintain my composure.

We were led to the photo shoot location. This included traipsing through the employee break room- next to tables where several people were having their lunch. Nose-level –for-the-dogs tables, I might add. Up some very slippery looking stairs and further down the hall we finally arrive at the room. We opened the door and lo & behold, less than 10’ from the door are multiple cockatiels in a large cage. Upon seeing large dogs arriving, they commence to screaming alerts. Ledum, enthralled with small animals, got even more jazzed up. I did get him under control, but not in the split second I am used to.

We took up a bare spot on the floor to DOWN while they decided on coloring of rugs and props, etc. We met the boy. The boy who was really only 3 and not only AFRAID of big dogs, he wasn’t very comfortable with dogs at all. Sigh. Not going to be as easy as I had thought when I said “no problem” on the phone a few days prior.

Ledum proved to be too intimidating for child, even in a down. Tringa tried her best to be reassuring. The fact the child was just a few months older than Tringa gave us an in. But it was tough. Tringa wanted to smell the child. The child wanted to scream and run. After quite a while of using her tail to tickle him and trying in vain to get him to touch her, I finally had her stand up. I played peek- a-boo with him under her. He finally was comfortable enough to crawl back and forth under her. But he still wasn’t comfortable with touching her or having her look at or sniff him.

While we were doing this, Ledum was employed as a “placeholder”. He was on a DOWN a few feet away letting them set up the shot around him, set lighting, etc. Ledum is extremely engaging with people, so I knew if the child were to lay on him the shot would be what the photographer wanted, but NOT what the child would tolerate. Ledum would have to turn his head and acknowledge him in some way. Seeing as the child was freaking out when Tringa (the smaller of the two) was turning her head to look at him, I didn’t think it would help the situation. We got Ledum out of the actual shot zone and put him on a DOWN where we had first settled when we arrived. That put him about 15’ behind me. I expected him to hold his position. Then I concentrated on Tringa.

My job mostly was to keep her from even thinking of looking in the child’s direction. The photographer wanted her head to be down between her legs and her eyes closed. Meanwhile, the dad was trying to get the child to curl up and look relaxed with Tringa curled around him. We gave up on the curled up idea early on. The child didn’t really want that much contact with Tringa. Trying to get the child propped up was fairly difficult. To make up for his lack of confidence with the dog, he kept sliding down. His dad then would move him back up higher on Tringa’s body which triggered Tringa to want to lay flat on her side. I’d have to then get her back more upright while the dad was still getting the child positioned.

Oh, did I mention they gave the child a prop? Have you ever seen one of those dog toys that look exactly like a teddy bear? But really it’s a dog squeaky toy that children like to squeak?

Only once did Ledum think about getting up, when someone came in and the cockatiels got really, really active. Tringa & Ledum BOTH stuck their noses in the air when the cage with a couple ferrets walked near the edge of the photo shoot.

All in all, it was a fun training experience for me and the dogs. I was told we even got a few usable shots!

We’ll have to wait and see when the catalog comes out.

Simple obedience opens doors!

Ledum & Tringa Photo Shoot

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Honor Ky Day

Today marks a year since Ky left his broken earthly vessel. I can’t say the year has flown by, but neither has it dragged too excruciatingly slowly. In the beginning it was pretty difficult. I felt lost. It’s gotten easier to function without him next to me as time has passed.  It took until February before I could even mention his name in my group classes without choking up.

I truly believe he brought Quig into our lives-probably as much for Quig as for me. It hasn’t been until the last couple months I healed enough to really focus on the gift he brought me in Quiggers. I’ve just begun to notice how similar Quig is to what Ky was when Ky first came to us. This realization has opened some new thoughts in my head and allowed me to get deeper into Quig’s.  That process is actually opening up my heart enough to let Quig in down deep and proper where dogs belong.

I’m seriously thinking Quig may be my next demo dog. While that’s been thought about before with Ledum (before he got off the plane & we saw his structure), and Tringa (before her ghastly hip report), even with Quigger’s questionable hips, he may actually be the one.

It’s true that I put whatever dog living in our house to whatever task they’re up for. Ledum has very bad structure. He works teaching first aid students about bad structure and its risks. He also gets to help out in puppy class by lying on the floor and playing with puppies. He loves this! He trots his big frame out and sends them all running with his size and then lies on the floor to become their furry trampoline.

Tringa does well as the main therapy dog. Lying quietly in school being read to and being fawned over with treats at intervals makes her very happy.

Mara is the original Ky-assistant-to-become-replacement. She helped him do lots of things. Now she does things he used to do and some of her own things. For some reason, though, people assume because of her breed (GSD) she just does these things naturally without training. That misconception makes it difficult to convince people their own dog can dog be trained to do these things also. Having a Leo for a demo dog helps show people any dog, even theirs, can be trained. Quig may help with people understand this.

Today I’ll take some quiet me time, some cry time, some happy time.

 I’ll spend some training time working on Quig’s fetch and general compliance to the high standard Ky set.

And Ky will be honored.

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Tringa turned 2 last month.  Traditionally, 2 years old would mark the milestone at which dog owners would have their dogs’ hips x-rayed to be evaluated by Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Most people doing this would be those interesting in breeding their dog. Many breeders ask their puppy owners to do this even if they’re not planning on breeding to give the breeder valuable info about their breeding program. Many breeders use OFA as a determining point for guaranteeing hip health (the presence of dysplasia or not).

Hip dysplasia simply means malformed hips. Being dysplastic in itself isn’t always a problem. Some dogs are dysplastic and never have any problems well into their advanced age. Others can go on to develop degenerative joint disease and arthritis at a very early age.

In our house, we choose to PennHip. See The Value of PennHip for a greater explanation of what it is and why we chose to do this.

PennHip can be done very early. We have our dogs PennHipped when we spay or neuter them. They’re already under anesthetic so it’s easy enough to do one more procedure.

There’s been discussion among breeders and dog fanciers that PennHip can’t accurately predict what dog’s hips will become.  

Puppies in general have a lot of laxity in their joints. It’s what keeps them safe from injuries while they’re trying to get themselves coordinated and developed. Therefore we expect them to have some distraction in this technique.  I would anticipate their hips to “tighten up” somewhat as they mature. To what degree is the question we wanted answered.

For our own information and curiosity, we chose to reshoot Tringa’s PennHip when she turned 2.  In Tringa’s case, there was a degree of “tightening up”-but not much.

Her first PennHip was shot when she was 7 months old. Her left hip had a DI of 0.82. Her right hip had a DI of 0.85. Results on both hips state “DI is greater than 0.30 with not radiographic evidence of DJD. There is an increasing risk of developing DJD as the DI increases; low risk when DI is close to 0.30, high risk when DI is close to 0.70 or above.” (see The Value of PennHip for explanation of this lingo).

Because of the knowledge we gained from Tringa’s first PennHip, we were able to change her activities. No jumping, no Frisbee, no anything that would stress hip joints. Swimming, dock diving, etc are things to help her stave off arthritis or joint problems. We did things to help build and stabilize her muscles. We kept (& keep) a close eye on her weight. We added supplements. We crossed our fingers and hoped the critics were right in their suspicions of the ability of PennHip to predict the future.

Tringa’s second PennHip was shot 13 days after her 2nd birthday. Alas, even before the radiographs were sent into PennHip for evaluation, we could see the remodeling. In layman’s terms: PennHip DID predict the future.

Her left hip DI was 0.71 and her right hip was 0.75. Results on both hips state “CONFIRMED HIP DYSPLASIA. DI is greater than 0.30 with evidence of mild or moderate DJD.”

Even with the changes we made, in the second set of x-rays we took, we can see remodeling. Remodeling is the term used when the bone changes shape.  Here are a couple of photos showing the two views taken in PennHip. Each photo has the original film compared to the second film.

Can YOU pick out the remodeling?

Tringa's Second PennHip Distraction View

Tringa's Second PennHip VD View











If it was too subtle for you to pick out, here are a couple more photos with the changes highlighted with arrows.

Arrows highlight remodeling in Tringa's Second Distraction View

Arrows highlight remodeling in Tringa's second PennHip VD View














And to make it an even more informative comparison here they are side by side:

Side by side comparison of Tringa's PennHips Distraction View

Side by Side Comparison of Tringa's PennHips VD View


What does this mean for Tringa’s future?

Well, we can already see her hip problems in her gait and she’s already shifting more of her weight from her rear legs to her front legs.

We’ll continue to monitor her and adjust her activities accordingly. We will take it into account when we ask her to do things and her compliance of what we ask. Is she refusing to obey or CAN she obey?

When she needs it, she’ll get meds to help relieve discomfort.

I also believe by doing a PennHip in her early age we gained valuable information that helped us put the need for medication off into the future.

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It’s been just a tad over six months since Ky left us.

I still miss him terribly. I feel his absence most in group classes. He had the anchoring energy even out of control dogs responded to. He could practically read my mind and I wouldn’t have to think twice about it. That allowed me to concentrate on teaching rather than bolstering Ky’s training.

Mara is starting to take on more and more of his former duties. She’s got a totally different energy. Not anchoring in the least because she’s always trying interrupt everyone else’s behavior. Her mottos are “why can’t we all get along” and “it’s okay, I’ll help you feel better”.  She’s especially alert to any chaotic energy. And she’s not always content to wait for me to make the choices. In certain instances, I have to watch her like a hawk.

Having my attention split in two -one part of me teaching and one part of me fortifying her training, makes things much more challenging. But I think those are still good lessons to students-training is lifelong for ALL of us. Trainers included. Even our dogs are far from perfect.

Ky made it very easy for me. I didn’t have to be split for the most part. He knew how to take care of me.

Mara is doing her best but she’s sure got some big pawprints to fill. Hopefully I’ll get Quigley up to speed shortly and he’ll help her, too.

The thought it would take more than one dog to fulfill his legacy is not surprising to those who had the privilege of meeting Ky.

I know I’m not alone in my missing him.

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Quig’s PennHip results came back yesterday. We figured he wasn’t as bad as Tringa. Tringa’s are really bad. We weren’t sure how he’d measure up to Mara, our GSD. I personally felt he’d be pretty close to Mara, but watching his movement, I’d have guessed he’s a little worse than Mara.

See our post on PennHip if you need more info on the procedure.

The closer the Distraction Index (DI) number is to .30, the better. The closer the Distraction Index is to .70 or greater, the higher the risk of Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD).

Tringa ranked in the bottom 10% of the 202 Leos PennHipped as of 6/08. Her left DI was .82. Her right DI was .85. Clearly she’s at a high risk for developing DJD though no signs of DJD were seen at the time her films were shot. 

Mara was PennHipped 6/05. Her left DI was .61. Her right DI was .57 with no signs of DJD. She ranked in bottom 20% of the 6120 German Shepherds PennHipped at that time.

She moves very well. Seldom do we see a bunny hop. Most people don’t have a clue her hips aren’t good. We work hard on keeping it that way.

Quig’s left DI was .57. His right DI was .50 with no signs of DJD. He ranks in the bottom 30% of the 224 Leos now in the database.

Seeing a video of Quig in his previous home clued us into something not being right with his hips. He bunny hops a lot. His movement isn’t great. It was obvious enough, even though he was being suggested as a possible demo dog for me, we knew he wasn’t going to be a super demo dog for me.

This info is very interesting to me. Let’s set aside the small database of Leonbergers, and just look at the DIs for Quig and Mara. Mara’s DIs are worse. Her best DI is equal to Quig’s worst. Yet, watching them move, you see the opposite. Even though Mara is 4 (almost 5!) and Quig is only 2 (just in April), Mara has better movement with worse DIs.

This just reinforces for me the reason we PennHip our dogs at a young age. We were able to change Mara’s diet and activities etc. to stave off the effects of having less than perfect hips when she was six months old. During critical growth periods, we could watch her very closely. Her weight is monitored very carefully.

Quig was not on a good diet when he came to us. He also was overweight. He’s already lost three pounds and needs to lose some more. He’s starting to get conditioned and firm up. We’ll start working on building specific muscle groups soon. He’s already two years old so it’s going to take longer to try to condition him.  Will his movement change and not give away his underlying condition when he’s almost 5 like Mara? I hope so. Would things have been different if he’d been PennHipped earlier? Maybe. His vet was concerned about his right hip at his 8 week puppy exam. No follow up was done.

Clearly, no one has all the answers. No one can no for sure what a puppy will grow into. But we’re for learning the most information possible. Knowledge is power.

Will Quig become a demo dog for me? Yes.

And no.

I mean, I use all our dogs as demo dogs in some capacity because all dogs have something to teach and offer. A true demo dog, however, needs to be able to work long hours and be athletic. Quig is already doing some demo dog work even though he’s only been here 3 weeks but I doubt I’ll be asking him to work for long consecutive periods any time soon. Only time will tell if that will change, but every dog in our pack has some orthopedic issue we work with and around.

Quig is just one more to contribute and enjoy the good life here.

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Seven Days

It’s been seven days since Ky left us. Seven days of trying to find a new way without him by my side. Seven days of re-discovering exactly how deeply woven he was (and still is) into my life and livelihood.

There is a famous saying “not all who wander are lost”. Right now my personal view on this is slightly different.

“Not all who are lost wander”.

I’m not wandering. I’m getting up, going to work, going to the grocery store, going to the bank, answering e-mails, and hundreds of other normal seeming chores. But I’m still on auto-pilot.

Inside I’m lost. 

There’s a huge hole, emotionally and physically, in our household.

There are another couple quotes that come to mind:

“Perhaps strength doesn’t reside in having never been broken…but in the courage required to grow strong in the broken places.”

Followed by

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow’”.

So for now I will get up again tomorrow on autopilot and do a hundred seemingly normal chores. But they’re not normal really. Being without Ky by my side isn’t normal yet. But in the not-too-distant future my new, stronger normal will be Ky only inside my heart.

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Less than 48 hours after letting Ky go, Tringa & I were in the school parking lot. She was waiting for me to get her dream catcher and medicine bag attached to her collar. Her Dad, Cowboy, sent it to her via special messenger at Nationals. In other words, Cowboy’s mom, Dorothy couldn’t make it to meet Tringa in person, but her husband Richie did. Richie brought this special gift for Tringa. Cowboy does lots of therapy visits in CA. He wears a dream catcher and medicine bag, too.

I waited until Ky had left us before we used it. I had braided some of Ky’s hair from his left hock and added it to the special medicine Cowboy & Dorothy already had in the medicine bag.

It wasn’t as hard as I expected this visit to be. All the kids knew. In fact, Neil got a CD with the memorials for the kids before anyone else knew about them. Our main students had watched the celebration of Ky’s life. They appreciated being included and sharing memories.

Jake, the one known for squeezing the stuffings out of my heart without warning, had the most to say. I expected this. He was the most attached to Ky. He said he missed him. I told him I did, too, but reminded him he told me last visit (see TGIKy) he was always going to keep him in his heart. So in reality, Ky was always with him. He agreed. And then I told him some of Ky’s hair was in Tringa’s medicine bag. So he was really there, too. Jake brightened up to that thought.

At the end of the visit, Neil got all our students together and they presented me with a collage of photos of them reading to Ky.  Under every photo, each student had written their favorite Ky experience and memory.

The very first boy we started this program with 4 years ago had no idea what was going to happen that day. The reading specialist just told him it was a special surprise.  I still remember the look on his face when he walked into the room that day!

He wrote his best memory was the first time he saw him. He remembers seeing this big dog and him being little. He also wrote he had been thinking if Ky hadn’t been naughty in his first home, he wouldn’t have come to us and not have met other kids. His last sentence is “Sometimes you have to do a bad thing to do good things.”

Others wrote: 

“Ky is a part of my life and what’s happening to him is sad. I am praying for him.”

“Ky helped me read by reading out loud. Ky made me fluent and confident.”

“One of my favorite things about Ky was that he was very sweet and was a very intelligent dog.”

“He didn’t care what you read. If it was a dog book, he would look at you and pay attention.”

Like I said before…

It was perfect.

Ky's photo collage and bouqet from the students

Ky's photo collage and bouquet from the students

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When Ky retired from his therapy visits at the end of March, I figured we’d be able to get a surprise visit or two in if we could get our schedule to work. We did a surprise visit before the kids went on spring break.  The Friday before spring break, the instructor, Neil, told the kids Ky is terminally ill. He said it was the hardest thing he’s had to do in a long time.



The kids had a week of spring break to enjoy life and forget about death.

Last week I expected to make Ky’s last ever school visit. I felt it important to make one visit now that the kids know he’s dying. It would give them a chance to say whatever they need –or not. It’s a very personal experience different for everyone, so if they didn’t miss a beat it’d be fine with me, too.  Jake was absent on the day we visited. I thought that would be that and Ky’s visits were finished.

On Tues, Tringa went in like she’s been doing this forever. Jake asked me where Ky was with more than just a little anxiety in his voice. He was visibly relieved when I told him was at home probably napping. He told me he had heard about Ky. He asked how long he had to live, where the cancer was and other details. I answered them the best I could. Leaving school that day was hard.

I went home and checked my schedule. I asked Neil if I’d be able to bring Ky in on Friday for a short visit so everyone, mostly Jake,  would have a chance to say goodbye. He arranged it so we could come in the morning instead of our usual afternoon visit. Ky has more energy in the mornings so I was grateful for that.

Jake was very excited to see Ky. We did as much talking about Ky’s condition, heaven, what would happen next, feelings, etc as we did reading. Jake even opened up about some personal family stuff he hadn’t talked about before.  It was a very healing day. Definitely thank goodness it was Ky Day.

A note the kids wrote to Ky on his last day.

A note the kids wrote to Ky on his last day.

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