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See Spot Run trainer Nick Rodriguez carved this frightening specimen out of an unsuspecting pumpkin. Kinda reminds me of a smallish bull terrier I trained once.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2012.


Steve White presented this video at the APDT conference last week. It’s by a UK trainer, Chirag Patel of Domesticated Manners, whose Youtube channel is definitely worth visiting. Here’s a lovely demonstration of how he teaches a Drop cue. It’s very similar in some ways to how I introduce my Leave It command, although those exercises include the additional goal of reorientation and movement away from the item.

I really like how Patel uses his hands to help the dog find the food from the very beginning, and find the narration very thorough and instructive. I also like that he included a handling mistake in the final cut, explaining what he did wrong and demonstrating a corrected approach immediately afterward.

No Pekingese. No Bulldog. No Clumber Spaniel. No Mastiff. No Neapolitan Mastiff. No Basset Hound.

These are the breeds that were absent within their respective group competitions at this year’s Crufts, due to their chosen ambassadors (those judged Best of Breed) subsequently flunking a newly mandated vet check.

According to the Kennel Club website:

The Kennel Club has introduced veterinary checks for the Best of Breed winners at all Kennel Club licensed General and Group Championship Dog Shows from Crufts 2012 onwards, in 15 designated high profile breeds. This measure was introduced to ensure that Best of Breed awards are not given to any dogs that show visible signs of problems due to conditions that affect their health or welfare.

The fifteen high profile breeds are as follows: Basset Hound, Bloodhound, Bulldog, Chow Chow, Clumber Spaniel, Dogue De Bordeaux, German Shepherd Dog, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Pekingese, Shar Pei, St Bernard, French Bulldog, Pug and Chinese Crested.

Thus no Best of Breed award was ultimately awarded to the winners of six individual breed contests. See all results here.

One can read more about these events on a number of sites, including Terrierman’s Daily Dose, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, Border Wars, and Honest Dog.

Personally, I applaud the Kennel Club for taking this step, although they may have done so grudgingly, and although it is perhaps not the best step they could have taken. And I applaud the veterinarians in question for their willingness to suggest that the Kennel Club’s “Best”– if that includes dogs suffering from visible health problems– isn’t good enough.

But I’m a little put off by the Kennel Club’s apparent effort to lay blame for the crippling health problems within certain high-profile breeds squarely at the feet of a handful of judges. And I’m equally put off by the suggestion that the solution to these problems, which clearly stem in large part from a century of judging dogs by appearance alone, is somehow to judge dogs more competently by appearance alone.

From the Crufts website:

Ronnie Irving, Kennel Club Chairman, said: “The majority of people involved in showing dogs, including the 15 high profile breeds, are doing a good job in moving their breed forward and many judges are ensuring that health is paramount when they judge. This work should be applauded and recognised.

“Sadly though, a few judges in some breeds simply can’t or won’t accept the need to eliminate from top awards, dogs which are visibly unhealthy. Neither we who show dogs, nor the Kennel Club which must protect our hobby, can reasonably allow that state of affairs to continue. I hope also that monitoring the results of this exercise may even, in time, enable us to drop from the ‘high profile’ list some of those breeds which prove to have a clean bill of health.

“This move, along with the other health measures that we have put in place will help the Kennel Club to ensure that the show ring is, as Professor Patrick Bateson said it can be: a positive lever for change in the world of dogs.”

Professor Steve Dean, Crufts Committee member and Senior Veterinary Surgeon, and a member of the Kennel Club General Committee, said of the new requirements: “The guidance which we will issue to Show Vets will focus on clinical signs associated with pain or discomfort which will come under the main headings of external eye disease, lameness, skin disorders and breathing difficulty. The show veterinary surgeons will be looking for signs such as ectropion, entropion, corneal damage, dermatitis, breathing difficulty on moderate exercise, and lameness. The fifteenth breed is the Chinese Crested where the principal issue will be the presence of skin damage arising from hair removal and thus signs of clipper rash or chemical insults to the skin will be looked for.

According to Kennel Club secretary Caroline Kisco, the vets will be judging the winners’ health solely by outward appearance. In other words, vets are not to disqualify dogs for any reasons beyond those that would have been apparent to the show judges themselves. Watch the below video to hear Kisco explain in her own words.

Here’s my take on that interview. By scapegoating individual judges, the Kennel Club deftly avoids undermining the idea that purebred dogs may be perfected via beauty contests. After all, a competent show judge should be able to gauge a dog’s health and fitness just as easily as these independent veterinarians, right?

It’s not the system that’s broken, it’s not the bizarre dog show culture, and it’s certainly not the Kennel Club ethos. It’s just a few bad apples– a few blind or deluded individuals that somehow can’t tell a sick dog when they see one.

Other than that, everything’s fine.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2012.

A friend of mine who teaches agility wrote me a few weeks back, and mentioned her enrollment in a pair of long-distance courses taught by Silvia Trkman. I’d heard of Trkman before now, but not paid too close attention. Mainly, I recall her producing a video called Heeling Is Just Another Trick, and that it had inspired an interesting discussion on a trainer list or two.

Well, I visited her website, and decided to take the plunge. So many of my clients have expressed interest in learning tricks over the years, and in preparing their dogs for agility work, I thought her Puppy/Tricks Class would be a sound investment. It starts next week and lasts three months, over which students are encouraged (or possibly required, not really sure) to post videos of their practice sessions for comment and discussion.

There are several samples of such videos on her website, but the one I enjoyed most was this one, depicting puppy class graduation night at her training center in Slovenia. Some of the exercises may be slightly less dignified or practical than what I’m personally accustomed to, but I would certainly Not Be Embarrassed to turn out a puppy class of this caliber.

I am taking a break this morning from bitching about irresponsible rhetoric in dog training, in order to point anyone in a more conciliatory frame of mind to a handful of blog posts that argue for integrity, clear-headedness, and professionalism when discussing fellow trainers and competing methodologies. I am sure there are many more out there. Feel free to post your own recommendations.

Tribalism in Dog Training: One Trainer’s Perspective from Lessons from Layla
Show Me, Don’t tell Me by Eric Goebelbecker
Integrity: a Response to Drayton Michaels by Ann Withun
One Trainer’s Path to Change by Jeff Silverman

Having worked in somewhat seasonal industries most of my adult life, first as a carriage driver in downtown Chicago and currently as a kennel owner, I have to take deliberate steps to avoid seeing the holidays mainly in terms of projections, receipts, and staffing challenges.

Along with reliably herding the family to midnight mass and hosting a small reveillon afterward each year, I’m also on the lookout year-round for worthy causes into which to divert a fraction of my holiday gross.

This year, three non-dog-related organizations are on my list. They range from local to international and address needs related to horticulture, education, and medicine. For the record, I do donate money, time, and services to dog related charities, along with fostering dogs personally. But I am betting the readers of this blog are not wanting for ideas in that direction.

Anyhow, if you’re still solvent post-holiday-shopping and interested in expanding your charitable horizons, here are this year’s picks:

Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conservatory  is one of the finest historic jewels of Chicago, one the nation’s largest conservatories, and walking distance from my kennel. We visit regularly throughout the year, taking in the stunning combination of turn-of the century design, engineering, and landscape architecture, and also taking advantage of the many free kid-friendly events and activities. The conservatory is also an anchor of nature, culture, and community within one of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. Sadly, it was devastated this past summer by a record-setting hail storm that broke literally thousands of panes of glass and decimated its fern collection, among others. The work to repair, rebuild, and replant is ongoing.


I just wound up my first stint as a mentor with this group and was really impressed by their mission and organization. Please check out this recent blog post, or visit Spark’s website for more information. They currently have apprentice programs in several major cities.

Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic

Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic I’ve blogged about this amazing project before. It’s the brainchild of See Spot Run’s very first client, currently on her second generation (at least known to me) of kick ass working-line German shepherds. Oh, and the lake in question is the longest and deepest in Africa.

In retrospect, this was an impractical career goal, and was quickly supplanted by more real-world aspirations, like becoming a secret agent.

I don’t know how much the particulars of one’s adolescent dreams really matter in the long run, but I know it helps an awful lot if one has a solid understanding of how to get from A to B.

I was gifted with parents who were each good role models, who took their studies seriously in school and took their careers seriously as adults. I was granted many opportunities to experience adult workplaces as a child, to learn what it actually meant to be a lawyer or a professor. Mostly, I was made to understand from the beginning, the importance of education to achieving one’s goals, whatever they might be. And I will always be grateful for that lesson.

So when I was cold-called by a woman named Amanda, explaining that she was looking for mentors for an apprenticeship program for underserved youth in Chicago, I was all ears. It turned out Amanda represents a newly minted outpost of SPARK, which began on the west coast. SPARK places students between the ages of 13 and 14 with professionals working in their chosen field. And it happened that one such student had it in her head that she would like to work with dogs.

Well, enough said. So beginning this Wednesday, See Spot Run will play host to a charming and enthusiastic young woman from nearby Dodge Renaissance Academy for a minimum of two hours per week for 8 weeks, during which time I will strive to demonstrate what it takes to work professionally with dogs. When I attended the SPARK orientation last week, I was excited to discover that she actually has a four-month-old puppy at home, which makes homework assignments a lot more viable.

We will also work together to prepare a final project for presentation at Dodge Academy in the fall. I’m thinking a short instructional video on raising a puppy, but we’ll see.

From The Observer today, in the wake of Christ’s no-show:

But other non-believers and cynics saw an opportunity to make money rather than jokes. There has been a mini-boom in firms and individuals offering to look after the pets of those who believed they were about to be raptured. Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, set up by New Hampshire atheist Bart Centre, has about 250 clients who paid $135 (£83) for insurance policies that guarantee Centre and others will care for their animals when they ascend.

From the Eternal Earthbound Pets website:

You’ve committed your life to Jesus. You know you’re saved. But when the Rapture comes what’s to become of your loving pets who are left behind? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind.

We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. Each Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you’ve received your reward. Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.

And from Eternal Earthbound’s contract page, under terms and conditions:

  • If subscriber loses his/her faith and/or the Rapture occurs and subscriber is not Raptured (aka is “left behind”) EE-BP disclaims any liability; no refund will be tendered.

Oh, well. You win some, you lose some.

My daughter June started karate lessons last month. She’s enrolled in KinderKarate at Master S.H. Yu, conveniently located two blocks from the preschool she attends. It’s been a great confidence-builder, and of course the dog trainer in me loves the focus on discipline and etiquette. It’s also way cheaper than occupational therapy for improving gross motor skills, and has the advantage of preparing young ladies to deal appropriately with ungallant suitors down the road.

A week ago I also joined, at my daughter’s urging, donning a white belt and the formal, if somewhat uneasy, status of Ninja Mom.

Not to say this was a sacrifice. I’d always wanted to study a martial art, and after two kids and turning forty, I can always use a workout. But the main benefit to me so far turns out to be more professional than personal, and is something I entirely failed to anticipate.

I’ve gained a good deal of empathy for my own dog training students.

Although reasonably fit and coordinated for a forty-one-year-old mother of two, taking up a martial art at middle-age is inescapably humbling. I regularly feel awkward, and occasionally incompetent, confused, or embarrassed. Despite a respectable measure of core strength and a background including riding and yoga, and despite paying close attention, I nonetheless struggle to reliably execute simple instructions, and eat up small praise like a dog taking morsels of food from its handler.

I project it will be a long time before I again allow myself to become frustrated with a client for fumbling an exercise.

The challenge of learning something new, particularly in front of others, is a healthy experience for any instructor. I highly recommend it. I only hope my joints hold up. And I look forward to a day when the six-year-old beside me in line no longer feels compelled to correct my fighting stance.

I first met Ed Szablewski in 1998, while apprenticing at K9 University. He and I worked some morning shifts together. One night, someone tossed a beagle puppy over the fence of K9 U’s exercise yard. Ed named it Moses and took it home. He’s currently got a 16-year-old Great Dane mix that keeps on ticking. Anyhow, good dog man.

After we all left K9 U, Ed went back to work for Orkin. I’m sure the pay was better, but Ed always seemed a little wistful about his days working in the kennel.

This afternoon he showed up at See Spot Run with a big grin…and a little dog–a beagle mix in fact–named Odie.

Ed slipped me his card, which reads

Ed Szablewski

Bed Bug Dog Handler


I am told that Odie, trained by Bill Whitstine of the Florida Canine Academy, is never wrong. All I know is that the chances of All Being Right With The World are currently a good deal higher, now that Ed and Odie are partners.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2010.


spot-check: to sample or investigate quickly or at random

My Thought Exactly

"There's facts about dogs, and there's opinions about them. The dogs have the facts, and the humans have the opinions." --J. Allen Boone

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© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ruth Crisler and Spot Check with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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