Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The One Show: Lessons learned?

In my last post on this subject, I wrote about my dismay at the BBC’s lack of responsibility in putting inexperienced dog trainer Jordan Shelley on The One Show in the alarmingly titled ‘Fix my Dog’ segment. Since then, things have moved on apace, with some heartening news regarding Jordan and yet more disappointment in the BBC’s attitude.

Last week, The One Show has dropped Jordan like a hot brick. On last Thursday’s show we saw a cut-and-paste ‘debate’ in which sensible things were said via a mix of VT and studio interviews that ensured none of the participants actually interacted with each other. Presenter Matt Baker told viewers that they should not have described Jordan Shelley as the show’s dog training expert, rather as somebody they were following. Then on Friday came the announcement that the show would not be continuing with its ‘Fix my Dog’ slot. The whole thing was made to look as if the presenters or scriptwriters were to blame for the whole fiasco, rather than a lack of professionalism, research and best practice on the part of the BBC.

Despite my dismay at his training techniques, I had to sympathise with Jordan. Whatever his failings, it’s obvious that he’s absolutely devoted to dogs and he wants to make a career of training them. Of course, devotion isn't enough to make a great dog trainer, and Jordan’s approach to dog training amply illustrated the maxim that ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. But I can’t help feeling that the BBC let him down every bit as much as they did the rest of us.

If the BBC had acted with any responsibility, they would not have accepted Jordan as their dog expert – in fact, they might have advised him to get some qualifications and experience and then come back. But leaving that aside, once the complaints started pouring in, they would also have held up their hands and admitted that they were to a large extent responsible for what the viewers saw. It was the BBC that decided to make a star of Jordan; the BBC that didn’t think an experienced professional would be better qualified to give advice on dog training; the BBC that constantly denied there was anything wrong with the slot; and the BBC that then dropped their ‘star’ and moved on as if nothing had happened.

Meanwhile, just as his career seemed to be taking off in a spectacular way, Jordan suddenly found himself an object of hostility for many of the country’s dog owners. How awful it must have been to see that career on the brink of crumbling about his ears, almost as soon as it had begun. But it seems that for all his youth and inexperience, Jordan has responded to this difficult situation in a positive and mature way that puts the BBC to shame.

During all the comings and goings of what must have been a nightmare week for Jordan, Dogs Today editor Beverley Cuddy had asked on her ColdWetNose blog whether any dog trainers would like to show him how it’s done. Now, Jordan has called Beverley to say he’d like to take up any opportunities to learn more about the profession he clearly loves. He’s not bleating about all the negative criticism; he’s enthusiastic about the chance to learn from the experts.

What will become of Jordan Shelley remains to be seen, but his attitude says he’s got the tenacity and commitment – and soon, hopefully, the knowledge– to make a very good dog trainer one day. I admire his attitude and I wish him luck in his career. And if he does pop up on our screens again in a few years’ time, I hope the lessons he’s learned about working with the media will stand him in good stead too.

I also hope that the BBC are doing some serious thinking about their responsibilities, but I fear that may be too much to ask.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The One Show: What a howler

There’s been a lot of talk about the new dog trainer on The One Show (BBC1). He’s a young, camera-friendly chap called Jordan Shelley and... erm... that seems to be all that was needed to qualify him to host a slot called ‘Fix my dog’ on the show.

The slot I saw from Friday’s show (16 September) was certainly alarming. From what I can make out, Shelley has no formal dog-training qualifications. He said on the show that he agrees with all approaches to dog training and that Cesar Millan is ‘an idol’ of his. Now, Millan can be a bit of a ‘Marmite’ issue in the World of Dog, although I don’t think it's necessarily as clear cut as all that. On Friday's show, Shelley said that he embraces a range of approaches to dog training, including those of Millan. But what he did told me something quite different.

Unfortunately, what I saw on The One Show was a clumsy adaptation of Millan’s methods by somebody who didn’t seem to have thought it through – exactly the sort of thing that viewers should be warned against. There was a lot of physical contact, mainly between Shelley’s foot and the mouth of Roxy, a Jack Russell Terrier who was aggressively guarding her food. And in the bedroom scene (where Roxy wasn't allowing anyone to approach her owner's bed) there was a lot of shouting at Roxy when it seemed to me that a firm, calm command might have done the trick. From what I saw, the dog seemed quite biddable in terms of going to its bed, waiting and staying when it was told to. I’m not a qualified dog trainer, but I can’t help wondering whether these and other commands could have been used to change the routine at feeding time and address Roxy’s guarding behaviour in a positive way. Was there really a reason to suggest to the TV audience that physical confrontation and intimidation was the best way to address this dog’s behaviour issues?

An issue of responsibility
What I find most alarming is the issue of responsibility which seems to have been cast aside in favour of a young, enthusiastic lad who, looks-wise, the TV audience can warm to. Let’s start with the title of the slot, ‘Fix my dog’. This suggests that the dog’s unwanted behaviour is not really anything to do with its owners, and is something that can be quickly put right by someone else. I know that from time to time any of us might find ourselves struggling with the behaviour of our dogs, and I have a great respect for expert dog trainers who work with dog-owners to help them resolve behavioural issues. Those trainers don’t 'fix' your dog for you; they work with you to help you to understand why your dog is behaving the way it is and what you need to do to improve your relationship and change that behaviour.

Moving past the title, if you’re going to produce an ‘expert’ on a TV show then surely it’s important to make sure that:
·        They are actually an expert, with the knowledge, experience and training that status suggests
·        The audience is warned not to try these methods themselves without consulting an expert like the one they’ve seen.

Neither of these were part of the One Show dog training experience. Shelley’s expertise seems to lie in having been 'good' with dogs in the past and having watched The Dog Whisperer. Whether through attitude or editing, he seemed simply to jump in and ‘correct’ Roxy’s behaviour - or rather to subdue it without investigating its causes. And when he was shoving his foot into the terrier’s mouth as she tried to guard her food, there was no warning to viewers not to try this at home.

If the BBC is intent on including this type of slot on The One Show, it really needs to consult with experienced professionals and establish best practice. I shudder at the thought of dog-owners across the country who, faced with a similar behavioural issue to Roxy's, start intimidating their dogs in this way, possibly encouraging fear reactions and other problems that can be just as harmful as  any perceived 'dominance aggression'.

Want to know more? The Cold Wet Nose blog by Dogs Today editor Beverley Cuddy includes a great discussion of Shelley’s training methods along with the BBC’s response to the complaints they’ve received.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Dog-leg diary: All cool in the pool

I feel that I’m truly becoming the queen of dog legs, with two of my three now receiving physio and hydrotherapy. Fargo’s session last week went well. He did three minutes in the pool but we kept his daily exercise routine the same until we’d had the results of his eight-week post-op X-ray.

Early on Wednesday 7th, I dropped Fargo off at the vets for his X-ray. It was a tense time because, although Fargo seemed to be doing well, a lot depended on how his bone was healing. I’m glad to report that it’s healing well and I was delighted to be told that the X-rays looked ‘lovely’, which means we can start to build up Fargo’s exercises a bit more now. Fargo didn’t appreciate being left at the vet’s this time around and he howled when he woke up from his anaesthetic, but at least that’s over now.

While Fargo might have disliked his trip to the vet’s, he’s definitely started to enjoy his hydrotherapy sessions. He was really looking forward to his swim this morning and he worked really hard. I think he might have been swimming for five minutes; certainly no less than four. He seems much more at home in the pool now and his kicking has improved too. At first he tended to try to kick out with both hind legs at the same time, but now he’s alternating them well. His fur has also turned out to be an impressive feature, as it dries out very quickly despite him being so woolly. It draws admiring comments from the physio, who wished all his clients had coats like that.

I took Charlie along to the physio last week too, and was advised to cut him down to two ten-minute walks per day, with stretching exercises for his back legs and left foreleg. The physio thought Charlie had a sore back as the result of using some legs to compensate for others. He told me to apply ice packs to his lower back twice a day for three days, after which I should change to heat packs. Whippets and cold things don’t go together well, so Charlie didn’t appreciate the first few days of treatment. However, he does quite like the heat pack and it seems to be working – Charlie’s been picking his foot up more on his short walks, and according to the physio his hind leg muscles have already firmed up a bit and his back seems better.

So today, Charlie had his first taste of the hydrotherapy pool and I have to say he made me very proud. I had been worried that he’d panic, but he took to it very well and I think he might even have enjoyed it – he seemed to be on a bit of a high afterwards, anyway. Watching Charlie move in the water it became really clear how he uses one leg more than the other, but I think I can also see how swimming will improve this in time.

We’re back for another physio session next Saturday. Until then, Charlie and Fargo are following slightly extended exercise regimes:

Fargo
  • 2 x 25-minute walks per day; walk him in a clockwise circle every 5-10 minutes
  • 10 stretches to both hind legs, twice a day
  • Walking over poles set 15 inches apart, x 10, twice a day.

Charlie
  • 2 x 15-minute walks per day
  • 10 stretches to both hind legs, twice a day
  • 10 each of two different stretches to left foreleg, twice a day
  • Heat pack to lower back for 10 minutes, twice a day.

And what does Billy Whippet think of all this? Well he’s been coming along to the sessions because I can’t leave him all on his own at home. He’s stopped whining all the way through the session, but he still starts up when one of the dogs is out of sight (i.e. in the pool). He’s becoming calmer about it though and he accepted a treat from the physio today – something he’d never do if he was too nervous or upset. In many ways, I wish that Billy could go in for a swim too, as I really think he’d enjoy it. I wonder if there’s a recreational dog swimming pool anywhere nearby.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Product review: Wagg Mobility Sticks

In the world of dog, treats are a valuable currency. My own three lads have been brought up on reward-based training and they’ll do anything for a tasty snack. With two mature fellas in my pack, I’m aware that their joints might need some added support, so we’ve recently been trying out Wagg Mobility Sticks, which are enriched with vitamins and minerals to help keep canine joints healthy. 

Regular HoundHead readers will know that I’m no stranger to joint problems in dogs. Charlie the Whippet is fast approaching his 13th birthday so I keep an eye on him for any signs of stiffness, especially since he had spinal surgery last year. Add Fargo the eight-year-old Labradoodle who’s just recovering from TPLO surgery after rupturing his cruciate ligament, and you can understand why I have a considerable interest in canine joint health.

Wagg Mobility Sticks are designed to be broken up easily, so you can use them as training treats or give your dog a bigger portion. They contain glucosamine and chondroitin to help support healthy joints – always a bonus where older dogs are concerned. The treats contain salmon and rice with no artificial colours, flavours or added sugar. And you get 120 grams of treats in a pack for about a quid. From my point of view, we were onto a winner with these.
Of course, the dogs don’t care about such details. It’s a fairly foregone conclusion that they’ll eat any treat, but they can surprise you with a sudden refusal. Underneath their general willingness to eat, they are actually connoisseurs and there are some ‘extra special’ treats that they’ll go crazy for. So what did they think of Wagg Mobility Sticks?

The first sign of success came when I opened the pack – as the unmistakable odour of salmon wafted out, Charlie’s ears pricked up and he swiftly manoeuvred himself across the room to land in his best-behaved ‘sit’ position at my feet, closely followed by Fargo and Billy the Whippet. As a healthy and active two-year-old, it could be argued that neither the exercises nor the treats were particularly at Billy, but try keeping him away.

I broke up the sticks to use as smaller treats – they’re described on the pack as ‘chunky’ and the reality didn’t let us down. The pieces were a good size for training and I think the chewy texture was well appreciated despite each piece being consumed in a split second.

In fact, all the dogs seemed suddenly keen as we ventured outside to do some treat-fuelled training exercises. Both Charlie and Fargo are seeing a physiotherapist at the moment, and they’re on restricted walks with some daily exercises to do, such as walking over poles to get them to stride properly. On the promise of these fishy treats, they were almost falling over themselves to walk over those poles and I had to add some heelwork to the exercise to bring some order to the proceedings. “No problem,” said the dogs, “Tell us what you want and we’ll do it – just give us the fishy treats!”

So, what’s the verdict? Based on taste and texture, Charlie, Fargo and Billy unanimously voted Wagg Mobility Sticks into the category of ‘extra special’ treats. Charlie gave me a look of pure horror as I put the bag away without emptying it into his mouth, and then spent some time willing me to give him just one more.

From a human point of view, the Wagg Mobility Sticks are an affordable way to treat the dogs. Every little helps, where their joints are concerned, so the glucosamine and chondroitin are welcome additions. Wagg also does a very reasonably priced range of complete dog food, including a senior diet that contains fish and fish oils as well as glucosamine and chondroin, and I’m now thinking of giving this a try.

* Especially with older dogs or those with mobility issues, it’s important to make sure they don’t put on too much weight as this can also harm their joints. It’s worth reducing the amount of food you feed at mealtimes to compensate for treats given during the day.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Dog-leg diary: stepping out

It’s been a while since I wrote an update about Fargo’s post-TPLO progress, and I’m glad to say he’s coming along well. He feels good and as the weather gets a little cooler he’s keen to run and jump about like a young-un. However, we are still in the early stages of recovery so it’s important that he doesn’t. Luckily, Fargo is very eager to please, so it’s fairly easy to divert his attention to other, less boisterous activities.

Fargo had his four-week post-op check-up with the vet, who was very pleased with his progress, and next week he’ll be going in for his eight-week x-ray to make sure everything’s going OK inside his leg. In the meantime, we’ve seen some exciting developments. 

The addition of three lovely chickens to our family caused a little bit of barking at first. Billy Whippet still likes to rush at them now and again (they’re safely enclosed so he can’t get at them), and they’re a little wary of him although not too worried. Charlie Whippet, who’s an older gentleman, isn’t really bothered about the chickens, and they’re happy to ignore him. But if those chickens are warming to any animal, it’s Fargo. He likes to stand by their enclosure and they’ve started to approach him slowly and say hello. I swear they’re going to touch noses/beaks soon.

I’ve gradually increased the length of Fargo’s walks to 20 minutes. This means that instead of walking round the corner and back we can actually GO TO THE PARK!!! We only get to walk slowly around a couple of trees before coming home, but Fargo’s absolutely delighted. He loves to say hello to dogs and people, and we generally find someone on the park who’s willing to give him some attention.

Fargo also had his first taste of hydrotherapy last weekend. He’s a dog that loves baths but hates any other type of water immersion, but he did two minutes in the pool and I think he’s on the way to enjoying it. We’ll find out this weekend, when he goes in for four minutes. I’m keen to carry on with hydrotherapy, not only to help build up Fargo’s muscles, but also because, while he’s not allowed to run, it’s great exercise for him. We’ve also got some new exercises to do – walking over poles to encourage Fargo to lengthen his stride. We do this twice a day and it seems to be making a difference. Fargo likes it because it’s like a training exercise, which means he gets treats.

Charlie and Billy decided to come out in sympathy a couple of weeks ago, but only in a minor way. Charlie started limping on his left front leg and Billy injured the dew claw on his left front. He does some hard cornering when he’s chasing his toy on the park and he’d managed to tear it somehow. There was lots of blood but the injury itself wasn’t too bad, so after a couple of days rest (complete rest for Charlie, lead-walking only for Billy), they were back to normal.

Since his spinal surgery last year, Charlie’s front left leg has been weaker than the others, and his hind legs aren’t all they used to be. He came to the physio with us last weekend and we agreed to see if there’s anything we can do to strengthen his muscles. It could be a neurological issue, which would mean that his nerves aren’t communicating with his muscles well enough and there’s not much we can do about that. But it could be that Charlie’s lost some muscle tone by compensating for his weaker legs, and in that case we might be able to build up his strength a bit. Whatever happens, it’s worth a try.