Sunday, June 28, 2009

A new pet portrait by Terry Albert

Presenting Rylee, a golden-doodle. Her owner ordered this painting as a Father's Day gift for her husband. Rylee is quite a character, only a year old and a very busy girl. She is so energetic that when she walks next to me, I carry a metal dog dish so she won't crash into me. She jumps up and bongs her head on the bottom of the bowl, and just keeps on jumping happily along at my side!

I am a pet sitter as well as an artist, and Rylee was staying with me this week. It was nice to have my model here when I had questions about the reference photo. For example, I checked to see what color the skin is around her eyes, brown or black. If I made that area the color of her coat, her eyes would look way too small, and it wouldn't be accurate anyway. She is curled up under my drawing board right now, sleeping off a big day of playing with two collies and a Lab.

Her coat is not white, it is a creamy color-- like a light colored golden retriever or Lab would have. So it was fun to add the lavender shadows (the complement of yellow) to make her color richer. To give it depth, I started with a wash of burnt sienna under the entire dog, and then built up layers of acrylic paint in golds creams and lavender with some gray and brown shadows.

This painting is an 8" x 10" and is sold. It is done in acrylic and colored pencil. Visit my web site to see more of my artwork at I am available for a custom commissioned painting of your dog or other pet!

The photo above is the photo I worked from to paint Rylee's portrait.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Should you send your dog out to a trainer?

When should you train your dog yourself, and when should you send him out to a trainer? Before throwing in the towel and spending the big bucks, consider the alternatives. I hope I can help you decide.

The vital ingredient: YOU

No dog is miraculously born trained, and no dog stays trained without reinforcement from the owner(s). Everyone in the family needs to work with the dog, and everyone needs to be consistent. He needs to be called by the same name by everyone, learn the same commands, and be expected to follow the same rules, no matter who is talking to him.

Remember what I said before: even if you aren’t training, your dog is learning, and he will learn very quickly what he can get away with. No amount of professional training will fix what doesn’t get reinforced consistently at home.

Obedience classes

Obedience classes are great for most dogs. Even experienced owners learn a lot. I recommend more advanced classes or even repeating the class if you are a first time dog owner.

An inexperienced owner has a lot to learn, so don’t expect to absorb everything the first time you hear it. You work with the dog daily between sessions, and incorporate training into everyday life (this goes for ANY type of training–class or private). Practice makes perfect–for everyone. As I said in my previous post, basic obedience lessons build the foundation for future learning. Many owners find this enough, and their dog calms down dramatically and learns to live peacefully in the household.

Classes are not the place to address serious behavior issues. Most class trainers are not equipped with the skills to deal with aggression and other serious problems, and will refer you to private lessons or a training center where the dog stays for a few weeks while he is trained for you.

What’s a serious problem? That’s up to you; decide what is beyond your capabilities

Private lessons

The next option is private lessons, where you have a trainer work one-on-one with you and your dog. If your dog has issues that just aren’t getting fixed or aren’t dealt with in class, this might be a good solution. Maybe YOU are the one that needs the one-on-one help! This is your chance to get more detailed instruction. Again, you will practice with your dog between lessons.


When neither the dog nor the owner know anything, sometimes it is a lot easier for the owner to start out with a fully trained dog. Send the dog off to boot camp for a few weeks. Most facilities ask for a month, and you come in for weekly lessons. When I worked at the Academy of Canine Behavior, we would sometimes get very nice dogs that were easy to train, but the owner asked us to give him the basics.

But most of the dogs that came in were tough, tough dogs: wild out-of-control dogs, aggressive dogs, powerful dogs, over-anxious dogs. No average owner could deal with these dogs and their problems. The difference after a few weeks of professional training is dramatic, and the owners received intense training themselves. Often, dogs would come in for a training tune-up once a year while his family went on vacation.

Removing him from the home makes it easier to change bad habits and develop new good behaviors. He thinks he knows the rules at home, and will resist change. When he arrives at the training facility, he’s not sure of his place in the pack, and looks to the trainers to explain the rules to him. Then the new rules are transitioned back to his home.

Media: Internet, books and television

I love reading about almost any subject. You may enjoy it too. If you aren’t someone who likes to read, some of the TV dog trainers offer a lot of good information on behavior, especially human behavior and how it affects your dog. While some of their methods are not appropriate for a novice handler, the philosophy is often worth listening to.

Here are a couple of my favorite books and Web sites:


Good Owners, Great Dogs, by Brian Kilcommons & Sarah Wilson. Short easy to read sections so you can pick it up and read for 10 minutes and learn something useful.

Surviving Your Dog’s Adolescence, by Carol Lea Benjamin. All of her training books are great.

Web Sites: Dr. Ian Dunbar is a well-respected expert on puppy training. This site offers good advice for dogs of all ages. Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Find a professional trainer near you.

Good luck to you! Whatever you decide, keep in mind the words of the late Job Michael Evans, one of the Monks of New Skete and author of some great training books: “Train, don’t complain.” And my favorite: “A tired dog is a good dog.”

Photo above: Training is a great way to develop a bond with your dog. This my once-in-a-lifetime dog, Tank, practicing obedience with me at a fun match.

© 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dad and Betty White

This post is pointing you to one I put up almost a year ago. A tribute to my dad on this Father's Day. Although the title says "My friend, Betty White," believe me, it's a story about Dad! Dad was quite a character, and I miss him very much. All of you out there who still have your dads, give him a hug and tell him you love him today.

© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Millie gets a haircut

I have a miniature wirehaired dachshund named Desi, who is, of course, the cutest dog in the entire world. That is, he was until my pet sitting clients adopted Millie, also a wirehaired mini-dachshund. She is smaller, and doesn't look anything like a doxie with her wild unclipped coat. 
Desi looked like that when I got him, and no one believed he was a doxie either. People still don't, since cream colored wirehairs aren't common.  

I took photos of groomed wirehairs at dog shows so my groomer would have an idea of what he was supposed to look like (Show dogs are hand-stripped to maintain the wiry texture of the coat- see the lovely little guy at the left). After a couple years of paying someone, I realized that if I could clip a shaggy horse (my Icelandics, Ari and Red), I could probably clip a doxie. So I gave it a try, and I do it myself most of the time now. 

I've been itching to get my clippers on Millie. Her owners love her shaggy coat but decided they'd let me clip her for the summer. She is staying with me this weekend, and they they told me to go ahead. Mary Kay, the owner, asked me what I charged to clip the dog. Ha ha ha --- I'm no pro, we'll see how they like it first! They'll be home tonight, and I am anxious to see what they think. 

I think she is adorable, and looks like a dachshund now. But she was adorable before too, so I don't know which is best! 

And Desi looks like he could stand a trim...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Basic training helps solve dog behavior problems

When I worked at the Academy of Canine Behavior in Bothell, WA, every problem dog that came in started with basic obedience training. At this board-and-train facility only the most difficult dogs were left with us for training. If you could teach him yourself by attending a basic obedience class, you would have, right?

If you are not training your dog, he is still learning. Some people don’t have time to train their dog thoroughly. A half-trained dog learns very quickly what he can get away with. Then he has a bunch of bad habits you have to un-train. It is well worth spending 6-8 weeks teaching him what you want in the beginning. You’ll have a dog you can enjoy for the next 10-15 years.

A trained dog doesn’t automatically stay trained. Just like children, a dog will test you to see if you really mean it. “No begging,” “stay off the couch,” “don’t jump on me,” and other rules are made to be broken in the canine mind. But once trained, an occasional reminder is all that should be needed.

Basic training

So why start with “sit” and “down”? How does that keep Bowser off the dining room table? Dogs don’t speak English. Verbal commands must be learned, and as you teach the dog, he learns to communicate with you. He learns to learn. He learns you mean it (or not) when you tell him to do something. He starts to accept your leadership. He learns that everyone in the family is his leader. And he becomes comfortable with his place in the family pack.

Most dogs want to please you. They thrive on praise. Rewarded behavior will be repeated. If he’s not getting any attention, bad behavior will get him the attention he wants. In his eyes, it is better than nothing.

Use the basic commands as an opportunity to praise him. Have him sit when you hook on his leash. “Sit” before you feed him. “Stay” before you go out the door. “Off” when he’s jumping on visitors. When he does it, ALWAYS praise him. He needs some way of knowing what pleases you and what doesn’t. Don’t assume he knows! When first training, you can use treats, but gradually wean him off them. An enthusiastic “yes” or “good dog” is music to his ears.

How long?

After a few weeks of training, maybe one or two 15 minute sessions a day, you’ll notice your dog will settle down and start to look to you for guidance. He’ll offer a sit when he wants something. He’s learning!

About 4-5 weeks into training, experts say that new behaviors start to become a habit. As the information the dog has learned converts from short-term memory into long-term memory, he will go through a learning plateau stage, where you think he’s forgotten everything. Keep working through it and you’ll come out on the other end with a dog that has developed new and positive behaviors.


Once the dog passes the plateau period, daily drilling will not be necessary. But don’t slack off and let him get away with bad behaviors. Think of a slot machine. Just once, you win a bunch of money. Now you will keep playing, hoping for another jackpot.

Just once, you let Bowser jump on the couch. He’s going to keep trying, hoping for another jackpot where it will be rewarded and he gets to stay. Teach him he can only get up on the couch when invited, not when HE decides he wants up there. 

Extinguishing Bad Behaviors

In hopes of a jackpot, a dog will get ever more frantic in efforts to get away with hopping on the couch. Just before he finally gives up, you’ll see a frenzied effort. This is called an extinction burst—the last gasp before quitting for good. Don’t give in!

Need help?

Should you take your dog to obedience classes, private obedience lessons, or a board–and-train facility? I’ll talk about how to decide which is best for you in my next post. 

Photo above: Lincoln the Cocker Spaniel has some boundary issues!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Heat stroke in dogs

This is a subject I had on my list of upcoming posts. 
Written by vet Peter Wedderburn, a vet that I follow on Twitter:

He says it all better than I can, and as a vet, he is an authority I trust. I do question his recommendation to give long haired dogs a short haircut. I have read that a dog's long coat insulates him from the heat and prevents sunburn. Often, a long coat will not grow back. This is a good question for you to ask YOUR vet. 

The summer heat season is coming up by the end of this month in California, and is full swing across the US. Heat stroke can sneak up on you, and it is heartbreaking to think that something you neglected to notice killed your beloved pet. 

This is no joke. One of my pet sitting clients adored his dogs, and just didn't realize he was working the dog too hard in the heat. They were out jogging on the trails on a hot day, and the dog collapsed and died. I will never forget his grief.