Trainers, breeders, rescuers, behaviorists, and sportsmen put it all together at NAIA conference

By: Patti Strand  Date: 01/8/2012 Category: | Canine Issues |

From April 20-22, Portland, Oregon, was the place to be for dog owners, trainers, breeders, rescuers, and other dog lovers. Here, for the first time, the whole dog fancy came together to salute the human animal bond, share information, and learn from colleagues and presenters.

NAIA president Patti Strand launched the weekend with a welcome message that recognized the speakers and participants as an all-star group dedicated to promoting the wonderful and time-honored human relationship with dogs.

“Oregonian pet writer Deborah Wood described our speakers’ panel as the ‘rock stars of dogdom,’ in a recent column,” Strand said. “She was right; the people assembled here safeguard and celebrate the human animal bond through responsible breeding and training and through health research and community education efforts.”

The program was uniquely designed to weave the elements into a tapestry of human-dog relationships. Genetics, reproduction, canine health research and the use of health registries, puppy care and socialization, principles of behavior and training, basic training for pets, conditioning for athletic dogs, advanced training for service dogs, shelter and rescue perspectives, massage for relaxation, expanding dog education into the community-at-large, using the media as a resource, the federal Animal Welfare Act, and demonstrations of training techniques and performance events intertwined to create a marvelous blend of textures and colors that highlighted both unity and diversity among participants and presenters.

The rich fabric fashioned from these fibers strengthened commitment to the ages-old connection between pets and people. Participants left the conference in awe of the presentations and yet wanting more.


It begins in the genes

Anxious to produce the best puppies possible for their own breeding programs and to sell as show dogs, working dogs, and pets, breeders study science so they can incorporate the latest in genetic research into their breeding programs. Dr. Ann Lannon and Dr. Elaine Ostrander expertly laid the groundwork for an audience eager to expand knowledge about canine genetics, the canine genome project, and research into canine diseases. In several spirited sessions, Dr. Robert Hutchison and Dr. Carmen Battaglia presented breeders with reproductive strategies to aid in breeding physically and mentally sound dogs and Dr. Steven Skinner gave an overview of genetic deafness and the BAER test. Deborah A. Lynch weighed in with a look at the AKC Canine Health Foundation, a corporation that funds research studies into canine diseases, and Dr. Fran Smith, president of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, brought breeders up-to-date on genetic registries. Dr. Ron DeHaven, deputy administrator of the US Department of Agriculture’s inspection service, gave a rundown of federal regulations governing commercial kennels and the impact of attempts by several outside groups to expand that coverage to all dog and cat breeders. Dr. DeHaven’s talk is presented in a sidebar to this article.

Dr. Lannon gave a basic genetics lesson to define genotype, phenotype and other terms and describe various types of trait inheritance. “Each genetic disease is inherited in a particular way,” she said. Some diseases are recessive and require that both parents contribute the disease gene. Some diseases are dominant and require that only one parent contribute the disease gene. Other diseases are linked to the sex chromosomes or are inherited in “a complex pattern not fitting any single gene mode.”

Building on this foundation, Dr. Lannon enthusiastically congratulated breed clubs for their “excellent job of keeping abreast of health concerns in their respective breeds” and encouraged breeders to make use of the emerging genetic expertise to screen breeding stock for genetic abnormalities and ascertain the health of puppies. She described two types of DNA tests: the direct test to locate a disease gene that has already been identified, and the linkage test to identify the presence of DNA chunks (microsatellites) that may be located close to a disorder gene rather than pinpointing the gene itself. She also noted that test breeding is the only way to determine the presence of recessive diseases if there is no laboratory test for carriers.

In conclusion, she said: “The development and institution of diagnostic tests, therapies, and preventive strategies for acquired diseases (such as infection, nutritional imbalances, and toxicities) have greatly reduced morbidity and mortality in puppies. Hence the inherited diseases have become relatively more apparent.

“The availability of genetic testing and counseling for breeders is also on the rise. Such services are expected to increase nationwide over the coming years as veterinarians, researchers, breeders, and breed organizations focus increasingly on the problems (and solutions!) to genetic defects in dogs.

“I strongly feel that by working together to solve these problems, we will continue to enjoy and extol the virtues of purebred dogs for many generations to come!!”

Dr. Ostrander took it from there.

“Dogs have more genetic diseases than any other animal except man,” she said, a situation that facilitates the application of research in one species to the other. Dogs are susceptible to about 360 inherited diseases, mostly recessive.

Dogs get the same types of cancer that humans get, she said, and it’s easier to get statistics about genes in generations of dogs than generations of humans. About one-third of dogs get cancer; their large families and multiple generations aid in mapping genes for specific cancer types.

Dr. Ostrander worked on both the human and canine genomes, the genetic maps that allow scientists to identify specific genes or groups of genes that are implicated in various traits. Some gene sequences on canine chromosomes correspond to sequences on human chromosomes, she said, providing a shortcut to locating similar sequences on the much larger humane genome and therefore also opening the door to cures for human diseases. She said that general public education about genetic research is critical so that everyone can understand the advances made by gene mapping and disease prevention and cures.

Breeders use genetic research to screen their breeding stock for diseases and to determine which sires and dams have the potential to produce the healthiest puppies that meet their breed standards.

Dr. Carmen Battaglia presented a strategy for using genetic testing to aid in sire selection. First, he said, the breeder must know the strengths and weaknesses of the bitch to be bred in order to choose a sire that will complement her strong points and strengthen her weak points. Then a breeder must know what he expects to get from the litter.

“You can’t have as your goal ‘breeding a champion,’” he said. “You have to focus on the specific traits of conformation, health, or temperament. A combination of the three generally works best.’” He suggested selecting 10 potential sires, then whittling the list down to two or three based on the traits considered important to the breeding. Evaluation of those traits can be done with a check list that includes each dog’s name and his history of producing offspring with the desired traits.

Deafness is a problem in some breeds, so Dr. Steven Skinner explained the use of the BAER test for determining bilateral and unilateral deafness in affected dogs. The BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) test detects electrical activity in the cochlea and auditory pathways in the brain in much the same way that an antenna detects radio or TV signals or an EKG detects electrical activity of the heart. The response from an ear that is deaf is an essentially flat line. The test helps breeders determine which dogs to keep for a breeding program.

Once the sire is selected, the breeder has a potpourri of breeding strategies to choose from. Natural breeding is best, according to Dr. Robert Hutchison, but not always possible. Canine reproductive researchers have developed a battery of tests and procedures to increase chances of successful breedings, including progesterone, estrogen and lutenizing hormone tests to determine when ovulation is imminent and artificial insemination techniques to get the sperm to the eggs if natural breeding is not feasible.

Genetic registries help breeders track diseases and make good breeding choices. Dr. Frances O. Smith, president of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, brought participants up-to-date on open and closed registries and explained how dog breeders can use them to benefit breeding programs. Established in 1966 to track the incidence of canine hip dysplasia, OFA was the first such registry. Today, with a program that has expanded to include tests for cardiomyopathy, thyroid disease, hip and elbow dysplasia in dogs and patellar luxation in dogs and cats, OFA is the leader in genetic screening for pets. Other registries include the Canine Eye Registry Foundation, the Institute for Genetic Disease Control in Animals, and PennHIP, a hip dysplasia database.

Deborah Lynch, executive director of the AKC Canine Health Foundation, closed out the general genetics and health presentations with a look at the foundation’s programs, grants, and successes. CHF money comes from the dog fancy; AKC donates about $1 million per year, and breeders, breed clubs, and kennel clubs add hundreds of thousands more through direct donations, memberships, and participation in fund-raising events. The money is paid out as grants for specific studies, including the canine genome project and research into diseases that afflict a single breed, a small group of breeds, or a larger cross-section of breeds. Grants given in 2000 include research on cancer, epilepsy, heart disease, thyroid disease, allergies, cataracts, and progressive retinal atrophy.

CHF-funded research has resulted in the location of genetic markers for several diseases and in information that helps breeders screen for diseases and make good breeding decisions.

The sessions were packed with fascinating bits, pieces, and whole chunks of information, but discussion didn’t end with the presentations. Speakers were accessible at meals and breaks, so discussions, questions, and anecdotes continued around the coffee pot and dinner table throughout the weekend.


Once the puppies are born ...

... the next step is to get them off to a good start, so the conference included several presentations on care and socialization so breeders can keep the best puppy to further their breeding programs and determine which puppies will go to which new homes.

Breeders, trainers, and owners all benefit from an understanding of the human-animal bond, so everyone listened intently as Dr. Victoria Voith gave an overview of the historical attraction between man and dog and the need to understand and appropriately respond to canine body language to build and cement a bond. Dogs and man have social structures that allow them to live in groups, social signals that help them communicate, and the ability to learn, she said. These factors lead to successful interactions if the human pack members learn to understand how their actions and facial expressions are perceived by the dog.

Dog trainer and NAIA board member Steve Lindsay gave head start advice for breeders for those all-important first eight weeks. While most breeders already handle their pups from the minute they are born, Lindsay provided the scientific background that supports such gentling and socialization.

“The more they learn, the more they are learning to learn,” Lindsay said, so breeder efforts are particularly important from the beginning.

Puppies show the physical benefits of early stimulation (exposure to a variety of surfaces, thermal stress, gentle rocking, etc.) through early maturation of brain waves, reduced emotionality, improved problem-solving ability, and improved socialization in adult dogs. Puppies should be exposed to olfactory prompts as well as tactile stimulations, Lindsay said, so that they will associate particular odors with pleasure as adults.

From day 12-21, stroking from head to tail enhances taming and calming, Lindsay said, and short periods of separation from the dam and the litter from three to eight weeks helps prevent separation anxiety in older puppies and adult dogs. Separation can begin with putting a puppy in a crate that is inside the whelping area or exercise pen with his siblings, then placed outside the pen, then placed in a separate room. A soft toy in the crate helps comfort the pup and a mirror can provide stimulation to reduce stress.

The peak socialization period for young puppies is from three weeks of age to 12 weeks of age with the seventh week being the “golden period” followed by a fear period from eight-to-10 weeks of age. Breeders can capitalize on the pups’ attraction to people during the early weeks by rewarding compliant behavior with treats and comfort, feeding by hand to encourage pups to lick instead of bite, playing games such as tug, chase, and fetch, and doing some attention training and following exercises.

By eight weeks of age, puppies have a substrate preference for relieving themselves. If breeders begin housetraining by shaping the pup’s preference for grass, the new owner will have an easier time teaching the pup to use the yard instead of the carpet.

Missy Parker, president of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors and a breeder of German Shepherd Dogs, followed Lindsay’s presentation with an account of her puppy-rearing techniques. Breeders are in a perfect place to help future owners through puppy training, she said. Puppies are individuals and need individual attention. Parker said she involves her puppies in her daily family life and keeps a log on each puppy in the litter so she can match each puppy with an individual family.

Breeders plan litters so they can improve the quality of dogs in their breeding programs, so Doberman breeder Pat Hastings spent a half day showing breeders how to evaluate each puppy in a litter. Step by step, the carefully-crafted Hastings technique for appraising the structure of eight-week-old puppies not only helps compare the puppy to the standard but also assesses movement and attitude and helps determine the placement of pet quality puppies as well.

Good nutrition is essential to good breeding and training programs, so Dr. Michael Ceddia gave the audience the scoop on the latest nutrition research for optimum health in companion animals in a fitting lunchtime address. A researcher with The Iams Company, Dr. Ceddia talked about diet at different stages of a dog’s life.


Training a companion dog

While breeders give the pup the best start possible and owners build on that start by learning how to communicate with a pet, trainers weigh in with techniques and equipment to aid in turning those factors into a good canine citizen at home and abroad.

Martin Deeley, director of the International Association of Canine Professionals; Ann Morris, a trainer and shelter volunteer from Portland; Dr. Patty Olsen and Michele Pouliot from Guide Dogs for the Blind; Ann Austin from Animal Actors; Oregonian columnist Deborah Wood; Steve Lindsay; and Mary Burch, director of AKC’s Canine Good Citizen program, all weighed in with presentations geared to developing and improving the human-canine bond in the home and community. Brian Kilcommons, director of the Walter Turken Adoption Program for shelters, and Jan Gribble, a dog trainer and writer, filled in the blanks with information about getting adoptable dogs into new homes and using the media to tell the world about professional dog training ethics and methods.

Martin Deeley kicked off the training sessions with a lively discussion of eclectic training – the use of a bag full of tricks to help train individual dogs.

“A trainer’s voice and all parts of his body are instruments of communication, and his techniques and methods are approaches that mold the dog into the companion/worker he seeks,” Deeley said. “The tools help and support the molding of this behavior and performance. They are the blackboard and chalk, the guiding lines to show a dog what is required or not required so that he can reinforce the correct behavior and remove the undesirable. Tools, training approaches and their correct application can give meaning to voice and body language and help these become a true communicator of ‘punishment’ and ‘reward’ (praise) leading to the control any owner is seeking in a dog – by voice and posture alone.”

Flat collars, training collars, prong collars, remote electronic trainers, treats, clickers, head halters all belong in the trainer’s tool box, Deeley said. “Education and training of trainers and owners into the correct use and application of all potential training methods is the way forward if we are to provide the optimum opportunities for developing well- trained, well-mannered dogs. This is the eclectic approach that is the, dare I say, ‘one method’ of a true professional trainer.”

Ann Austin of Animal Actors added a few tools to the repertoire as she explained her method of housetraining puppies and avoiding separation anxiety in young dogs. Austin uses a wire crate, a doggy door, an outside kennel, automatic watering and feeding systems, and a set of long lines in an ingenious set-up to reduce frustration for people training a pup to relieve himself outside and to minimize damage from chewing. Here’s how it works:

The dog door opens into the kennel run in the yard. The crate door is propped open and the crate butted against the dog door so the pup can go in and out on his own. The automatic watering and feeding systems keep him satisfied when the owner is not home or cannot supervise puppy activity.

Family comings and goings are accomplished with a minimum of fuss. The dog is placed into the training system and family members leave and return without fanfare.

The long lines are handy for retrieving a pet from mischief before he learns the meaning of “Come,” Austin said. The system is used until the pup is seven months of age – the age at which teething diminishes – then gradually phased out.

Operant conditioning is the training buzz-phrase of the 21st Century, so Ann Morris explained the nuances of this “stimulous, response, consequence” method. Based on proven learning theory, operant conditioning does not eschew corrections, she said; it simply uses negative reinforcement to interrupt unwanted behaviors and positive reinforcement to teach good manners and to replace bad manners with acceptable behaviors. Positive reinforcement is the use of treats, toys, games or affection to reward appropriate behavior; negative reinforcement is withdrawal of the reward or the application of a correction.

Morris brought Hootie, her Pomeranian, to charm the audience, and Multnomah Animal Control, Portland’s animal shelter, provided several adoptable dogs to aid in demonstrating operant conditioning techniques and clicker training, the method that uses a metal clicker as a conditioned reinforcer for appropriate behavior. Morris worked each dog with clear enjoyment of their individual personalities, a hint of things to come at the public demonstrations on Sunday.

Dr. Patty Olson, director of training operations at Guide Dogs for the Blind and Michell Pouliot, GDB director of research and development, put things together with a program explaining the selection, breeding, and training of dogs to serve as eyes for people with visual handicaps.

Blending understanding of both nature (genetics) and nurture (environment and care), Olson and Pouliot used the GDB program as a model for understanding the successful achievement of the human animal bond. Noting that the majority of dogs surrendered to shelters are young adults with some type of behavioral problem and no obedience training, Olson said: “For pet animals to be accepted and welcomed throughout American society, good animal behaviors are required. ... Yet, inappropriate animal behaviors account for more (canine) deaths each year than cancer and endanger the veterinary profession’s economic future. Therefore it would behoove those of us who are interested in promoting the human-animal bond to work together toward resolving some of these issues. A first step is to look at programs that work.”

Olson gave an overall view of the GDB program for breeding, socializing, and providing basic training for the dogs, and Pouliot talked about the challenges of training a guide dog in an increasingly complex society.

Today’s handlers have less dog experience than those in the past and are more likely to have other handicaps, Pouliot said, and today’s cities have more traffic and other challenges for trainers and dogs to overcome. The answer is to produce and train dogs that can be decision-makers with confidant temperaments yet be easily controlled and managed. GDB uses mostly Labrador Retrievers to fill the need with a small percentage of Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden-Labrador Retriever crosses. Puppies are placed in private homes for socialization and basic training until they are 12-14 months old, then are returned to GDB for the intensive training that will determine if they are suitable for guide work. The training period is not all work and no play; dogs spend time romping with each other and with trainers in special play areas. Breeders, pet owners, shelter workers, and rescuers can adapt the principles behind the GDB program to their own situations to enhance the human-animal bond and keep pets in their homes and out of shelters.

Oregonian pet columnist Deborah Wood talked about training shy dogs that may need extra encouragement to blossom. Training not only helps shy dogs overcome unacceptable behaviors, it helps them replace fear with confidence in themselves and trust in their owners.

Mary Burch gave an overview of the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen program for all dogs, purebred and mixed breed. The CGC has been recognized by resolution in several states and communities and provides some basic assurance that the dog has been socialized and trained. CGC programs can help communities confront dog control problems with positive steps to educate dog owners and improve pet behavior.

Brian Kilcommons, director of the Walter Turken Training for Adoption program, explained this plan for training and socializing adoptable dogs so they can find new homes.

The Turken program teaches volunteers to evaluate and work with dogs in an intensive seven-weekend course. These volunteers then donate a few hours each week to the shelter, walking the dogs, teaching them manners, and helping prospective adopters find a well-behaved pet that fits their circumstances.

Steve Lindsay discussed posture-facilitated relaxation training for inducing deep relaxation in dogs by combining physical position changes with systematic massage. PFR reduces stress and instills calmness in the dog so he is open to socialization and training activities. The technique can play a useful role in the management and control of behavior problems, calm and socialize puppies that are overly competitive or exhibiting excessive fear or aggression, and help manage stress that occurs during routine veterinary and shelter handling.

Because perception is often mistaken for reality and the media often confuses the two, trainer and writer Jan Gribble gave the audience some hints on using the media to promote responsible dog training to the public. Using the hyperbole about humane training as her model, Gribble explained how a media campaign can actually limit dog training choices and paint responsible trainers who use a broad range of tools and methods – Martin Deeley’s eclectic training toolbox – as inhumane.

Media outlets influence the public with information they may not have researched, she said. For more information see the sidebar “Dog training and the media” in this issue.

The athletic dog

This last group of speakers presented sessions on the care, health, and training of dogs bred to compete. Dr. Linda Blythe, a veterinarian whose study of racing Greyhounds is a labor of love, talked about athletic dogs in general and Greyhounds in particular.

“Athletic dogs love what they are doing,” she said. “You could not make them go if they didn’t want to.”

She talked about an alliance between breeders, veterinarians, and owners to improve the lives of athletic dogs, an alliance that allows the free flow of information between those who handle the dogs, those who do the training, and those who provide medical care. The alliance extends to the track where Greyhounds are given a quick once-over before each race to discover any obvious problems that would jeopardize their health or condition.

Training builds muscles for an athletic dog; if the muscles are not properly trained, injuries can occur to tendons, ligaments and joints. Dr. Blythe described a 15-minute musculo-skeletal exam that can help find soreness and discussed the process of dealing with injuries, including emergency care and rehabilitative physical therapy.

Dee Dee Jonrowe, a top 10 finisher in 11 Iditarod sled dog races, fascinated her audience with a slide show of the race to show the dogs at work. The audience marveled at Alaska’s beauty and the challenges of the “Last Great Race on Earth” while Jonrowe talked about the advances in dog health and stamina in the past 15 years, and advances in breeding practices, nutrition, and veterinary medicine that helped reduce race time from 1985’s 18 days from start to finish to the nine days it took to win the race in 2000.

A breeder of Alaskan Huskies for more than 20 years, Jonrowe said that the most successful breedings begin on paper and are based on the dogs’ working ability. Training begins in the fall with wheeled vehicles and progresses gradually. Dogs that make the Iditarod team are in superb condition, but still some fall prey to illness or just plain lose desire. These dogs are left at checkpoints and flown out to a veterinarian for treatment or a boarding facility to wait for the musher to finish the race.

Dr. Stuart Nelson, chief veterinarian for the Iditarod, gave a detailed look at the comprehensive effort to assure dog health and safety in the race.

“Mushing is one of the purest forms of animal-human interaction,” Dr. Nelson said. The International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association works to protect that relationship through studies on sled dog health and nutrition. Providing Reliable Information on a Dog’s Environment, a sled dog welfare group founded by mushers and veterinarians, concentrates on kennel conditions, assistance to beginning mushers, and education about sled dog racing for young mushers and the general public.

Dr. Nelson joined Dr. Blythe in emphasizing the importance of cooperation between dog owners and veterinarians so that the dogs benefit from the musher’s understanding of individual animals and the veterinarian’s knowledge of sled dog medicine. Like Greyhounds, sled dogs are given health checks before they race. A battery of tests about a month before the Iditarod includes an electrocardiogram, and each dog receives a general checkup within 14 days of the race and is de-wormed within 10 days.

Musher Tim White rounded out the sled dog portion of the program with information about shipping dogs.

The panels

Several panel discussions throughout the weekend gave audience members the opportunity to quiz the experts.

The Hallmarks of Responsible Rescue featured Ann Morris, moderator; Patty Lehnert, representative from the Multnomah Greyhound Track rescue program; Molly Jackson, shelter representative from Multnomah County Animal Control; and Nancy Campbell, a long-time rescuer of German Shorthaired Pointers.

The Behavior Panel included Dr. Victoria Voith, moderator; Brian Kilcommons, Martin Deeley, Ann Morris, Steve Lindsay, and Ann Austin discussing aggression, barking, separation anxiety, chewing, and other unappreciated behaviors.

The Breeders Panel featured Carol Williams, Joy Thoms, Mari Beth O’Neill, Nancy Campbell, Leslie Russell, and Joan Savage discussing responsible breeding practices, contracts, and other issues of importance to purebred dog breeders.

Canine temperament assessment workshop: Ann Morris, moderator; Brian Kilcommons, Victoria Voith, Boxer rescuer Patti Webb, and shelter volunteer Lora Goode.

Canine equipment panel: Steve Lindsay, moderator, Ann Morris, Brian Kilcommons, Pat Hastings, Innotek representative Curt McLay, Ann Austin, and Dr. R.K. Anderson, inventor of the Gentle Leader head collar. For more on equipment, see the side bar.

Sled dog panel: Dr. Stu Nelson; Dee Dee Jonrowe; and Tim White.


The demonstrations

While conference participants traveled from session to session on Sunday, trainers gave public demonstrations in the main conference hall. Obedience, agility, flyball, and a new sport with the intriguing name of ‘fly-gility’ — a combination of flyball and agility — were all part of the menu for the day.

Since flyball and fly-gility require dogs to work off-lead in relay-race teams, Ann Morris gave a brief lesson in techniques for teaching dogs to focus on the goal — maneuvering over and through the obstacles and retrieving the tennis ball — not on their teammates or opponents.


The hallmark of a good conference is to leave people wanting more. In spite of three jam-packed days of discussions about dogs and man, the trainers, breeders, rescuers, and others who participated in the NAIA Canine Event of the Century! couldn’t get enough. Many of the evaluation sheets included suggestions for future topics and speakers geared toward expanding knowledge and cementing the human-animal bond.

About The Author

Patti Strand's photo
Patti Strand - NAIA President

Patti is a recognized expert and consultant on contemporary animal issues, most notably responsible dog ownership and the animal rights movement. She often appears on radio and television and her articles on canine issues, animal welfare, public policy and animal rights have appeared in major US news publications and in trade, professional and scientific journals. Patti and her…

All Authors Of This Article: | Patti Strand |
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