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The Wizard of Dogs creates his Oz at Triple Crown – Ross Becker


Discovering Triple Crown All Breed Dog Academy was like happening on a dog person’s Oz. It’s a magical place, run by a Wizard, where a dog can discover his brain, his heart, or his courage, can earn a few medals, and can even, like Dorothy, relish the simple fact that there’s no place like home. The place comes with its own set of furry Munchkins, and all that are missing are the Wicked Witch and the Yellow Brick Road.

We had heard rumors about the construction of this mystical dog facility for months. But the reality didn’t set in until we arrived.

Triple Crown is located on a beautiful, 350-acre rolling ranch in Hutto, Texas. It was once used as a personal hunting preserve by a doctor, and President Lyndon Johnson was invited to hunt there several times. The place is located on the outskirts of metro Austin, about 40 minutes out from Good Dog! World Headquarters. On the way, you pass the World Headquarters of Dell Computers, which looks like another type of Oz. Triple Crown is currently out in the country, but at the rate Dell-spurred development is going in that area, little Hutto, with its grain elevator, railroad tracks and not-much-else, will be overtaken by suburbia in five years.

Triple Crown is set up to do just about everything a dog person could imagine. It’s considered the “nation’s largest, most comprehensive dog training and event center.” I wouldn’t argue the point. When Triple Crown moved from Tucson, AZ, the plan was to find a location central in the U.S., and build the biggest and best facility possible.

The heart of Triple Crown is a 32,000 square foot, lighted, heated, and air-conditioned indoor event center. The center is designed for all types of dog shows, and features Italian Mondo® sports flooring – the same type of cushioned, no-slip flooring used in the last six Olympics. With rubber mesh on the bottom, and 6 mm sports flooring vulcanized to the top, the floor absorbs energy and gives bounce-back new meaning. Group training classes are held on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in the indoor facility.

That’s just the start, though. There’s a 180’ x 360’, lighted, fenced outdoor sports field for European schutzhund training and for recall training. Technical ponds for retriever training. Natural areas for bird dog training. RV hookups and a bathhouse with showers for visitors and their dogs. A pro shop with Bil-Jac® and Pro Plan® foods, treats, toys, and training equipment. On-site housing for judges and special guests. A clubhouse with third-party food services, which, we’re told, includes some fine examples of famous native Texas barbecue. A 20-acre, fenced-in exercise and potty area for dogs participating in events. An outdoor vendor area with electricity and lighting. There’s parking on gravel for 800 people, with overflow parking for up to 1500 cars.

There’s also a high-tech kennel facility, featuring dual containment in case dogs try to escape. The kennel buildings use Mondo flooring so the dogs don’t have to sleep on concrete. A trench drainage system is linked to the facility’s own septic system. There are 120 indoor/outdoor runs, plus a special building with 12 extra-care units for isolating sick dogs. A puppy nursery building provides for the needs of the small German Shepherd breeding program run on premises.

Each of the six kennel buildings has 20 runs that are four, six, or eight feet long. A door handle on the people side of the run opens and closes the dog door. This controls access to the outside part of the run, which has shade from the building’s overhang. There are windows for light, and there’s music (classical and New Age are doggie favorites). There are also two HEPA air filters in each building, which average16 to 17 air exchanges per hour. This keeps the air sterile, clean, and pollen-free. A footbath at each entrance disinfects feet so other diseases aren’t spread.

Each dog has a cubbyhole where his toys and special treats are stored. Each run has a chart like at a hospital. There are flip-tabs on the run which indicate the dog’s current status: green – the dog’s in the run, yellow – in the run but out at an activity session, red – see the notation in the chart, blue – the dog is out for playtime.

There’s more: each dog has his own voicemail box. You can call in any time to check the status of your dog. That’s especially good if your dog is doing a week of personalized training – the trainers can update the voicemail from one of 25 phones located throughout the property.

Boarding guests pay $16 per night ($9 more for a second dog sharing the run). Playtime is $3.50 per session per dog, and your dog can have up to six sessions a day in one of the three play areas. Your dog is allowed to play with his siblings, or with your friends’ dogs. With your permission, your dog can play with other dogs, under a trainer’s supervision.

Training activities with a professional trainer run $165 per week, including boarding. You can drop off your dog (or ship him in on a plane, as do some customers) when you’re going away. Come back a week later and your dog has had training in agility, obedience, fieldwork, or just plain fun swimming in the retriever tanks (lakes), playing, or taking nature walks.

There’s also a grooming building, which, of course, has some high-tech features, too. There’s an invigorating Hydrosurge bath system that uses a jet action massage and special shampoos. This removes loose hair and other debris. Triple Crown also uses air-drying, and professional groomers do the hair clipping, nail trimming, and ear cleaning.

The core of Triple Crown is the training. Trainers live on the premises, and most are graduates of the Tom Rose School for professional dog trainers. As you can imagine, Triple Crown had its choice of trainers, and chose some of the best.

Training is offered in obedience, schutzhund, upland and retriever training, agility, lure coursing, tracking, herding protection (bring your own sheep to the 40 acre, fenced herding area), and police work, including narcotics detection. There’s even a small house and wooded area for training police dogs.

Eight trainers are on staff, and they use all techniques imaginable: clicker training, food reinforcement, the Gentle Leader® head halter, various training collars, and Tri-Tronics® electronic trainers. But the philosophy at Triple Crown is very telling: “It’s not the equipment, it’s the handler.”

Who’s the Wizard behind this canine Oz? Jerry Wolfe. A top graduate of the Tom Rose School of Dog Training in St. Louis, he’s trained professionally since 1992. He started the much-smaller Triple Crown in Tucson in 1994. He’s been working on the new Texas Triple Crown since September, 1996. The first phase was just finished, with the completion of a new pond with two islands and two peninsulas. In the future, he plans on building a wooded dog park. And if things really take off, Wolfe already has plans to double the size of the facility.

Wolfe says, “The biggest gratification is seeing someone coming here and interacting with their dog in a positive way. That’s the most joyful thing.”

As for the types of dogs who arrive at Triple Crown for training, Wolfe says, “We get everything from ‘gotta-dog-don’t-know-how-to-put-on-the-leash’ to the highest level of dog sports participants.” Many people are long-term clients of Triple Crown, and come for a vacation with their dog for the next level of training.

Eventwise, in the few months it’s been open, Triple Crown has hosted an AKC Hunt Test with 100 entries, Retriever Working Certificate Tests, Temperament Testing, and an AKC Agility event with 350 entries. Events scheduled for 1999 include All-Breed shows, handling workshops, a seminar by Terri Arnold, American Eskimo Dog national specialty, a USDAA Agility Show, and a UKC Hunt Test, among others. AKC cluster shows are expected to be booked for coming years.

So if your dog needs to discover his heart, his brain, or his courage, Triple Crown’s the place. For more information, call (512) 759-2275 or check their web site: www.triplecrowndogs.com

New cancer research – Rob Hilsenroth, DVM


Results from two recent surveys conducted by Morris Animal Foundation report cancer as the leading cause of disease-related death for dogs in the United States. With ownership of these companion animals rising to more than 55 million (1997 U.S. Pet Food Institute statistics), dog owners need to learn how to detect the symptoms of cancer and understand prevention techniques in order to help their canine family members lead healthier, happier lives.

To pinpoint pet owners’ concerns regarding their animals’ health and well-being, Morris Animal Foundation conducted two animal health surveys to help guide the Foundation in meeting the health needs of animals through advances in veterinary medicine. The first survey appeared in our own newsletter, Animal News. The second survey was conducted by the Foundation with the cooperation of Veterinary Information Network Inc. and its Pet Care Forum on America Online. In both surveys, dog owners identified cancer as the leading health concern facing their pet. Cat owners responding to the online survey concurred. To address this concern, the Foundation is funding 13 studies this year which focus on various aspects of canine cancer.

Any animal can get cancer. Therefore, it’s important for you to have your veterinarian perform routine and thorough physical examinations on your pets yearly or any time your dog or cat appears to be sick. Older animals should be examined twice a year.

The cause of most cancers is unknown, making prevention difficult. However, spaying or neutering can decrease the risk of breast or prostate cancer in your dog. As is the case in humans, the sooner you detect cancer in your pet, the better the chances are that it can be successfully treated.

The most common visible sign of cancer is a lump or bump. However, tumors involving internal organs are not visible. Other symptoms to watch for are behavioral changes such as inactivity or unwillingness to play. The onset of cancer may also be accompanied by weight loss or gain, diarrhea, or vomiting. With some dogs, clinical signs are so slight, you might not notice anything. That’s why routine physical examinations by your veterinarian are so important.

Not too many years ago, a diagnosis of cancer meant a sure death for most dogs. Things have changed. The good news is that advances in veterinary medicine have allowed for more treatment options. Many regimens have been improved and may also be used together to increase the number of these treatment options. New approaches under development continue to improve the veterinarian’s ability to treat this dreadful disease. Depending on the type of cancer, treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, nutritional therapy, immunotherapy, gene therapy, or a combination may be used.

The bad news is that, unfortunately, there are many cancers that simply cannot be cured. While we can extend and improve the quality of life in many instances, the cancer still wins in far too many cases.

Morris Animal Foundation continually works with scientists to find new ways to fight this disease and help provide a healthier tomorrow for your furry friends. To date, the Foundation has sponsored nearly 40 studies that address existing canine cancers, as well as possible treatments. Through these studies, the Foundation provides veterinarians with advances in diagnostic procedures, improved understanding about cancer and its progression, and new methods of treatment.

Rob Hilsenroth, DVM, is Executive Director of Morris Animal Foundation. This nonprofit organization sponsors animal health studies at veterinary schools and institutions throughout the U.S. and in other parts of the world. All annual unrestricted contributions to the foundation support health programs – not the cost of administration or fund-raising.

If you’d like to make a contribution, write Morris Animal Foundation, 45 Inverness Drive East, Englewood CO 80112. For more information, call (800) 243-2345. 

Some positive aspects of negative reinforcement – Don McCoy, Ph.D.


I could see the tears beginning to well up in Jenny’s eyes as she told me that Laddie, her Irish Setter pup, would not obey her.

“I’m so good to him and he treats me awful. Why does he do that,” she questioned. Several weeks earlier, at the beginning of our training course, she confided to me that she wanted a dog like Lassie (hence the name Laddie), who would be her constant loyal companion. Now she was personally offended because Laddie often paid more attention to other people than to her. He would follow her commands only if he was “in the mood.”

I suspected that the problem was more Jenny’s than Laddie’s, because he always responded eagerly to my commands. I told Jenny that Laddie didn’t respect her because she had tried to win his loyalty with treats and bribery – but never enforced her commands. Consequently, Laddie didn’t believe that he had to obey her.

I also told her that in order to earn Laddie’s respect she had to play a bit of tough love. She had to make Laddie understand, with corrections if necessary, that obedience was not an option, but a requirement.

Jenny’s problem with Laddie is one I see many times each week in my practice as an animal psychologist. It stems from an improper relationship between dog and owner, which, in turn, reflects a misunderstanding about the natural “operating characteristics” of dogs. Dogs are pack animals, and relate to each other according to a well-defined rank-structure system. They do not understand the concepts of equality and reciprocity that their owners mistakenly (and anthropomorphically) attribute to them. When you fail to assume a leadership role with your dog, you force the animal into the unhealthy situation of becoming the pack leader. This places considerable pressure on the animal. It is for this reason that obedience training is a stabilizing influence for the dog, because it removes the pressures associated with leadership. In a very real sense, obedience training is one of the kindest things you can do for your dog.

The question arises as to the training methods used. Should it be all positive reinforcement, or should some aversive training be involved? Aversive stimuli can be used to control behavior in two ways: negative reinforcement and punishment.

These concepts are often confused by trainers, dog writers, and owners alike. Simply stated, negative reinforcement is a process where behaviors are learned and maintained because they remove unpleasant events. For example, some dogs are taught to heel in order to avoid unpleasant leash jerks when they are out of the target zone.

Punishment, on the other hand, is a process where unpleasant stimuli result from a behavior, causing that behavior to subside. For example, dog owners frequently use punishment in usually unsuccessful attempts to solve house-soiling problems, or to stop barking.

The critical distinction is that punishment is used to remove unwanted behaviors, whereas negative reinforcement is used to strengthen desired behaviors.

Uninformed people often condemn the use of both procedures because they involve aversive stimuli. Certainly, no responsible dog owner enjoys causing his/her pet discomfort. Indeed, I have written several articles, some for Good Dog!, concerning the misuse of punishment, along with alternative methods to remove unwanted behaviors. Nevertheless, there are times when animals must be taught the consequences of unacceptable behavior. I call this establishing behavioral boundaries.

In my training, I use positive reinforcement about 85% of the time. But it isn’t obedience at this point, it’s bribery, because there are no consequences for failures to obey. Dogs must learn that refusal to obey results in unpleasant outcomes. Only after they become aware of the behavioral boundaries do they fully understand the meaning of obedience. As long as these negative consequences are clear and consistent, and as long as the animal has a way to avoid them by complying to the command, everybody wins.

The problem Jenny had with Laddie was that she refused to correct bad behavior because she thought her dog would dislike her. Accordingly, Laddie was unable to understand when his behavior was unacceptable. A few well-timed corrections reconciled this problem and Laddie became a well-behaved and happier dog; he now understood the behavioral limits defining his relationship with his owner.

What types of aversive stimuli should be used to establish the negative side of a behavioral boundary? There’s no clear-cut answer to this question, but a few alternatives suggest themselves when you understand aversive stimuli. First, aversive stimuli are always intensive stimuli. The loudness of a sound, the brightness of a light, the severity of a shock are all examples of intensive stimulus features.

However, not all aspects of these stimuli are intensive. For example, a sound can be high or low in pitch as well as loud or soft. A visual stimulus can be red or blue without being excessively bright or dim. The point is that it is the intensive effects of a stimulus that make it uncomfortable or “painful.” But not all levels of that intensive stimulus cause discomfort. Loud tones and weak colors are not aversive, and a mild electric stimulation is not painful.

The second fact is that pain is a subjective experience for humans and for animals. What constitutes discomfort for a “soft” dog and a “hard” dog are quite different events. A soft or shy dog may find a sharp word of disapproval aversive, but a hard dog may require sterner measures, such as an electronic collar system. Although some people who call themselves trainers use kicking and hanging as obedience tools, it seems to me that their misguided practices are really aimed at inflicting pain rather than instructing the animal.

The rule that guides my training is to apply the minimum amount of discomfort to produce the desired result. Moreover, you must always provide an alternative to the aversive stimulus so that a correct response always produces positive results, and incorrect behaviors produce negative outcomes. In this way, everybody wins.

Too often, readers assume that remote training systems are cruel and inhumane. Indeed they can be, if used improperly or by inexperienced persons. Moreover, shock systems are not for everyone, and they are not quick fixes. Nevertheless, these systems can prove invaluable in certain situations. The value of shock as a corrective tool lies not in its intensity, but in its immediate onset and offset properties. Timing is crucial with these devices, and that’s why they’re not for inexperienced users.

The intensity levels I employ are extremely low – only sufficient to cause the animal’s ears to twitch. I always demonstrate the shock level on myself (and later on apprehensive owners) to assure owners that their animals will not be hurt.

The other day, one client commented that without this remote control system, she would have probably given away or euthanized her dogs. They had been aggressive and difficult to handle until she used the shock collar. She said this while watching her Whippets course through a local park while wearing shock collars. In a real sense, the electric collar saved her dogs’ lives.

Training dogs is, in some ways, like training young children. Both have a right to know what’s expected of them. Indeed, for dogs, training is one of the most humane and important experiences you can provide. This training can be accomplished easily when positive and negative outcomes are properly balanced and clearly delineated, making each command a win-win situation.

Don McCoy is an animal psychologist at the University of Kentucky. He researches animal learning and memory processes. He also owns and operates Canine Behavior Management in Lexington, KY, where he specializes in obedience training and treats behavior problems. Call him at (606) 257-9416.

A close call – Chris Walkowicz


It was a dark and stormy night. What had started out as a sunny, calm day had gradually grown darker as the clouds folded around us. Forecasters had predicted storms all day (actually all week). What else is new in the late spring? In our corner of the world (Illinois), even the tornado watches are an everyday thing.

I kept working furiously on a deadline as the sky darkened. Thunder claps and lightning flashes don’t bother me or my furry gang. We can’t head for the basement every time there’s a warning, or we’d spend two months huddled there.

But as the wind suddenly picked up, whipping around the house, and the rain became a waterfall outside my office window, I heard the crrrrrrrunch of a tree falling. Since we live in a heavily wooded area, I thought, “Hmmmmm.” I began to shut down the computer. My husband, Ed, who’s even more laid back about storms, called out, “Maybe we’d better get the dogs and go downstairs.”

I’m more panicked about my precious computer than I am about myself blowin’ in the wind, so I completed clicking, shutting Windows 95, unplugging, and so on. As I finished and walked into the other room, the power went out. Tree limbs crashed around the house, and it was pretty wicked-looking outside.

I groped my way into the kitchen. Ed grabbed the flashlight and went down the basement stairs, his voice echoing to the Beardies, who happily followed me up and down the stairs every day as I did chores. WHOA! Not today! As they dug their nails into the floor and braced their legs, their body language screamed, “NO WAY, Mom! We’re NOT going down that black hole with the spooky sounds and light!”

I boosted from the rear. Ed coaxed from below. “NUH-UH! It might be a monster! It might be The Shining! It might be…” I could feel their muscles tense and determined.

I grabbed the collars which, fortunately, hung by the door. As the dogs leaped and bounced around in their glee at being released from the dreaded troll under the stairs, I snatched at heads, trying to fit a collar on each one. Ed came back upstairs and dragged one protesting Beardie down to her “doom.” Darting upstairs before the first victim could escape, he seized the second and galumphed down again. In the meantime, I found the leashes, attached them and took the remaining two to safety.

I put all the dogs into a pen with a firm stay, and puffed, “We’d be blown away by now if there was a tornado.”

There we sat. In the dark. I said, “Maybe we should turn the radio on to see what’s happening.” Ed’s response, “No power.” I suggested, “It can run on batteries.” “Dead,” he said.

So up my Braveheart went with his trusty flashlight and fetched new batteries. (Eureka! We actually had extras!) As we fumbled for a station that wasn’t nonchalantly playing country music, the storm tore through our woods. We watched through a window, speculating which direction trees would fall if they came down.

There would be no dinner. We had no water stored downstairs. If the storm had continued, we could have taken the melting ice cubes from the freezer and sucked on those. Canned goods were stacked on the shelves, but no can opener. The dogs, however, would survive with the dog food stored by the stairs – if we could manage to drag the reluctant canines downstairs in time.

Our disaster plan was a disaster.

An hour later, things became calm and a jaunty voice told us between ballads that “shear” winds had ripped through trees, wreaking havoc, but it was subsiding. We decided to check out the vicinity and, if possible, grab a bite to eat.

We ate our pizza in a nearby town that was totally untouched by the storm. As we ate, we concocted a simple plan that spelled survival, rather than the fiasco we’d just experienced.

Following our plan, we filled a couple of jugs with water and stored them downstairs. An opener joined the cans. The radio was tuned to a local station, with extra batteries stored nearby. Now that I knew the dogs weren’t thrilled about entering a Black Hole, I’d make sure to grab collars and leashes quickly. Kennel data and working manuscripts were backed up on disks.

We also decided what items were important to save and knew what each of us would do, depending on how soon we were forewarned. Animals go downstairs first. Then if we had time, we’d grab precious family mementos and my diskettes. Better a missed deadline than a dead person or dog. Survival, not disaster – the sweetest words of all.

Chris Walkowicz is an award-winning dog writer. Among her many credits is the Cycle® Fido Woman of the Year Award from the Dog Fanciers Club. You can reach her by e-mail at [email protected] … and visit her web site at http://home.revealed.net/walkoway

New treatments for congestive heart failure – Dr. Deb Eldredge


Congestive heart failure is when the heart weakens and can no longer work efficiently. The heart is a superb pump and when it fails, fluid tends to build up – either in the lungs or the abdomen.

There are many new and excellent medical drugs to help the heart beat more efficiently and steadily. What I would like to touch on are some of the dietary and non-drug treatments which are coming to light. Realize though, that many of these treatments are just now being subjected to controlled studies to determine if they truly are helping dogs with cardiac problems.

Some dogs with heart failure are classic couch potatoes – overweight and not active. Obesity can harm your dog’s heart in many ways – just as in people. Hypertension, increased heart rates, and decreased exercise all can occur with obesity, sometimes turning a mild heart problem into a more serious one. Overweight dogs are also much more prone to respiratory problems, which just compound the whole situation. So keep Bowser trim!

At the other end of the spectrum, we see what is called cardiac cachexia. These are dogs who are losing weight, including muscle mass. Poor absorption of nutrients can lead to weakness, a poorly functioning immune system, and even less desire to eat. Dogs may lose their appetite from some of the medications they are taking. Or the decrease in oxygen to the gastrointestinal system (due to the heart disease) can, at the same time, limit their absorption of nutrients and cause a hypermetabolic state. That means you have to pull out all the stops to get dogs with cardiac cachexia to eat the necessary nutrients. Warming food up, home-cooked meals and garlic powder (not garlic salt) all seem to help stimulate appetites.

Dogs with congestive heart failure can also benefit from sodium reduction – just like humans. Retaining extra sodium causes your dog to retain extra fluid and makes it harder for the heart to pump. Normal dog foods have about 0.47% sodium on a dry matter basis. For moderate sodium restriction, you want about 0.2%, and 0.1% or less sodium (dry matter basis) for very severe sodium restriction. Your veterinarian can tell you which foods fit these descriptions, or you can call the pet food makers.

While sodium-restricted pet foods has a reputation for being unpalatable, that is changing. Doing a gradual switchover from Fido’s favorite food can be all that is required. Do beware of treats! Many of these have quite a bit of sodium.

Potassium is another dietary component that affects how the heart works. Too much or too little can have serious consequences. Dogs on certain diuretics should have their potassium checked periodically. Kidney problems can show up when dogs are on a wide combination of diuretics, sodium restriction and medications to enhance the pumping of the heart. Remember, never change your dog’s drugs or dosages without first checking with your veterinarian.

L-carnitine is a dietary supplement that shows promise for helping some dogs in heart failure. This is a component of fatty acid metabolism – the way in which heart muscle gets its energy. Originally, this was tried on Boxers with cardiomyopathy (a specific type of heart failure), and it seemed to help. It may take weeks to months to see an improvement, but it’s safe. Expense can be a factor for large dogs, but about 40% of all dogs with cardiomyopathy seem to benefit from some extra carnitine.

Taurine hit the news as a factor in cardiomyopathy in cats. Since the feline research, it’s been tried in dogs with some notable successes. American Cocker Spaniels develop heart failure of a certain type which often responds quite well to a combination of l-carnitine and taurine. While that seems to be breed specific, Golden Retrievers with heart failure are now being studied in the hopes that taurine may help them, too. (Chicken is high in taurine.)

Two promising nutraceuticals (nutrients which may have medical benefits, but are not prescription at this time) are fish oils (with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids) and Coenzyme Q. These are supplements which have been shown to help some people and are now being tried on pets. The advantage to many of these nutraceuticals is that they seem to be very safe – so even if they don’t help, they shouldn’t hurt.

If your dog is diagnosed with congestive heart failure, this will give you some additional therapies to discuss with your veterinarian. While the treatments mentioned above won’t replace many cardiac drugs, they may help to increase the length and quality of your pet’s  life. And that’s something we all strive for.