Monday, August 1, 2011


The Kaibab website is up and ready for visitors -- thanks to Galen for all his hard and creative work :)

Let me know if you see any "bugs" and from now on, the Blog will be at the website...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Nature of a Berner

"The main business of the dogs on Bernese Farms has always been to be good watchdogs. These farms were built at a distance from each other, each one situated more or less in the center of the land that was cultivated by the farmers family. A dog that announced strangers (man and other animals) which approached the farm or the nearby meadows was essential for the security of all the living creatures there." (attributed to Margret Baertschi at

In a culture that focuses on appearance, I suppose it is not at all surprising that berners are attractive to people because of their beauty. But a berner is not a stuffed dog or a yard ornament -- they were bred for a particular purpose and all the wishful thinking in the world will not change DNA.

I have found that many people are surprised when their berners turn into crazed barkers at the sight of a stranger or strange dog -- really? What exactly do you suppose a farm watchdog ought to do? Roll out the welcome mat? Show the intruder to the family silver? This is not a breed that was developed to love everyone -- why should we be surprised and upset when they don't?

On the other hand, it is hard to have a dog that honors her heritage by barking at strangers and strange dogs who dare approach the home or the beloved family; this is especially true when one lives in close confines with others. It is not unreasonable to want our dogs to be quiet and ignore strange people and strange dogs who approach our home -- but it is also not at all unreasonable that a dog bred to be a watchdog is going to bark and carry on.

I think people forget that dogs were bred for specific purposes, and this "hard wiring" does not go away with training or wishing or punishing -- it is just as much who a dog is as their outside appearance. And this means that as much as we want a certain kind of dog because they are pretty, that dog may not be the right breed for us.

Mrs. Maize is the most perfect dog I know -- she truly loves everyone -- but she is the first to bark when the UPS truck heads down the driveway or a stranger comes to the door. This is HER "farm" and when something new or strange (or fun) happens, she is hard wired to let us know about it through barking. And then she runs out and leans happily on the new person -- barking an alert is not the same thing as unfriendly.

I think about barking as expression, and decided that if I was not allowed to ever express myself, I would go crazy. And so I think barking is okay -- it is how dogs "talk" -- and it is a safe (albeit noisy) way for them to communicate. I do want it under some control though so allow the alert, and then thank everyone and suggest they be quiet; this typically works, especially when silence is rewarded with cookies.

My dogs' alert barking does not bother neighbors because we don't have any that are close, but it wasn't always that way. When we lived in Utah, we lived on a busy corner in a neighborhood filled with families -- that is a lot of strangers, human and canine. Living where I do now makes me wonder how/why I dealt with the stress of having watchdogs in a busy neighborhood!!

I managed it, of course, but it wasn't optimal for anyone -- including the dogs, and I see this now. But the reality for most people is city life so what does that mean for life with a berner?

I think a berner can be managed in a city but that there are some things that are important. First, one MUST recognize the innate "watchdog" qualities of a berner and not have unrealistic expectations of the dog. Second, the dog needs to be well socialized and trained to have an "off" button with regards to barking -- a "that's enough, thanks" switch. Third, it is unrealistic to expect most berners to be quiet in a yard when people and dogs are going by since they are hard-wired to alert -- and since they do not send text messages as alerts, it is going to be loud, which neighbors do not appreciate -- and so I think a berner left home alone is best kept inside. Fourth, a city berner especially needs exercise -- mental and physical -- on a regular basis. These are working dogs -- they need jobs so either you give them one or they will find their own (or go crazy).

I am sure there are other things that help but those are the ones I think are especially important. I like friendly dogs and I have them -- but my friendly dogs are likely to bark at you when you come over -- heck, they bark at me when I come home! Dogs bark -- and when we are willing to stop talking, I guess we can ask them not to bark.

And a watchdog is going to keep watch -- there are breeds that were bred to love everyone and everything, but a berner is not one of them. The Breed Standard absolutely allows this when it says that a berner, though she should never be " or shy..." may indeed "...remain aloof to the attentions of strangers."

And what does aloof mean? Here is a definition from a dictionary: "Distant physically or emotionally; reserved and remote". And so a berner who does not wish to be petted by a stranger is not a freak and may not be shy either -- staying distant from strangers fits the definition of "aloof".

None of this is to say that I do not think we need solid, confident temperaments in our dogs -- we do. And I know that a friendly, loving dog is much easier to live with and so that should be our goal as breeders. But I want to make the point that a berner is a watchdog -- we cannot change that reality, and it comes with certain behaviors we should expect from our dogs -- and some of these behaviors -- like barking at strangers and/or strange dogs -- can be challenging, especially in a city.

I think most things in life can be handled, but it helps to have realistic expectations. And so anyone interested in a berner needs to know about their history and their purpose so it is not surprising when the dog barks at the letter carrier -- she is just doing her job (the dog and the letter carrier :) And if alert barking is a big problem -- well, they have a breed for that -- basenjis.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hair and Spot and Dot

As if on cue, look what is happening:

Yes indeed -- that is Zoey's beautiful coat, which is now falling out like the dried up needles on an old Christmas tree. The practically a Grand Champion girl will soon be in her birthday suit and not venturing out to any shows any time soon. I find it rather amusing to be in this position -- one stinking point -- sigh...

Spot and Dot are unimpressed and wonder why anyone would want to be pointy when clearly round spots are in fashion this season...

An itch! How cute is that?!

Oh -- very bad manners Spot or Dot -- they are hard to tell apart :)

The twins let me creep very close this morning -- they were extremely curious about me and I half-expected them to walk over and nibble on my shirt...

I am not the only one who thinks mosquitoes are clearly God's mistake!

I am in love!!! Aren't they adorable!?

So cute!

More cute -- and curious!

Do you think she is trying to get better reception?

I hope you are getting excellent reception -- or having an excellent reception :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fall Draft Season Begins!

I know it isn't even August yet but it is time to start training for the fall draft tests! Thankfully Syd was born with the full set of carting genes -- and apparently her grandma Maize's set as well -- because she is taking to this draft stuff like a duck to water.

Of course, I do not take that for granted and I am being careful and thoughtful about her training just as I am with every other draft dog I have trained (n=9) -- but having all those carting genes means we can move faster and not spend time getting used to the cart -- Syd was born used to the cart!

Just as an example -- during the harness and hitch I gave her about ten treats. My goal is for her to LOVE every bit of this and so harness over the head -- treat! One foot in -- treat! And so on... Baby steps and reinforced every little bit along the way, even though she is perfectly fine with it all. Look at how comfortable she looks...

She does need her own harness though -- I am thinking her color might be purple???

I hope you are having an excellent week and reinforcing yourself for all the baby steps you take along the way :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Do The Math

Yesterday there were 23 girls entered at the Portland show -- a five point major in girls requires 19. I had hope -- Zoey went to Portland needing five points for her Grand Championship.

Unfortunately only thirteen class girls showed plus four excellent champion girls -- that equals what? A four point major -- Zoey got it by going Best of Opposite.

So now she sits at 24 points, with four majors -- and that is great and impressive and so on but really -- one stinking point?! Sigh.

Yesterday was Mac's fourth birthday so a big Happy Birthday to him -- we will not make him wear the crown :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011


What seems like another lifetime ago I lived near Portland so being here reminds me of what my life could have been like, which I always find so disconcerting. And then I remembered something I read about your real and true life being the one you are living and as usual, my sense of faith in what is popped right up, reminding me that things unfold as they should...

Portland is a lovely city and how strange (in a fun way) to have all kinds of services and places to eat and etc. so close! But ever since I was kid I wanted to live in the country and so cities like this feel so crowded to me now, and I have some new insights about dogs in the context of a city like this -- that is for another day.

Peaches Sula's mom, Terri, has let us stay her GREAT house and what a blessing that is, especially for Mrs. Maize who is much happier than if we were at a motel. A big thanks to Terri :)

Mrs. Maize -- aka Dog Show Mrs. Congeniality -- had a grand time meeting new BFF's yesterday. She went from person to person to spread her unconditional positive regard to as many people as her leash would allow, and then she won her veterans class -- never mind that she was the only dog in her class :) When you are an 11 year old berner, it is kind of like last dog standing wins the prize! And being alive at 11 is indeed the best prize of all :)


They have a rather famous and funky doughnut shop here in Portland called VooDoo Doughnuts -- part of the experience is standing in LONG lines to get one of their strangely named doughnuts. This morning, up at my usual crack of dawn time, I went over and got Galen a maple bacon doughnut and there was NO LINE! Maize poses with the famous pink box -- and yes, doughnuts inside!

Zoey shows this afternoon -- keep your paws crossed! In the meantime, we are off to show Galen where we lived when he was a wee lad...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Neighborhood News

Heidi Marie says: What is that I hear? Another birthday?

Karma spread the word and soon everyone knew, including Robin who immediately set out to build a party nest!

Chippy volunteered to bring nuts if we had a party but said he would not come if Karma was going to be there (smart squirrel!)

The new twins, Spot and Dot, were especially hoping there would be a party! They said they would probably be too scared to come but they still hoped there would be a party!

But the birthday girl is on her way to Portland today so will be having a traveling party with her sister, Zoey, and her Auntie Mrs. Maize -- and Galen!

Happy Fourth Birthday to Asia, our extra sweet plus-size model

Have a great weekend – I will provide weekend updates/photos as allowed by wireless access.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The A Team

This is a picture of our A Litter when they were babies...

Can you pick out Maize?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Three Things

1. Congratulations to Peaches Sula from the F Litter and her mom, Terri -- they passed another Nosework hurdle today -- her Anise ORT (Odor Recognition Test) and she did it in 15 seconds (time limit is 3 minutes)! Littermate Maya is also getting involved in Nosework and doing well -- sounds fun!!!

2. More F Litter news -- Zoey was Best of Opposite in Coeur d'Alene today for two more Grand Championship points. She now has 20 points and needs five more; the Portland shows next weekend are big -- five points each day in girls.

3. Picture from today of 11 year old CH Aspen Green Beauty Queen (Maize's littermate) sent by her mom -- it was taken in Estes Park, Colorado.

I sure hope you have had an excellent weekend!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Changing Lanes

First of all, Syd's little mass was just a benign something that was irritated/infected so no big deal.

Second, Halo's agility career is now officially over. Many years ago Halo starting yipping when landing jumps. We did all kinds of stuff to try and figure it out but nothing so the best guess was some kind of injury -- probably in her neck. This is the reason that she stopped doing agility for a few years -- she just would flare that up.

I have carefully been doing agility with her off/on for the past year -- no more than three days a week and limited jumps, and she has been fine -- until a few days ago. Bless her heart -- she was whining with jumps and I thought it was her usual excitement whining at first, but after three jumps I realized it was different :( We stopped immediately and I could tell she was hurting -- we went in and I told Dear Husband that Halo was done with agility.

Poor Halo -- I had to basically sedate her that night to make her comfortable :( She is okay again but clearly she cannot ever again do agility, which is sad because she really has always liked it (except when it hurts).

I know Halo is almost nine and most people would just retire her, but Halo has always had a drive to do stuff -- she is a smart dog who loves to work. And a big part of why I do so much with all the dogs is because it is what is best for them -- it facilitates THEIR happiness.

And so Halo needs to change lanes and do other stuff, and my goals for her also have to adapt. In life stuff happens and what we wanted/planned just isn't realistic -- this is not failure at all but just how it is. I think where it becomes failure is when we fail to recognize the need to walk a different path and cling stubbornly to the "trail closed" sign, crying and carrying on about the path we thought we wanted to take.

I will give Halo some days to really recover and then I thought we would see what she thinks about doing more tracking -- she LOVED tracking to the point of it not being fun because she pulled so darn hard but maybe now that she is older we can negotiate something about that. And Halo can be Zoey's brace draft partner for the fall tests -- drafting is something Halo is very good at and enjoys a lot -- so she will soon be back to work :)

There is no shame in changing lanes when we find the one we wanted is closed. Whether it is a college major or a relationship or a dog title -- sometimes changing your mind is indeed the right path, and it reflects flexibility, good assessment skills, self-awareness, and a bunch of other positive things. However, do signal before changing lanes!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Also 11 -- CH Aspen Green Beauty Queen

Maize shared her 11th b-day with her beautiful littermate, CH Aspen Green Beauty Queen. Aspen lives with Patrick and Tiffany and their two extra adorable children in Fort Collins, Colorado and they provide this report:

"Aspen had a happy 11th birthday. She had special dog biscuit treats. Slept in (again). Barked at the neighbor dog. A good day. We love our Aspen girl!!!"

Happy Birthday wishes to Aspen, who remains healthy and well at eleven -- quick, knock on wood!!!! And gratitude to the Greens who are just a wonderful family for such a special girl :)

Maize and Aspen's littermate, Bessie Berner, died just three weeks ago -- we wish the whole litter had been able to celebrate an eleventh birthday and we remember the ones who did not: Bessie, Bud, Anna, Cruiser, Riley, Aengus, and Angel.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

She Did It: 11 in 2011!!!!!!!

Today is the Big Day -- Mrs. Maize is ELEVEN!!!!!!!!!!! She is out chewing on a birthday bone now but we just went and took some Happy Birthday pictures and had a Happy Birthday walk -- just the two of us :)

Maize says: Stupid crown -- I hope she loses it before next year!!!!

Happy Birthday Mrs. Maize -- we love you!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

LoveFest in Montana

The Dog Who Loves Too Much (aka Zoey) is especially cuddly lately -- pictures from her love antics today. Here she is with Karma -- how cute is that?!

Karma is pretty cuddly as well -- I always know when she comes in that she will go straight to a dog so I get the camera out...

Karma and the cat with many names conferencing with Zoey...

Asia and Zoey -- first the growling and snarling and then this -- time elapsed is under 10 seconds -- hard to take Asia too seriously :)

Look at Zoey's face -- "she loves me, she really loves me..."

Off to groom a certain dog who is about to have a VERY big birthday tomorrow!!!!

Some Training Thoughts

On Monday nights I teach agility classes at a training center in Missoula. One would think such a job would be about training dogs but really -- it is about training people to train dogs. I think it would be easier to just train the dogs!

The really fun part is to interact with all the sweet dogs and their owners -- you meet some really interesting and nice people teaching dog training classes! But I am reminded over and over about how hard it is to wrap one's mind around a few simple truths that are useful in dog training -- and life.

First of all, yelling what you want does not really increase understanding. If a dog -- or person -- does not get it when we are speaking in a normal, nice voice what exactly makes us think it will be different if we turn up the volume?!

Second, stress is not conducive to learning -- and stress happens when we ask for too much, too soon. And guess what? When it comes to dogs (or other people), we do not get to decide what is stressful and what isn't -- what matters is only what the dog thinks is stressful. A good trainer recognizes stress and knows how to increase demand without creating overload.

Third, embarrassment is the mortal enemy of dog training (and showing). It causes us to do all manner of really unfortunate things -- blame the dog, lose our objectivity, feel incompetent, forget to be fun and silly, create stress/overload in our dog, and sometimes even quit. We really all need to get over middle school and stop worrying about what anyone else thinks.

Fourth, humility is the friend of dog training! Being open to new information and new ways of doing things is how we improve -- if we already know everything, then we should expect to stay exactly where we are right now.

Fifth, when you are willing to work with no reward then you can expect your dog to do that. Does anyone REALLY still think a dog should do something "because I said so"?! Get over it and get out the cookies -- that is not real life.

Sixth, punishment doesn't work. Well, maybe it makes the punisher feel powerful or something like that, and if that is goal -- okay. But in dog training, punishment is not effective for long-term success -- you have to make it reinforcing.

Seventh (related to above), the dog gets to choose the reinforcer! Rewarding your dog with a handful of hay is probably not going to get you very far -- you have to figure out what a dog loves, and I am not just talking about food. I love seeing dogs light up when their owners remember to happily and genuinely praise them -- or play with them :)

Eighth, dog training is not about power -- it is about learning to cooperate, and that involves respect. We must learn and respect the needs and wants of our dog in order to have a cooperative and productive training relationship.

Ninth, dogs have individual personalities -- like people -- and trying to figure out "why" is basically a waste of time. Who knows why cute Foxy Brown hates the dog walk?! Is knowing going to change anything? No -- our job is to simply figure out how to help her see that the dog walk is okay -- fun even! Focusing too long and hard on the why's gets in the way of HOW.

Tenth, as I said at Camp Kaibab -- if the neighbors don't wonder what the heck is going on next door, you aren't doing it right. Training a dog should be playful, fun, happy, and crazy!!! Liz (Tara Geneva's mom -- they came to Camp) offered us our new training motto: Let Your Freak Flag Fly!!!! (Say that three times fast!)

So there you go -- some things to think about as you interact with your dog -- and with other people. Have a happy, playful, freaky day :)

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Few Things!

First of all, a BIG Happy Birthday to Cadi and her brother, Maverick!! It is very hard to believe that the C for Cruising and Convenience Store litter (born 7/11) is already six but it is true. I hope Mav and Cadi have excellent birthdays :)

We remember their littermate, Dillon, who sadly is not alive to celebrate with those who love him -- he is gone but he is not forgotten.

Second, a BIG congratulations to Fiona (D Litter) and her family -- Fiona got a major towards her championship yesterday in Ventura :)

Third, I decided last month that I would name my next puppy Harper (long story) and I wake up this morning to discover that the Beckhams (famous couple) have named their little girl Harper -- copycats!!!!!! Now everyone will think my puppy is named after THEIR daughter instead of the other way around! But you know the truth... And no -- I am not planning on a puppy anytime soon -- I just have her named :)

Fourth, if you are on Facebook, please "Like" our veterinarian: Sapphire Animal Hospital in Stevensville, Montana -- they are new at this and need support :) Also, Syd is on their wall!

Fifth -- well, I thought there was something else but maybe not :) Oh -- I know -- have a great day even if it is not your birthday!