Chase turned 3 months old on Wednesday 10/06/2010!

She’s growing so fast! Unfortunately she had to get some shots on her 3 month bday, which made for a rough day (and a rough few days following). She’s back to being happy Chase now tho. 🙂

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Kodi!, originally uploaded by brada1878.

I LOVE this pic of Kodi I took last night! He’s really becoming a handsome dog. He’s KODI Esquire, out of Luytiy and Masha.

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Zen DenOur guardians spend a lot of time outside – some of them spend all their time outside. This is necessary as, for them to be effective in their guard dog role, they need to be “on the job” 24/7.

The weather on the Mesa can be kinda volatile, it can be raining and windy one minute then freeze the next. It can go from a mild 40F sunny winter day to -20F windy and snowing that night. In the monsoon season we can get several inches of rain in a very short time period and in spring we get hurricane strength winds. It can be pretty crazy, and pretty hard on our guardians – tho they take it in stride.

Pole BarnBecause of this weather volatility, and the safety and comfort of our guardians, we needed to give them various “safe houses” where they could escape the weather. They always have access to the barn via a dog door, but we found that whichever guardian is on the job at the time of a weather event, they will often not abandon their post/duty by seeking shelter in the barn. They’re that hardcore! 😉

So, another type of shelter needed to be built in the yard, one that would allow them quick access so they could quickly escape from the weather while still being able to watch over the yard (as much as possible). I wanted this shelter to be bomb-proof in construction, and not only protect them from wind, rain, and snow but from the extreme temps as well. Since this is an arid high-desert environment where the native Pueblo Indians have lived in Adobe Brickdugouts” for 100s of years, I figured that was a well-proven building method to base my plans on.

And from that thought process the “Zen Den” or “Chill Den” was built. The Den is a cider-block walled “dugout” with an insulated, waterproof, wood roof.

HoleFirst, we had our friend use his tractor to excavate a 3 foot deep 10’x10′ hole where we planned to build the Den.

We chose to put the first Den in a smaller area of the yard that has a very tall double fence. In the past we had some issues with Luytiy, our male Caucasian Ovcharka, jumping over our 6′ fence and escaping the yard. So we had the 6′ fence replaced in this smaller area with 10′ “Coyote Fencing” made from local Aspen trees (called Latilla locally). This area was sectioned off from the rest of our fenced-in yard to give us a fortified area to keep Luytiy in while guests are over or if we leave him out while we are gone. We chose to build the first Den in this area as we could allow Luytiy to be out in this area 24/7 with no fears of him escaping while we adjusted the rest of our fence to keep him from jumping it.

SuppliesNext we leveled-off the bottom of the whole and had our supplies delivered to the house. After leveling the base of the hole the depth was around 2.5′.

For the main structure we used 2 full pallets of 8x8x16 inch Cinder-Blocks. We would have preferred to use Adobe bricks, as they eventually degrade back into earth, and we don’t plan for these Dens to be permanent structures, but unfortunately we couldn’t find any Adobe Brick suppliers at the time of construction (Tho now I see Adobe Bricks for sale all over the place).

FoundationThe next step was to start building the walls of the structure. We set the base Cinder-Blocks in the hole dry. Since this is not a permanent structure, we built the Dens without using cement to hold the blocks together – this added some unique challenges, but we felt it was necessary as the Dens will need to be removed if/when we sell our house. We got the first layer of blocks to fit as snugly as possible, which required some extra leveling of the ground, with the understanding that any cracks between the blocks would be filled with dirt once we buried the base of the structure.

WallsWe continued stacking the blocks until we reached the top of the hole (ground level). Once we reached ground-level height with the walls we started to leave space for the door to the Den. For this we had to use half-width Blocks since we wanted the opening to be large enough for Luytiy to fit in. Later, we would make the entry much larger as we found that the small entry made the Den a bit to confined-feeling (we assume) for the dogs. We’ll get to the door alteration later in this post.

ReinforcementAs we got to the last few layers of Cinder-Blocks we hammered 1/2″ (#4) rebarb into the openings of the blocks. We hammered the rebarb into the ground a good 5′. We did this to add rigidity to the walls of the Den, the rebarb would later work with the sand, dirt, and rock we would poor into the walls of the Den (in the holes of the Cinder-Blocks) for added stability.

RocksAfter the rebarb was in place we filled the Cinder-Blocks with rocks, sand, and dirt to make the walls more dense and solid. This may not have been needed, but we figured the added weight and mass would make the walls more stable while adding more thermal mass to the structure helping to keep the temps inside the Den stable while the temps outside the Den changed.

DirthNext we filled in the area around the Den so that the dirt was level (or higher than) the ground. This put over 2′ of the Den completely underground, which helps to slow the thermal-swing of the inside (the Den) temps. Moving all that dirt was a lot of work, but worth it in the long run. Being partly underground reduces heat loss from the ground via conduction.

SuppliesNow it was time to build the roof of the Den. we wanted the roof to act as a platform for the dogs to sit on as well as provide shade on the sides of the Den while keeping hot or cold air trapped inside by reducing solar heating and insulating the space. This means the top needed to be pretty large, insulated, and water resistant. We built an 8′ x 8′ box out of plywood and 2x4s, added insulation to the inside, and then sealed the top to make it water proof.

Roof 1 Roof 2

Small DoorThe final product has changed a bit since the original design. The original design had a rather small opening (door) to the Den, we found that the dogs didn’t like to go into such a closed dark space so we ended up making the opening (door) much wider. To the left is a pic of what the Den looked like after completion. This opening was too small for the dogs.

So, we eventually made the opening much larger…

Bid Door

We also added steps to the back of the Den so that the smaller dogs could have a safe way to access the platform on top, which has grown to be a favorite place for the dogs to hang out – it gets them up off the ground where it is dry. Another thing we added later was Pine Shavings to the inside of the Den so that the dogs had a nice soft bed to sleep on…

Steps Luytiy

And that’s how we built our dog’s “Zen Dens”! 🙂

So far we have been very pleased with the results. When the temps are very warm the dogs will take shelter in there as it stays nice and cool. When the temps are very cold the dogs do the same as the temps in the Den stays much warmer than the outside temps. I did some monitoring of the temp difference between the outside temps and the inside tempos and found that they can vary as much as 30F! This means on a -20F night the inside of the Den is 10F and on a hot 90F day the inside temps will be as low as 70F! We are rather impressed with the results.

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His latest blog post is perfect…

“Let’s Just Be Humans Training Dogs” -by Dr. Ian Dunbar

Showdown, originally uploaded by brada1878.

I thought this pic was cute, it’s Blue having a “showdown” with our Kai Ken girls over a rope toy.

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I read this short article today about a lone wild dog in Mombo. The subject of the article, the wild dog, was living alone, which is odd for a wild dog as they usually live in small “packs”. This wild dog had “befriended” some Jackal and even a few Hyena. The article tells of them feeding on a Giraffe carcass together. While this feeding wasn’t without some resource guarding, it was relatively peaceful and all the animals were able to eat (sharing the same meal).

This makes me wonder, with all these animals (different species) eating off the same carcass in the wild, why are people so surprised that our domesticated dogs get along here at our house so well?

Feeding time for us is not without some resource guarding too, but it is relatively peaceful. We have never actually had a fight among our dogs during feeding, whether we allow them to eat out freely or separate them in crates. I wonder….

If animals can coexist in the wild and share a meal without conflict, how/why do so many people struggle to have their pet get along at home (with or without food present)?

To me, its clear that, if resources are plentiful, the need for competition decreases, and so the need for aggression and defensive behavior decreases as well. This story is an example of that, the kill was large, plenty for the Hyenas, way more than the little Jackals would ever need, and even enough for the wild dog to join in. There was clearly enough food to go around, and so the animals didn’t need to fight over it, and so they shared a meal together.

With our dogs, there is always plenty of food to go around, plenty of other resources too (toys, bones, etc.), so our dogs don’t often fight over these things. If one of our dogs is really enjoying a particular item they may resource guard it (growl at the other dogs, for example) – this basically tells the other dogs “hey, I like this thing, I don’t want to give it up”, and with that, 90% of the time the other dog respects their wishes and find a different toy or waits politely for theirs.

It is only when a new resource emerges that we see any real conflict over resources among ours dog, and usually its more due to the novelty of that item and not so much a survival instinct. An example of this is when one of the dogs catches a lizard, the dogs argue over it, but they don’t eat it. Usually, the dog that ends up with the lizard will play with it for a minute or so and then leave it. clearly the lizard itself is not that valuable, its the novelty of this new item that defined its value among the dogs.

So, if its that easy, why then are there so many families with dogs that don’t get along? Perhaps the issue with some owners is that their management style creates competition, or inadvertently reinforces it?

I am not a fan of the alpha/dominance social hierarchy concepts in dogs, I don’t agree that they follow a rigid social hierarchy (“pecking order”). I do not like Koehler method for training either, I see no reason to use aversive methods in training dogs. I like reward-based training methods, I prefer to follow the “LIMA” philosophy (least invasive, minimally aversive) and so I am not a fan of many of the TV dog training programs that promote physical violence and alpha/dominance techniques for managing and training your canine companion.

The thing is, with these alpha/dominance techniques I tend to harp on the negative effects they have on your relationship with your dog and the physical and mental harm that can do to your dog. But maybe there is another aspect of the side-effects of these methods…

Perhaps a real danger with these methods is in how they alter your dog’s value system! If you are always treating your dog as if you are the “pack leader”, and they the “subordinate”, you are forcing your dog into a “yes man” role, one where he is not allowed to share resources with you – instead he must constantly beg for them (by doing what the “pack leader” “commands” him to do). This must alter his value system and create competition from his perspective.

Add another dog to the mix. Now you have a situation where the owner is forcing their dogs to follow a strict social code, one that is not formed around fairness but instead formed around a hierarchy that forces an unnatural value-system on the dogs, a value-system that promotes – or teaches – competition for resources. The competition may leads to constant friction and tension in the family (or “pack” if you must), which leads to fights – causing a volatile and unpredictable living situation for the dogs and their owner. All this simply because the owner forces a “pecking order”. I mean, its not hard to see how this could happen in a forced rigid hierarchy – look at corporate America, businesses are filled with employee-employee conflict due to the rigid hierarchy (think “titles” and pay scale) put in place by their employers – the conflict is usually due to competition among employees.

This may seem odd, but I look at dog management similarly to the way I view aquarium husbandry. In aquarium husbandry you have complete control of the inhabitant’s resources, and it is your sole responsibility to make sure your aquarium inhabitants are receiving the resources they need to coexist and survive. If you withhold resources from them, like in dogs, you run the risk of forcing competition for resources, or even starving the inhabitants. On the other hand, if your aquarium inhabitants are well fed and have plenty of hiding places (important for stress reduction) – all of which are resources – then your aquarium is a relatively peaceful place. Often, by properly managing resources in the aquarium, a skilled aquarium keeper can house many aggressive fish, or tight predator/prey relationships, in one aquarium with little issues.

I feel the management of our dogs takes on a very similar model – the proper management of resources and a clear understanding of what each dog views as a resource (because, just like humans, no 2 dogs have the exact same value-system).

In summary, I think the alpha/dominance concepts do more than just hurt dog-owner relations, I think they may actually prevent dogs from learning some very basic social concepts (like sharing). It would be interesting to do a study and see if dog-dog behavior issues have gone up since the popularization of the TV shows that push these destructive alpha/dominance concepts.

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Chase, originally uploaded by brada1878.

Chase, my daughter, was born on Tuesday July 6th 2010.

Hi, welcome to my blog! I plan to keep this space updated with my random thoughts and experiences. I hope you enjoy it.