A weekend with Christine Zink
Back in the early days of my dog training career, Peak Performance by Christine Zink was recommended to me. My Angel Mouse, was in the hands of a novice, and I needed a crash course on a canine sports. The book was informative, and it on my list of recommended reads. Fast forward about 13 years, and The Bluebonnet Poodle Club was hosting a seminar by Dr. Christine Zink. My check was in the mail the very next day. This post isn’t really so much a summary of what I learned at the seminar, but it is about the things that you’ll never get out of Dr. Zink’s books.
In certain industries, there are the leaders, movers, shakers, and paradigm shifters. And sometimes you’ll meet someone so influential that you can feel it. In the world of computer science, that person was Dr. Randy Pausch. He was a teacher, a creator, and an enabler of dreams. Not only did he make waves in the virtual reality world, he inspired others to achieve many great things. You can watch his last lecture here, and also get his book here. Some days when I’m feel like nothing is going right, a good dose of the Last Lecture makes it all okay.
Dr. Zink is to canine sports as Dr. Pausch is to virtual reality. Her resume reads like an influential academic, with two PHDs and a DVM nonetheless. However, her attitude in person when working with the dogs and humans was that of a someone who was truly passionate about her work. She wasn’t here just to lecture us on findings from large datasets; she was here to inspire us to be better dog owners.
A story Dr. Zink told really illustrated the power of her influence, though she didn’t seem to take credit. She told the story of her Mini-me. She met many years ago by accident when a delivery driver connected the two who happened to have agility equipment in their backyards. Fast forward a decade or so and her Mini-me followed in her footsteps – earning a Phd and DVM as well as showing dogs in agility. The real kicker was that Dr. Zink attended her dissertation defense. If you’ve ever had to to go through the academic rigor and formality of a defense, you know that it priceless to have someone there as your committee decides to dissect and examine your work. No words were necessary to illustrate what kind of mentor Dr. Zink was to her Mini-me, and quite frankly, I’m envious.
Do know that less than two months prior to this seminar, the story of my heart dog’s very long and well-lived life had finished its closing chapter. It was a very miserable two months where I couldn’t find the emotional energy for my other dogs, and I was simply going through the motions of foundation work with my puppy. Being around the other attendees and Dr. Zink was the medicine I needed to find my passion for training again.
If you can’t catch one of seminars, you can purchase her books and DVD from caninesports.com and some on Amazon.com. You may or may not get the the mirror neuron stimulation that you’ll get with the in-person experience, but you will get the the years of research summarized in an easy to read fashion and many how-to’s.
Here’s the few things that I will share from the seminar:
- As in every industry, it is very difficult to keep up with the latest research and best practices. That is no different in veterinary medicine. It is our job to help keep our vets up to date on what is recommended. From spay and neuter research to cancer treatments, it is up to us to expose our vets to new information so that we can be on the same page when it comes to treatment. Most breed clubs have a health committee that should be able to supply breed specific handouts and information to pass along to vets.
- Vets have a hard job. They have to communicate with the dog and the human. Dog owners need to be more attuned of their dog’s behavior and changes in health so that we can better communicate that to the vet.
- Spaying and neutering is more detrimental than I previously thought. I always recommended waiting until after 24 months old before spaying/neutering, and I didn’t look closely at the large studies available out there. Dr. Zink showed us the data from the Vizsla study, and it was damning. I wasn’t surprising about the increased odds of cancer in spayed/neutered dogs, but I was very surprised about the behavioral issues (fear behavior/thunderstorm phobia mainly) in fixed animals. The earlier the fixing, the higher the odds of seeing the behavioral problems not to mention cancers. I can’t help but to think that early spay/neuter is only exacerbating problems in the pet community – who as a group are not as committed to training their animals.
- Our dogs not only need regular exercise. They need strengthening in the core, rears, and fronts. Strong cores can lengthen the time that dogs can stay mobile, which is absolutely critical in those later years. It doesn’t take more of a few minutes a day, and return on your time is immense.
- Keep having fun with your senior dogs. Our dogs are neurologically rewarded for engaging in activities that they did while young. Don’t stop taking them out for fun just because they aren’t competitive anymore. Let them enjoy being in the environment they love and around people they love – even just to watch. I’ve always been a strong believer in having a raison d’etre. There’s no reason we can’t give that to our dogs even in old age. After all, they are giving us their entire lives which is never long enough. We owe them as much fun as a senior that we gave them as young dogs.
- Injuries to our beloved pets can be very difficult to detect so we have to keep our eye keen to any changes in behavior, eating habits, defecation, or gait. One of the most valuable things I learned at the seminar was how to detect potential injuries that so slight that it takes a video in slow motion to detect. We studied videos of dogs on the wrong lead leg to determine what injuries the dog might have. Dogs are very stoic creatures. By the time an injury is noticeable to the naked eye, it is probably very painful.
- Because dogs are stoic and don’t regularly talk to us about their aches and pains, anytime there is a behavioral change, assume that it is a physical issue instead of a training issue.