Slice of Life is inspired by the desire and challenge of living our lives in the moment. Days go by, weeks go by, years... but we can still choose over and over again to look at our own lives in small installments. These installments (or slices of life) can be walks taken in the hills, naps or a glass of Rioja. For me, what makes my slices super meaningful is being able to share with others the moments of my day with dogs in play, training or napping where we're all piled up on the bed.

My slices of life are full of events and experiences that are meaningful to me. As a former professional photographer, I still “see” so many pictures (or vignettes) as I interact with my dogs and the world around me on a daily basis. Most of the time I am not capturing these moments with a camera anymore. Instead, I am just showing up... I must say, that I do miss having a register of events outside of my head so that at my leisure I can relish a past moment as I am transported by a visual or written recollection of days gone by.

With the immediacy of all things digital, perhaps I can have my cake and eat it too. I can continue to do my work as a dog trainer and also register here and there moments of living a life in the company of dogs. I hope you will occasionally take a peek, and that my slices of life transport you in a glee of YOUR own!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Is a dog bite just a bite

When it comes to any behavior including dog bites, looking at the context surrounding the episode will give us some very much needed information. What I am saying is that not all bites are the same.

Even sometimes people cannot even agree on what they call a bite. This is the typical example of a herding dog using its mouth to nip at someone in order to have them move-  as they might do with a sheep that is choosing to not move when asked to do so. This is what I call a nip. A very distinct behavior not only because of the degree of potential injury but also because of the motivation behind the behavior.

When someone says that they got bitten by a dog or one of my client’s dog bit someone we need to go into “detective mode” asap.

First off is to learn the degree of the injury.  What I am looking for is the extent of damage done.
Here again there are some specific that can shed a light. These are some of the typical questions that help determine severity of a bite:

1. Who was the person bitten? The demographics: child, elderly, men etc.  If it was a dog, then the dog’s breed.
2. Where was the person (or dog) bitten?
3. What is the degree of injury?  In order to asses this we need to ask further questions such as:
4. Are there some teeth marks as a result of the contact of the dog’s mouth on the victim? Puncture wounds?  If so, how many? How deep is the wound? And the direction of the teeth marks? Was it a single bite or multiple bites?  Was there any contusion (black and blues) as a result of the pressure of the dog’s mouth? And finally did the person or dog needed a trip to the ER for stitches or the vet?

What the information above will tell us is if the dog exercise any bite inhibition or not.  Bite inhibition refers to the amount of pressure per pound that the dog used to inflict when biting.  It also serves as a as gauge to the dog’s acquired bite inhibition (ABI), if at all!

ABI translates to the possible damage that a  dog under the same circumstances as a previous bite  would most probably inflict if it bites again.

Let me illustrate:  Ian Dunbar DVM, P.h.D. was examining a very large dog at a local shelter because apparently, the dog has an ear infection.  He gathered that the condition was painful for the dog. As he was lifting on of the ears to investigate, this very large dog gently, very gently put his mouth around Dunbar’s arm merely leaving a trace of saliva! Now that is bite inhibition!  Dr. Dunbar was so impressed by this dog’s ability to bite with ever inflicting any damage- even when experiencing some pain that he adopted the dog on the spot! Now think if the opposite was true. This large dog could have produced a very, very damaging bite because of its size just be exercising a lot more pressure with his mouth.

Bite inhibition apparently is something that dogs can learn when they are puppies. It is remarkably simple:  The puppy bites its playmate with some force, the playmate then yelps and removes itself from the interaction or play teaching the biting puppy that biting with force means you will lose your playmate. Wow! Right?

After the puppies leave their sibs or even in the case of a singleton puppy, the exercise can be conducted with people now giving feedback to the young puppy (up to the age of 4 1/2 month - 5 months) about the pressure they are exercising when play biting. Once again, if the puppy bites hard - even with those small teeth of theirs he loses the playmate (the person in this case).  If we are consistent in delivering the puppy with this type of consequence for biting with pressure, the puppy learns to inhibit its bite thus creating less damage should he bite someone as an adult.  Unfortunately, bite inhibition is something that a pup can learn but there is no evidence that this is something that can be taught to a dog past puppyhood.

Also of importance are the circumstances surrounding the bite incident. Here again, we are looking for facts.  Let me explain by way of illustrating with two real case scenarios.

First case;
A toddler is mauled by a dog while the parents are inside the home getting high. That is the headline.  But what people might not know is that this dog was tied up on a chain and literally starving to death when the mauling to this child took place. There is more to this particular case, but I will not expand on the gruesome and sad details.

Second case:
A large breed dog is safely in his owner’s car when a complete stranger decides to “befriend” the dog and puts his whole arm inside the car without ever asking for permission or assurance from the owner to do so. The dog bit the man’s hand without leaving a mere trace of the bite.

In the first case, we are dealing not even with aggression, but with predation, which falls on the realm of food acquisition. Keep in mind that the dog was starving and that the toddler most likely did not represent a threat to the dog.

In the second example, it appears as if the dog- and I say “appears” because it is really difficult to have 100% certainty about the motivation behind a bite, that the dog felt threaten when a complete stranger reached inside the car with no possibility for the dog to escape or at least create some distance. This dog does not have a bite history. The bite to the man was delivered with very little pressure thus barely leaving a mark on the man’s hand.

The take home message then is that in order for us to prevent dogs from biting we must take it to heart to consider the circumstances around the bite incident (s) with very careful consideration for the facts so since the more we know about the circumstances surrounding the bite and the damage inflicted by the dog the better equipped we are in preventing  another incident from taking place.

While dogs can most certainly learn to feel more comfortable around certain triggers and situations so that they do not need to bite again, it is also true that dogs can under the same circumstances (or even new ones of course) bite again.

On a final note:  ANY dog can bite under the wrong circumstances.  Whets more, any animal with teeth can bite. A dog that bites is not a bad dog. However, it is a dog that needs to learn to better co-exist in a human world without biting. What would make a world of good is to stop vilifying dogs for biting!

Biting works so they will keep on biting unless we teach them new and appropriate “strategies” so that  when they are afraid or  threatened they do not default to causing harm by biting… enter the fascinating world of behavior modification!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash using this simple technique

I don’t know about you, but I really do not like to walk dogs that pull on leash.  I find that when this happens the walk just lost its relaxing quality. Perhaps other people do not feel the same about their dogs walking on a loose leash. Dogs pulling on a leash is so ubiquitous that I joke with myself that I will pay every person that I see walking with a dog on a loose leash.  “I can do this,” I tell myself, because I will not be making a big investment…

So why exactly do dogs pull on leash?

There are several factors that contribute to this behavior.  I am listing them here and not necessarily in order of importance.

1. Not pulling on leash is not part of dog’s natural (read genetic) make-up.  There is no reason in their natural state not to pull, because they are no leashes stopping them
2. Restrain of any kind is aversive for animals in most circumstances. This goes back to having an opportunity to flee should they feel threatened.
3. Their center of gravity is just behind their front legs - so they are kind of already propelled forward.
4. Naturally they think that running or walking fast will get them where they want to go - who can blame them, right? See all the points above!
5. Okay, here is where you come in: NOBODY has taught them that walking on a loose leash pays big time, pulling stops the fun and it will take longer to get “there”.  Another reason on the same vein as not being taught what to do is that someone (perhaps even one person) allows them to pull some of the time when on leash.  Yep, even one person allowing some pulling will do the trick to teach your pup that pulling is a-okay.  (sigh!)

Are you panicking already?  Now, the truth is that while it is actually LOTS of work in the form of consistency and many, many repetitions of the dog walking without pulling, you can teach dogs not to pull.

If you are ready to take the plunge because you are motivated, tired of being jerked around, recovering from a dislocated shoulder, courtesy of your exuberant pup’s pulling habits I must congratulate you.  Follow the training plan (I even made a video - link bellow, for you to watch the steps) below for this very easy technique to teach Fido to walk politely. If you really practice with consistency AND you make sure no one else is allowing him to pull, you will reach success.

When NOT working on the technique below you should walk your dog (clip the leash) to a FRONT clip harness. There are quite a few brands out there.  The thing about a harness like this is that while it does not teach your dog not to pull, it will give you some relief by its mere design - which kind of turns the dog around when they pull.

The second reason I want you to have this tool, is because realistically speaking people do not take their precious pulling pup for a walk and are willing to work on anti-pulling exercises for the length of the walk.  Of course, this is what professional trainers like myself do and why you must pay us the big bucks. LOL… Now back to the training plan:

The way you will use the collar and the front clip harness is as follows:
You will clip your dog’s leash to the FRONT clip harness when walking him.  You will ONLY clip the leash to your dog’s flat collar - not a prong collar or a choke chain, when and only when you will be working on the training plan below. So yes, there will be some back and forth changing the leash so make sure you hold to your dog tight when unclipping.

If you are consistent in working with your dog on every walk even for a few minutes, eventually you will be able to spend more time training during the walks because you are being successful.  Slowly you will see your dog is getting better and now the whole walk can be done on a loose leash.

Your choice at this point as to how you will walk your dog- on a harness or the flat collar.  I repeat: no choke-chain collars or prong.  Your dog deserves be-tt-errr.

Follow the steps below:
With a hungry pup and a flat collar…
Begin your training ideally in a non-distracting environment. Yes, this could be your living room, backyard etc.  If beginning here, you can skip the harness for now since you will be working for short periods on this.  Once you go outside for the real walk put on the front-clip harness and follow the directions above for when to clip to the harness and when to clip to the collar.

Your dog will do what he has done for a while now, reach the end of the leash making it taut.
As he does:
2. Either call your dog to you by name, a fun sound or patting your leg
3. When your dog is moving towards you, begin taking a few steps backwards.  Three is enough.
4. Once your dog has cought up with you, he is now next to you or at least the leash is not taut anymore
5. WAIT for at least 3 seconds (count in our head: Mississippi ONE…)  since we want to avoid having your dog taking turns by pulling and not pulling, instead we just want him NOT pull. Or better said: to walk on a loose leash at all times…
6. Give your dog a treat
7. Continue moving forward.
8. Rinse and repeat for the length of time you will be training your pup to walk politely on a loose leash.

I cannot stress enough the benefit of practicing in a non-distracting environment so that you get the sequence correct and the mechanics.  If you choose to take it on the road, do the training almost at the end of the walk instead of the beginning when your pup would have had the opportunity of some sniffing and reliving itself.  As you both improve, you can begin to train earlier on your walk.  Distractions are part of life and what makes the walk interesting for your dog, but they are what makes training much harder to implement. So, do not be too anxious in reaching your goals around distractions.

For those of you living in Santa Fe, NM area, you are in luck!  I am teaching a 1 hr. hands on workshop on Saturday July 29th 8am-9am on loose leash where we will practice the technique show in this video:   in addition to some other fun games to teach proper manners.

You can find the details/sign up for this workshop here:   You might have to scroll down the calendar to find it.

Happy Training!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Should your dog attend doggy daycare

The rave these days is for dogs to have about the same amount of extra-curriculum activities as kids of  affluent families.  Don’t get me wrong, providing engagement to our dog is a very good thing. However, this is where one size does not fit all.

I am discussing with some folks their dog’s daily schedule.  They tell me that both their dogs are sent to daycare daily for the whole day.  Wow, I tell them, let’s start by looking at that.

You see, stimulation is not all the same.  I can be very happy and appropriately stimulated after reading a good article, working out, chatting with a friend etc.  Or I can be really stimulated in a way that does not conduce to well-being and growth.  An example that comes to mind is being in a car accident.   Talk about the wrong kind of stimulation! This is a type of stimulation we don’t want.

Doggy daycare can be really a fantastic alternative to leaving Fido at home for long stretches of time.  Especially so, if the dog truly enjoys the company of other friendly dogs in a fast-paced environment.  Now, can you count the qualifiers above?  That is my point exactly.

While most dogs are really social, not all are.  When they are, their level of desire for off-the charts stimulation is an important consideration. I would argue that the dogs that fall under the” I Luuuvvv other dogs” and LOTS of stimulation are dogs that have been exquisitely socialized to other dogs and people etc. Also to consider is the age of the dog. Most of the dogs that thrive in day cares are adolescent.  That is between the ages of 5 months to 2 years of age- when for most breeds adulthood begins. See, already we have a very narrow number of candidates for doggie-daycare.

Of course there are always exceptions.  However, if your dog visits daycare daily you must ask yourself if the stimulation is way too much!  Okay, I am going to let you in in a little (dark) secret:  Some folks think of daycare as the solution to dealing with behavior problems.  Out of mind out of sight- not my problem! 

When this is the case, the problems are really not being resolved. Instead, folks end up with a dog that is barely behaving at all because he is so tired of the ongoing stimulation. Dogs like this are so exhausted that he/she comes home and crash until next day…. And around and around we go…

The other qualifier has to do with the fact that some dogs are dropped at daycare when they truly could not care less about other dogs or worse they are afraid of them.  Yes, I have seen this too. 

Perhaps added reasons behind this trend is that trainers have done a really good job in telling folks that their dogs need something to do each day.  Point for the trainers!  But wait! Now, what we lack is imagination. Yes, daycare can be a really good alternative but it is for sure not the only one. 

Ideally your over-the-top friendly pup gets to go to daycare once or twice a week and hopefully not for all day- just a couple of hours at the most.  Think about how lovely it is to have overnight guests. But oh, much more lovely when they leave (LOL). Not that we are not social or love our friends or family but just plain and simple too much stimulation that does not feel good anymore and our wanting to get back to our routines etc.

This post then is an invitation:  An invitation in really assessing if we are doing good on the dog,  your dog. 
It is also an invitation to look outside the one option for engagement. A good option is for sure a walk!  A walk that doubles as sniffing as much as possible- for the dog, in combination with much needed basic obedience drills such as sit, sit/stays, down, down/stays, walking on a loose leash and add a trick or two for good measure.  Not only will your dog be appropriately stimulated from engaging in the world- with all its variety but also because of the extra attention you give your dog during your walk.

I have seen this over and over again.  A few minutes of mindful training (that is training with a plan, not just willy-nilly) will really tire your dog.  I see this with my dogs everyday! I am referring here to 1 or 2, 3 minutes of training (once you have gathered all you need for the training and have a plan in mind) a day!

Another great alternative: Provide daily chewies to your dog!  Chewing is such a doggie-activity and for good reason.  Dogs use their mouth a lot for a variety of purposes but one of them is enjoyment. Test-drive what your dog prefers and then commit to making this part of a daily dose of excellent stimulation.  One of my favorites activities for dogs: a working to eat program. Again, two important components for dogs here:  eating (who does not like to eat?  Raise your hand?) And the search component stimulating their predatory brains.

If your dog is friendly enough and has a stellar recall (he comes when you call him) hiking is another awesome way to spend some time with your pup.  Perhaps this activity will occupy you both during the weekend or whenever you have the time off.

When you are at work and thus unable to engage with your pup to mentally stimulate him follow the steps below:

1.    Make a daily schedule for your dog:  Answer the following: What? Where? With whom?
2.    Follow your schedule. Make necessary arrangements.
3.    Think combos:  For example: A pro walker will come and give your dog a break mid-morning so that your dog has some company, elimination time and some engagement.  However, before you left for work, you did a 3-min. training session with your pup AND before you left, you left his breakfast in puzzle toys.  As you are getting ready to step of the front door, your dog is beaming with glee. He now has some precious time to do something really fun and eat his meal.  Then comes snooze time and then… the walk!
4.    Think variety but always checking for too much of one type or too much stimulation. If your dog is good candidate for daycare (the: I LUVs dogs and hanging around lots of them) send him to daycare. 
5.    If option 4 is a good match for you and your guy (or gal), make sure the daycare is a reputable one (I have written about this so go back to the archives and look for that post).  Also, make sure your dog gets to spend some time alone (in a crate, an office etc.) with a chew toy or just snoozing away from all activity at the daycare.  If you hear that that is not needed or not possible, look for another place where the establishment will help you with your goals for your dog.

Consider the following:  There are many reasons why people choose to live with a dog.  I would argue that one of them is because of how much fun, relaxation and just happy stuff they bring to us.  But why are we not spending more time with them in equally fun activities?  The choice is ours to make. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

When is resource guarding between dogs not a good thing

Resource guarding of anything that a dog considers valuable is normal dog behavior. It goes back to- you guess it, evolution. Dogs are opportunistic feeders and scavengers.  In other words, in the wild, dogs do not know when their next meal will appear so they eat when food becomes available. In addition, they are scavengers which means they can feed off of other’s left overs.  This is, by the way, one of the main traits that apparently got dogs and people together in the first place.

For our modern-day dogs, or better said, for dogs that live life as pets in the comfort of someone’s world with pretty much meals around the clock, guarding might be not that relevant. But try to tell that to the dog that covets food, toys, bones or any other item such as a bed, and even a person. Yes, indeed, dogs are complex beings. Besides genetics, dogs are learning all the time so it is possible that the guarding is a result of learning.

Say, for example, that a dog learned that when he is enjoying chewing on something of interest someone comes by and forcefully removes the item.  Now, the dog decides that what is his is his and he will fight for it because otherwise it will be taken away from him.  What a slippery slope!

When it comes to dog & dog guarding the scenario is very similar to the above.  Sure, dogs often want different things at different times; after all they are individuals.  But what happens when more than one wants the same stuff?  Here is where problems might arise.

Ideally dogs have not been reinforced either by a person or by the environment itself for guarding to the point of escalating displays of aggression or full fledge aggression. Also, ideally dogs learn to diffuse conflict instead of going all out because they want something now!  If you have dogs that jump the gun at any provocation, you are in for a lot of fighting, my friend!

The trick, of course, is to know when the guarding is “appropriate” that is; no-one is getting injured physically or even bullied emotionally- in the case of another dog and when it needs to stop before things get very ugly.

There are several things people can do to make sure their dogs or their dog and a visiting pal don’t get into trouble.

1. Manage the heck of resources that are typically desirable. This includes: anything edible and toys.
2. Make sure there is ample to go around.  So, that the message the dog gets is that he too will get the goodie thus no need for competition.
3. Teach your dog manners!  You have no idea how long this strategy will go! Dogs need to learn that pushing their weight around is not the way to get what they want. You will be surprised how quickly they can learn this if you are consistent in delivering consequences for poor behavior such as bullying another.
4. Supervise around coveted stuff until you learn if there are any such items that the dogs will compete over. If so, just deliver these individually.  Good news is the time alone with a favorite toy or chewy is an excellent way for your pups to spend some “alone” quite time.

Some dogs are quite good at sharing certain things as in the case of my two dogs.  However, things can change quite rapidly so it is important to keep this in mind and make any necessary changes to keep the peace at home. Sigh.

When it comes to dog guarding a location, say a sofa, or your bed, you could just teach the dog (in short sessions used for this purpose) to get off the furniture on verbal cue.  Again, I urge you not to physically force your dog off stuff.  Adversarial approaches do have consequences and most of them are exactly what we do not want. Instead teach this in the form of a game by tossing treats on the floor that your dog gets to have when you say off and he complies.  Also, this can double for a nice round of cardio when the weather is not nice to go play outside!  “Up, off, up, off, up, off”… you get the picture. So, whenever your dog guards a location you ask your dog to get off as he just lost the privilege of a comfy place.

Paying attention to how your dogs relate around resources are one of the most salient and easy things you can do to avoid most fights in your home.  If your dog is already a compulsive guarder do not label your dog as a “bad”, dominant or even a stubborn dog because he is just responding as a dog. Instead, pay attention to the items that are at the center of the problem and teach your dog (s) that waiting politely for goods is the best way to access them.

If the guarding or even posturing continues, c-a-l-m-l-y escort your dog outside.  The goal here is to teach your dog consistently yet gently that manners matter and that if he cannot be polite he misses out. That is all.  One of the best kept secrets about dogs is that they do what works. Period. They are savvy creatures that have perfected - if you will, the art of staying alive and thriving. If you teach your dogs what you want them to do in order to access resources you will see your dogs following your lead.

Finally, if your pups are already fighting over resources, please get professional help. Find someone that has experienced with aggression and behavior modification.  Equally important- avoid, avoid at all costs harsh methods to “fix” the problem or you just made the situation much worse for everyone involved.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Why don’t you play tug with your boy?

We are on our regular walk with the dogs.  One of the things that we do while hiking with them is practicing coming when called.  If we want reliability, we must practice.  If we want reliability, we must also pay the dog.

Deuce is really, really reliable at recall, and that makes me smile with pride. Once I figured out that playing tug was very reinforcing for him I began to use it as a reward for coming back.  In no time his recall went from 80% reliability to almost 100% on every hike. How cool is that people?

This morning I asked John, who walks the dogs many times without me, to play tug with Deuce at a particular spot. The reasoning behind this is twofold.  Unfortunately for me, I cannot play as much tug as I want with my dogs due to an injury to my right hand.  In addition, John plays regularly with him on walks, but kind of on the same part of the hike.  Today, I am asking him to induce Deuce to play in a spot that he normally does not.

I explain to John that unpredictability is important in training dogs. Yes, indeed I can make the same argument about being predictable of course, but today I want to focus on being unpredictable.

Unpredictability adds another dimension to training and the acquisition of behavior because it makes it fun.

In our case with Deuce, this is a dog that is so interested in tugging, that he walks and runs as he turns towards us in the event that we might just pull the tug out for him or ask him at long distance to “take it”.

Ah, magical words for this dog. I explain to John that if he only pulls the tug on the same spots over and over again the recall might just fall apart. You see, dogs are excellent at flow charts: When this happens, then this other thing takes place, etc.  Before long your dog is kinda training you instead of you being able to control the consequences which are at the crux of getting behavior.

In addition, when we use unpredictability as explained above, by default we are using a thinner schedule of reinforcement which in lay talk means that dog is only getting reinforced in some occasions.

Depending on which schedule of reinforcement used which instant of behavior is getting reinforced.

For example:  I might reinforce with a game of tug for the return from Deuce that fall under 3 seconds say. Or only when he runs at a certain speed, etc.   I can also choose to reinforce a certain % of all the times he comes when called as another example of a thinner schedule.

Unpredictability in reinforcing works wonders because apparently, there is an element of frustration and I would argue hope for future reinforcements.  Think of betting at a casino.  Those folks are working just like my pup at a thinner schedule of reinforcement and the behavior (coming or betting) goes up.

Of course, I am interested in reliability because coming when called can be a life saver for my pups but besides this reliability I love playing little games with my dogs. I enjoy engaging with them in manners that brings them joy.

Have you ever realized that we too are motivated by the expectation of something we want hard?

Say a trip.  Have you noticed that often the anticipation of the trip with all the planning and day dreaming with expectation is actually more fun than the trip?  This is what I am talking about here!

As we walk on our hikes I relish knowing that Deuce is attentive because he so much wants to have an opportunity to go for the tug and this game that we are playing makes the walk so much more enjoyable for the two of us.

So here is my advice to you.  Next time you are thinking of reinforcing your dog, think about what (or how) you want your dog to perform that given task.  See if you can observe closely and begin to reinforce for more accuracy, cuteness, etc.  Now, do keep in mind that making sure the dog can perform first the behavior is mandatory for a good outcome.  As a form of example:  If my dog has not yet learned to lie down, how then can I request he lies “sphinx” style with both hips equally tucked and in perfect symmetry?

If my dog has yet not learned to come to me when he is 10ft away under certain specific conditions (wild life, other dogs, people etc.) how then can I expect for him to come at 20ft or even at a great distance under those same circumstances?  You get the picture?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Dog centric training

I am working with a soft-spoken gentleman and his spunky over-the-top Border collie mix.  I am called because his dog is chasing the chickens when they are let out of their fancy coop to meander and peck here and there.  When I ask him, he in informs me that he wants the dog to stop stalking and chasing the chickens. Period.

In his defense, this is his first dog. So clearly he is not yet versed in “dogness”. I begin working with the dog away from the chickens and I am impressed by the ability this dog has to follow instructions while enjoying himself tremendously as I toss treats at him that he gets to catch mid-air. My kind of dog: alert, responsive, over the top.  I see potential.  I see also a fantastic learning partner.

I almost want to tell the owner that his problems will be resolved as I am taking this dog with me- I like him that much!  But no, I know I shall not covet my client’s dogs so I get back to dog-centric training and the task at hand.

Instead I tell Jim, the owner, who also reports to me - that his dog pulls so hard on lead that it makes it impossible to walk him without fearing his shoulder will be pulled out of its socket, that if we work on the loose leash not only will he be able to take leisure walks with his new best friend, but this will also help with the chickens.

Huh!  He sort of retorts back to me.  How can the two things be related?
You see, I tell him, we are working with the individual: the dog and not the “symptoms” or the behaviors that we don’t like. I believe so strongly on this premise that I have the adjective of “holistic” in my dog training business (C.H.A.C.O.) A Compassionate, Holistic, Approach to Canine Obedience and Training”.

I continue by explaining that his dog, Spark, is chasing chickens because the chickens are moving and moving is something that triggers predatory behaviors in dogs.  With the orientation to the prey as one of the first behaviors the dog engages as part of the chain of behaviors (7 in total) to secure food.

In addition, Spark is truly unable to listen to him because he is just too close to this incredible stimulation.

Seeing all this from the perspective of the dog is so important.  As we continue discussing the options for training Spark, I remind Jim that his goals might be obtainable but definitively not a weekend project.

Jim is now more in tune with how dogs learn and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep his pal and the chickens safe.  Good, I tell him. My second task now is to explain to Jim that his goals are not the process, but just where the process might lead us.

Again, a truly important aspect of teaching any living creature.  We must know where we want to go - as if following a road map that will take us to the correct location and once we know our specific goal (s) we must sharply have focused on the how we will get there.  Process and goals are both important aspects of co-existing peacefully with our dogs.  They are as well, essential components of any training.

The following week Jim and I are meet again and I begin working with both of them with loose leash walking. Teaching Jim what to do when Spark’s pull but mostly teaching Spark that the fastest way to get to where he wants to go is by not pulling at all! We continue working with other fun games that will promise to turn Spark into a dog that can wait for directions versus acting as a ‘bull in a China shop”. Jim is picking up things very quickly.

Thru the weeks, as the team progresses with the exercises that I leave behind for them to practice we begin working with the chickens.  Now we can incorporate all the hard work we have done away from the chickens because Spark has great reliability on behaviors that at first were unthinkable for Jim to see his dog execute.  Our efforts begin to pay off.

Jim has also learned that there is no reason why we should expect Spark not to act like what he is - a predator, so he has learned that managing Spark with the chickens is essential to the success of our program.

Sure, it is possible that with continuous and deliberate practice (and adding a dose of age for good measure) Spark will learn to relax in close proximity of the moving, pecking birds.  For now, Jim appears more accepting and also more willing to see his beloved dog as a dog; meeting him half way in the journey they are both embarking on.

For my part, I feel so very happy that Jim is willing to work with his pup from a dog-centric perspective. As a result, he has come to the understanding that his dog must not be put in a situation that he cannot possibly be successful at. Since, just like us, his pup will be more successful at the task at hand on some days and struggle on others.

Dog-centric training requires a deep understanding of the species we are working with and a true willingness to work within their nature and capabilities as well as adjusting our own expectations.

 Isn’t this what we all want from others? Our dogs are not that different from us in this respect.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Living with dogs raises consciousness (or it can!)

Deuce and I are at our weekly sheepherding lesson, something we have done for the past five years.  Yes, it has been five years and we are still learning, getting frustrated and reassessing (okay, I am re-assessing) how to make improvements.

Sheepherding is a lot like signing in that having talent really makes things easier but neither signing well or sheepherding are easy endeavors.

People are familiar with herding dogs- especially with Border collies; but what people don’t know is how very difficult is to achieve success in herding be it at a trial for a ribbon or as a way of life.  Sure, the talent of the dog is really important and it will definitively make a difference in achieving really high marks but there is much more.

For example, get this:  The dog who is the one with the “natural” instinct to herd must at times forgoes his natural abilities and listen to what the handler is asking him to do. Wow! Right?

The dog also must be brave and confident - yet not pushy in order to move the herd (some species are more “flighty” than others so again another variant) yet, not so pushy that the herd will split in different directions - and now we have a problem. Instead, we must aim to keep the herd together and moving in the desired direction, be it a pen, a pasture etc.

For the past three weeks Deuce and I are working diligently in quite “approaches” as we are “driving” the sheep in a straight line. During the same session, we change the chore to gathering the sheep; that is the dog brings the entire herd to the handler. Our efforts are paying off.  This boy and I appear to be in sync. I cannot contain my appreciation and pride as a big smile flashes across my face.  Good lad, Deuce, good lad!

Today, is a different story. We begin well. Quite approaches that allows the herd to settle and it allows me to set up other opportunities to practice.

As I sent Deuce to gather the sheep, Deuce is either unable or unwilling to really open up (think of flaring out while running) thus keeping all the sheep together instead of going directly at them and splitting them.

We lose the sheep as we are working in an open field. I report to Mary, the person I have been working with all these years, that Deuce “is not covering” meaning he is not “flaring out” to include all the sheep but is “slicing” and splitting them apart. We try this same routine a few more times once I have thought of a better plan to help Deuce.

We end our session working on a large pen where we cannot lose the sheep as Mary and I try to assess if potentially Deuce is having some physical difficulty.

Sometimes a dog might be able to work with no problem clockwise say, but not counterclockwise.  I can promise you it is NEVER because the dog is stubborn.

However, there are many other reasons why this might happen. Sometimes the dog is sore, in pain or has some other physical disability such as blindness in one eye.  Of course, he would favor the healthy side!

It is only 10:00 am and already very hot.  Deuce does not do well with heat so I wrap up our efforts- time to pack it in and get in the car.  Deuce refuses.  Instead, he wants to lay in the shade provided by a parked car.  I usher him as best as I can and now he is in the comfort of car that has been in the shade.  He jumps in effortlessly (yeah!) and now he is taking big gulps of fresh water- still panting.

I get a bit somber. Is there something “wrong” with Deuce?  How can I help him?

Back at the wheel I start thinking of the importance of stepping back from situations like this and observe.  What can I learn by observing how Deuce moves? What he gravitates towards? Has he stopped doing some activity that he used to enjoy?  This is just simple questioning in the physical/athletic realm but wait! There is more… There is always something we can glean by observing and assessing. By asking the right question, different questions. By coming back again and again when we are not getting the results that we think are important.

So, let me ask you - such as I asked myself as I was driving back home from our lesson:

When was the last time that you took the time to finish a magazine article and completely enjoyed the process of reading while also grasping the content of the material?  When was the last time that you laid down on your back and slowed racing thoughts?

Exactly! This is the “more” peace that I am talking about. I don’t know about you, but for me one of my life/daily goal is to PAY MORE ATTENTION.

I want to show up to my life.  I want to show up over and over again to the relationships I treasure in my life.  And my dogs are among these precious relationships.

So, it begs the question: Can I slow down to observe more?  To know more about how my dogs are doing?  To enjoy them?  To share with them? Can I slow enough to make good decisions for them?  What a gift this is!  What a choice too, no?

Being the keeper of my dogs presents an opportunity for caring. For slowing all the things that appear so important and urgent. This opportunity is not only good for my dogs, it is also a pathway for being aware of my surroundings.   A pathway for being present in my life.