Sunday, July 26, 2009

and by the way...

...guess who didn't get to go...

Lure Coursing Champion of the World!

This Saturday, CBARRC hosted an open Lure Coursing event. For those of you not familiar with lure coursing (this weekend was my first time!), it's a wired course with two plastic flags attached. There is an operator who controls the pace of the flags depending on the age and athletic ability of the dog. This sport is ideal for sight-hounds...hence, the strong presence of the Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

CBARRC opened the course to anyone who wanted to try. J and I just wanted to check it out - we knew this isn't an event for B since the dog chasing the lure is off-leash and other dogs are waiting on deck for their go. We figured S would be too lazy to take part and figured if anything, this would be a great socialization experience for S.

We were pleasantly surprised. At first, S watched the other dogs chasing the lure with an inquisitive turn to her head. The third time she saw the lures, she was crying like a banchee! I would have been embarrassed had I not been at an event where this kind of behavior is expected - the whole point is for the dog to get so excited that they'll chase the lure. After about 5 minutes of crying her head off, I looked to J and said, " I guess we better sign her up!"

The first video is S's first run ever. I had never handled a dog for luring so I let Carri show me how it's done. The second video is S's second run and my first as handler...what an awesome experience!!

I couldn't be more proud!


PS - Listen to S in the second video - she's crying the whole time!!

Closing and Opening

J set up a cool little "obstacle" course for S. I take no credit for this particular obstacle - it's all him!

If you recall, we'd been working on teaching her Open It, Close It, and Get a Towel. We've got some fine tuning to do but it's coming along nicely.

The funniest thing is that we haven't properly indicated what we want her to do with the towel (we ultimately want her bringing it to us). So you'll see in the video she comes up with some ideas of her own.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Training When Guests Come Over

***Posted on our facebook page!! Come visit us:***

Yesterday was the celebration of our country's independence and with that comes the ceremonial...BBQ!

We had some guests over and, as predicted, the girls weren't necessarily the most perfect dogs at the door. In their defense, they've never been fully trained in that situation. If you don't train a dog in the situation where they'll need to behave the most, you can't expect perfect behavior!

So what did I do instead? I kept an eagle eye on what they did right while greeting the guests and I rewarded it. Also, if they started to get scared/uneasy/unsure, I encouraged them by reinforcing their courage. B hates being pet from above her sketches her out and makes her duck under the weight of someone's petting hand. So when someone pet her from above her head, I showered her with her favorite treats.

If you keep experiences positive by associating treats with everything, you're more likely to have a well-adjusted dog with excellent bounce back. If you haven't trained something yet and you know that situation is coming up (hello! Fireworks anyone!!??) then be prepared with YUMMY, high-value treats and you can turn any potential disaster in to a training session!

Happy Training!


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Right, Wrong and the Animals Stuck in Between

Here it is folks. More talk about animals and their ability (lack thereof??) to tell right from wrong.

Read article here.

It's not that I don't think animals are capable of emotions, please don't get me wrong. I think it traps us humans in to thinking that the animal is now responsible and is capable of correct decision making without our teachings. This is dangerous to say the least. It’s because of this that we think our animals “know” that peeing in the living room is wrong and they feel guilty because of it. That theory then causes us to feel justified with the use of punishment – the animal knows they were wrong and therefore they understand the negative consequences.

It’s dangerous and flawed. Instead of putting the responsibility on our animals, we should put it on us. We are the only being that we can truly, 100% change.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Little Girl's Training Update

B and I are working on "Put 'Em Up!" I point my finger gun at her and she puts her two front paws up in the air.

We started out targeting to get her jumping and putting her paws in the air. Shaping played an enormous role in this behavior - we started out with what resembled a shark attack out of water. LOL! She was constantly biting the end of the target, so we had to ditch that quickly. I knew she was good at high five so I figured if I stood up and asked for a high-five but held my hand out of reach, she might still try to give me a high-five. BINGO! I C/T until the behavior started to resemble her stretching up in the air.

Next, I had to change the hand signal. In order to do that, I started whipping my hand out from behind my back, still giving her the flat palm used for High-Five. When she was reliably responding to that cue, I would flash the flat palm (expecting the behavior) then VERY QUICKLY flash the new hand signal, the pointed gun. Each time, I would give her the cue she knows and then the new cue. That way, she's performing the behavior as the gun is pointed at her. The timing had to be sharp, but it worked marvelously!

Then came the verbal cue. When she was reliably responding to the "quick draw" hand signal, I inserted "Put Em Up!" This took place beautifully - I credit B mostly because she too damn smart!

I made a huge error the next time around: I was just sitting around and pointed the gun at her and said "Put Em Up!" I got nothin'. I tried again with no verbal cue. Nothin'. What's the difference? I was sitting!! B started to get so angry at me because she had no idea what I was asking! She started to grumble and howl at Okay, okay!!! I'm sorry!!

Now, we're working on me asking her to sit, stay...then I walk away and quick draw shouting "Put em up!" and she pops up with paws in the air.

wish us luck!


Big Girl's Training Update

S's latest training goal is to open and close drawers and cupboards in the kitchen. While this may sound simple to us humans, there are a lot of important steps to get to that goal.

First, I taught S to target a piece of tape. Then, I placed that tape on the drawers and cupboards and had her target them all. Instead of sticking to just one drawer, I moved around a lot between drawers and cabinets because I wanted to try generalizing earlier on. This seems to work for her - once she was consistently target the items, I waited for her to actually close them by slamming them shut. In a sense, the sound of the drawer/cabinet slamming became the conditioned reinforcer and I no longer needed the click. That way, she was sure to actually "close it" every time and none of this half-ass stuff she likes to do.

It's coming along beautifully; however, since I am human AND the teacher, I made a mistake. I didn't write down my goals specifically and therefore suffered a bit of muddled instruction. I wasn't clear on what I wanted her to do because, let's face it: I didn't even know what I wanted her to do! The issue was: how am I going to get her to open it when I can barely open the door without her slamming it shut on me!? So we stumbled a bit. She got frustrated with me and whined an awful lot but after I cleared it all up and got my act together, we were back on track.

Where we stand
She knows the cue "Close it" and executes it when I am standing in a neutral location for cabinets. If I should stand more to a certain side, she aligns herself with me and then pushes the door. In the absence of a cue, that is her cue to "open" (no cue yet) and only closes on cue. She is learning to reposition herself in order to push the door closed, which was a HUGE hurdle for us both. Originally, she tried opening the door with her nose and pushing it until it almost split off the hinges. LOL - oopsie!! With the drawer closing, I can be standing anywhere within 3 feet and she understands what I'm asking her.

Where we're going next
I will begin to distance myself from the drawers and place myself in different locations, issuing the cue and expecting her to perform the same behavior as before. I have a feeling opening the drawers is going to be very different from opening the cabinets, so I am going to try and introduce that before I put in the cue to open cabinets. That way, when the cue goes in, it blankets the two behaviors. With the opening/closing: "Close it" is still on cue and she's beginning to understand that if I haven't asked for a "close it", then she needs to push from the other side in order to "open it". We'll see if we're ready for that cue, but I think we'll focus on her understanding the two sides to the cabinet.

The most difficult thing to remember when teaching your dog complicated cues: They don't know spoken words. So, even though the difference between open and closed make perfect sense to us, to them it's just another detail we have to tell them to pay attention to.

Keep you posted!


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Said It Perfectly...

I'm a huge fan of Best Friends Animal Society after I caught wind of what they did to help rehabilitate some the Michael Vick pitties. Since then, I've loyally tuned in to their show: Dogtown. Their trainers are intelligent, patient and kind and follow the same teachings as myself and so many other trainers out there.

Often, we trainers discuss how we should refer to ourselves. Are we positive-based? Well, that could also mean "positive punishment" which is a technical term for training by introducing punishment to get rid of a behavior. But that's not what I do, so I don't want to be confused with the people who use those techniques.

Well, Best Friends hits the nail on the head in this article. They refer to it as "relationship-based" training. That's exactly what we do - we build the strong relationship that is required to make any progress in a dog's training. If the dog doesn't trust you, you won't get anything out of him. If you have no relationship with the dog, you won't understand him when he tries to tell you he's not ready to train today.

So, read up and enjoy~!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Go Lay Down

See the video here:

It's been a while since I've done a training video. This weekend, I decided to introduce "Go Lay Down" to B the way we've been doing it in Canine Building Blocks.

The steps are:
1. Lay down a mat
2. As soon as, and every time, your dog pays any kind of attention to that mat, C/T
3. Begin shaping the type of "lay down" you want

(You'll have to ignore the fact that I'm in my And S also wanted some screen time, so she decided to jump in there at one point.)

B loves to see how much, or how little, she can get away with. In fact, I think this is one of the things that shows dogs have a sense of humor. I see it as a form of sarcasm, which I just adore. Instead of putting all of her body on the towel, she will try to get away with her butt hanging off. So you'll see that I withold some clicks because of that. B also LOVES chasing the treat. It's just something I've learned. I've noticed she comes back much faster if there's a little chase involved. I have no behavioral science degree and some trainers might argue that this isn't following correct procedure, but B is a wild child and if I can let her get away with that while at the same time producing excellent results, well, I'm going to.

Looking at the video with a trainer's eye, I notice that I do at least one thing that should be nipped in the bud. Can you spot it? I sometimes cue her with my hands! I wave my hand or point towards the mat - and not even on a consistent basis! Perhaps by watching the video, you can see how unnecessary that is. B already knows what she's doing...she's been doing it fairly consistently. So it's the dumb human in me that feels I have to point. It's a wicked habit but even something so small can slow the process. If B gets the idea that she needs to wait for my hand cue, then I could have a dog who's Lay Down digresses! It's obvious she's better off without my hand cue!

Also worth noting is that I choose to move around to change things up. The first time I move positions, this throws her for a loop. She tries to lay down in front of me, not on the mat. These kinds of behaviors are expected - just don't reinforce them and be patient! Watch how she figures out, without me saying anything, that lying down in front of me wasn't the point of the exercise. It's that mat I'm interested in!

Remember, give your dog credit. They're MUCH smarter than you think they are. Let them exercise their brains. Just as you would instruct a school age child to "Sound it out...." when reading, wait out a dog that is showing signs of understanding what you are asking of them.

Oh yeah, don't knock me for the intro. So, I asked her to sit and she laid down. Yes, I should have waited for the appropriate response. But, as I'm sure you can tell, what I meant by "sit" was "stop grabbing the damn towel and let me throw it down already!!!" Therefore, her laying down was an acceptable response. ;)

Happy Training!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Those 3 Small Words

The most recent edition of APDT Chronicle includes an article written by renowned behaviorist and author Patricia McConnell, PhD. The article, entitled The Emotional Life of You and Your Dog: A Glass Half Empty or a Glass Half Full?, covers a highly debatable subject within the science world: do dogs have feelings and what are they?

The feelings discusses within the article are fear, anger, happiness, seeking and love. I've chosen to add my two cents to the latter.

Do dogs love? I know as a dog owner, I would sure love to know that my dogs love me back. I know that my own love for them goes deeper than my heart can contain. It literally aches when I imagine how much I care for them. For humans, love is huge. We love to be loved and love to love. But is that so for our furry companions?

It’s argued that love has no position in a dog's day to day survival – they don’t need love to procreate, that’s mechanical. What kind of survival tactic is loving? If anything, we humans can identify with love being more painful than it is life-saving.

I argue that dogs DO love using an example from my own life.

I have a very set routine when I get ready in the morning. Every morning, B joins me in the bathroom on her pillow I’ve designated as her resting spot while I “put my face on.” She follows me from the kitchen to the bathroom and curls up on her pillow in the corner and drifts off to puppy sleep. Anytime I leave the room, she wakes up and if I’m gone too long, she comes to find me. Keep in mind, she gets nothing from me as far as food/treats. Most mornings, sad to say, I’m too much in a hurry to give her more than a rub on the ears. But she sticks with me still. I like to believe that it’s because being around me is rewarding enough. Just being in the same room together gives her great comfort…the kind of comfort that leads to deep, jerky, chasing-whitetailed-deer dreams. Isn’t this a form of love? Wanting to be with someone...just because it feels good? I know this isn’t a strong argument for such a controversial debate. But for me, it makes my heart happy.

Dogs are social animals. They would rather be with someone they like than no one at all. So, naturally, when you spend time with someone you begin to form a relationship. If I was someone B didn’t particularly care for, I don’t see it worth her time to get up from her cozy spot on the bed with the rest of the family. She chooses to spend her mornings with me before I leave. She then moves to her chair in the living room and waits there until I return (moving through the house looking for mischief at steady intervals throughout the day).

I like to think that this is because I’m important to her. And not just because I’m the provider of her resources, but because she truly loves me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's My Blog, I'll Do What I Want To

I have successfully maintained a wide separation between my blog and my animal rights stand. Until today. Those who know me well know that I have a bleeding heart for animals and will fight for their rights until my last breath.

So why have I decided to blur the line of separation today and bring it up on my blog? Because people just aren't getting it.

The recent outbreak of swine flu...heard of it??? Read what CEO of the Humane Society of the United States has to say on the subject.

When you're done reading that, tell you me you don't feel just a tiny bit guilty for the damage we gluttonous humans cause.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dog Days of Summer

Wasn't it just 40 degrees a week ago? Where did this heat wave come from? My clothes are sticking to me and I'm having trouble concentrating. The upside of the muggy weather? B tires out much quicker! Hooray! I know that her stunning athleticism will mean that she will acclimate For now, however, I'm thankful that she has her tongue hanging out after an evening run. The extreme downside of summer? I know that I will come across many a dog owner that doesn't understand just how fatal this heat can be.

Last year, I got in to a verbal altercation with an individual who had his dog sitting outside in the sweltering heat while he was inside grocery shopping. All the windows were up. His defense: he was only going to be a minute (the conversation between us took 5 minutes...that's already too long) and he just had the AC running on extra cold before they arrived at the store about 15 minutes ago. Most accidents happen when we don't expect them. If we expected them, they wouldn't necessarily qualify as an accident, would they? I'm not now, nor was I then, suggesting that this gentleman meant ill-will towards his precious Bichon Frise. What outrages me is his lack of concern, which then turned in to extreme defensiveness, when I brought his dog's potential fate to his attention.

People, let's be careful this summer. We brought our animals in to our lives, the very least we can do is protect them from these kinds of circumstances.

The Humane Society provides some great tips for the summer.

(oh! for a little background on the saying Dog Days of Summer, wikipedia answers all.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Would YOU Live to Please?

I've heard this so many times:

Spot is such a good dog - he just lives to please me!

This idea kind of irks me. Why would a dog live to please us? That's the sole purpose of a dog's life - to please humans? What an egotistical thing to imagine. How's about we imagine for a moment an animal who's discovered just how beneficial it is to their survival to hang out with us humans. We feed them, we vaccinate them, we provide them shelter and companionship...the works. It is in their best interest to please us, but that doesn't make it their life's purpose.

This little hang-up can truly slow training progress. It's only when we stop expecting our dogs to perform behaviors "just because" and start showing them why it's beneficial that we reap the benefits of training.

You don't go to work every day just to hear your boss say "good job, Bill!" If that was the only thing you got, I'm pretty sure you'd find another job. It's the paycheck that keeps us coming back because we have bills to pay and someone to support (whether that's a family or just yourself!). when it comes to training, don't expect your dog see life much differently than you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


While S is recovering from her surgery, I found it only fair to occupy B. After all, she's a bratty dog as it is...I can't have her acting out. LOL. Dogs need mental stimulation. Period. If this is news to you, I feel sorry for your dog. Blunt, yes, but I'm just being honest. While at Clicker Con 2009, I got a Dog Twister game for the girls. It has these sliding triangles that block the food you place in a little cutout hole in the wood. The object is for the dog to learn to slide those triangles (actually, I don't think they're technically triangles but I failed geometry. Twice. So lay off) in order to get the food. We've been feeding the dogs their dinner this way - it gives them one last piece of homework in order to earn their meal before the day is done. o make the game even more advanced, there are little wooden pegs that actually block the "triangles" from sliding. Again, it's up to the dog to figure out they must first remove that peg and then slide the "triangle".

When I read the instructions, I scoffed at that part. Remove the pegs???? How is a dog, my dog has no fingers I might add, going to remove something? Not to mention, how does such a simple creature like a dog understand that it's the peg (a human tool) blocking her access to food??

Ah, behold, the power of the brain. The first time I saw B remove the peg, I thought it was a fluke. So I replaced it. She looked at me like I was the biggest a-hole in the world and took it out again. We played this little "it's a fluke" game for a couple seconds before I realized she is truly understanding the consequences of her actions. "If I move this out of the way, the thingie slides and I get the food underneath." She learned how to manipulate a HUMAN TOOL! That's the part I can't get my simple brain around! Here's B, understanding the concept of something I can buy in the lumber aisle of Home Depot. I've started clicking her when she lifts it up, so in the first video, you'll notice her pause for a second after she picks it up. You'll also see she gets a little frustrated when she can't get to the food right away. I'm not the best videographer -please excuse my shaky filming. B is also a little out of focus in the end of the longer vid. Sue me. And for those non believers, I've made this as difficult as I can imagine. I put all five pegs in, not allowing a single "thingie" to slide and everytime, perfect performance.


Big S is back today and back to life, after a hellacious evening. Her vet, Dr. Morse Davis of Kingsbrook Animal Hospital removed her tumor and left about a 12" incision. Poor girl will be resting for quite some time.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My Gentle Giant

The big girl goes in for surgery today - the doc will be removing one mast cell tumor and another bump on her leg. Poor girl has been through so much in her life - she's such a fighter that she makes me proud. Cross your fingers for a speedy recovery...I know she'll fight me the whole way! Even though she's a pretty lazy dog, when S wants something, she gets it. If you tell her she can't go upstairs to lie down in her parents' bed, she will sneak away like a ninja. My big, stinky-eared ninja.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Quote of the Day

Alright, yes, you caught me. I'm blog-bombing. You'll have to forgive me. And when you're done forgiving, enjoy a little quote from my Dog Fancy calendar:

"I used to look at [my dog] Smokey and think, "If you were a little smarter, you could tell me what you were thinking,' and he'd look at me like he was saying, 'If you were a little smarter, I wouldn't have to.'" -- Fred Junglaus

Aw, how true.

Dogs aren't stupid...humans are for thinking they are.

I don't know Karate...

but I know Kah-razy!!

That's it folks - B's crazy-eye (more formally known amongst veterinarian professionals as cherry eye)is gone!! Thanks to Germantown Vet Clinic, her little red bump that we've grown to love is gone. Now I can see her big beautiful liquid eyes. **sigh** She's still bat-sh*t nuts, though. Baby steps.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Clicker Con 2009!!

ClickerExpo was this past weekend. Imagine a Star Trek convention sans costumes and theme music. Instead of light sabers, we were armed with clickers. It's so embarrasingly wonderful to be a geek!

But seriously.

While going to a conference full of people who share your same beliefs, ideals and interests is amazing enough, ClickerExpo 2009 blew my mind and positive training continues to wow me daily. So, I will continue to discuss positive vs. negative because it's a worthy battle. I was once blind but now I see and it's only appropriate for me to help others see as well.

Positive vs. negative
The scariest thing about punishment-based training is that it works. However, its successes are its very downfall. To be good at punishing (just typing that makes my skin crawl) you have to have impeccable timing and enough force to correct the behavior the first time but not so much that you traumatize the animal. Go ahead – read that line again, you know you have to. It’s like a complicated math equation – it makes you think too much (that’s assuming you’re like me and horrible at math)! So here, I’ll say it again:

"To be good at punishing … you have to have impeccable timing and enough force to correct the behavior the first time but not so much that you traumatize the animal."

Well, great, now that we’ve been warned and we understand the rules, let the punishing commence...right!? Uh, no, it’s not that simple. I’m going to explain this using my own spin on an example from L (

Imagine you want a diet Pepsi from the vending machine. This is the same machine you get a diet Pepsi from every single day and you’ve been doing this for the last year. Every single day, you insert a dollar and out comes your diet Pepsi. One day, for no known reason, one of those boxing gloves pops out of the front and punches you right in the face when you reach to grab your soda. What the @*#@!!??

“wow. That was weird…” you say, and you duck this time before reaching for the soda again.

BAM! Another glove pops out and punches you in the face. This is when good ol' animal instinct steps in. You will perform several actions in the next few minutes. You will:
a) Try to get faster and predict when the glove comes out – but you’re still willing to try again because diet Pepsi is soooooo good!

b) Give up entirely – that Pepsi isn’t worth another punch to the face. In fact, NO Pepsi is worth getting punched in the face. Is this going to happen every time!?!? Should I choose another soda!? Did I not put in enough money?? Should I try another machine?? Is it the Pepsi or the machine that caused that??

c) Punch the machine right back - that stupid thing can't and won't stop you!

Let's use the same scenario: you are getting a soda from the vending machine just as you do every day. Except today, unlike every other day, no soda comes out. Perplexed and mildly irritated, you press the button a million times (just to make sure the machine understood) and *sigh* insert another dollar. This time, you’re hoping you get that soda you want so much. Alas, no soda comes out again. The third time around, you will:

a) Put in yet another dollar, hoping 3rd time’s a charm. You might even make that corny joke aloud, “welp, let’s hope third time’s a charm, right Bill? *chuckle, chuckle*”


b) Give up entirely.

What you won’t do is stand there all day, putting your hard-earned dollar bills into the machine and still expect a soda. At some point, you are done with this game. You learned (hopefully quickly) that this behavior isn’t paying off. In fact, it’s costing you big time! That doesn’t mean you will forever give up on vending machines. You might even try again tomorrow. If tomorrow, you get the same results (the machine is providing consistency, in other words) you will begin to give up on that particular machine. You’re a little perturbed you lost so much cash, but no one had to shock you, yell at you or hit you to convince you that this isn’t going to work.

That, my friends, is one of the differences between training with positive reinforcement vs. negative reinforcement. Both may eventually yield the same results but one comes with much more baggage than the other, not to mention how deadly accurate (tee hee...a pun) you have to be with negative reinforcement.

Most people I talk to say that they don’t really like using harsh punishment/corrections anyway. If you’re one of those people, liberate yourself and your dog. With negative training, the worst that can happen is actually pretty bad! You can end up with an aggressive, emotionally-damaged dog! I'd say that's pretty serious! With positive training, however, the worst that can happen is your dog is happy from receiving positive reinforcement and interacting with you. It may require that you get a little creative with training, but your dog still respects you at the end of the day. That's not so horrible, now is it?


Friday, February 20, 2009

If you want the perfect dog...

...keep trying. I know. Such a misleading title. I'm sure you were heavy with anticipation, "LOOK! HOW TO HAVE THE PERFECT DOG!" Well, sorry. Perfect is sometimes farther away than you think...and I'm guessing along the way, you begin to change what you think perfection is.

My dog, B, as many of you know, is dog-reactive. She and I have been attacking (no pun intended) this problem head-on since December. As many trainers will agree, there are good days and there are bad days. Today was yet another bad day.

We successfully passed three dogs without so much as a bark in their direction when I decided to head to the tennis courts for some safe, off-leash fun. B got to play a fun game of chase with the stick. J and I did tag-team recall drills - sounds less fun than it really is. B loves it! She gets to run back and forth between us as fast as her little legs will carry her to the piece of chicken each of us is holding. That's when I saw our next challenge: the neighborhood pug. I know this pug - she's not really a threat at all. She kind of bumbles, if that's really a verb. So it was little surprise that I was able to redirect B's attention after a couple huffs towards the pug. Success!

That's when I noticed how successful we really were up until that moment. Just on the other side of the tennis courts, there are kids playing tackle with their parents (B doesn't like kids running around...probably because they resemble little dogs), there are three other kids flying a HUGE orange kite (B loves to chase birds, especially pterodactyls!!) and everyone is screaming during all this afternoon play. To put myself in B', I often close my eyes and take in all the sounds. Then I try to imagine that multiplied by a factor that I honestly just made up because I can't begin to imagine how well dogs must hear. It's amazing how many senses they employ at once and almost all of them are beyond our capacity. So this helps me empathize and understand her small successes. I realize she's truly taking in much more than I give her credit for. Good job B.

Enter: the proud Scottish terrier.-complete with a fresh haircut and snazzy red coat. This Scotty was all B needed to end her successful streak. The chicken no longer means anything to her. The Scott needs to be put in his place and Big B has volunteered for the job. I can't get her attention, I can't redirect her, she's practically choking herself in her wild and ambiguous display behaviors...I'm spilling chicken everywhere, the leash is getting tangled around my legs, my nose is dripping from the freezing's too much at one time and I lose it. Thankfully, not on B. Nope, I manage to escort her across the tennis courts to let her (and me!) deflate. I can feel the rage building inside me, making my veins hot and my eyes sting. WHY CAN'T I HAVE A NORMAL FLIPPING DOG!?! WHY DID I GET STUCK WITH THIS ONE!!!??? IT'S NOT FAIR! EVERYONE ELSE GETS TO ENJOY PEACEFUL WALKS WITH THEIR DOGS AND I HAVE TO ENDURE THE EMBARRASSMENT AND CONFUSION FOR THE BOTH OF US!! I leave the courts and fall to the grass and cry...B still tethered around my wrist. Boy. What a leader I am. I'm sobbing uncontrollably (quite a site, I'm sure) when B's gorgeous brown eyes look at me and she shoves her face in to my chest. It comforts me to think she does that to console me. I'm snotting all over myself as I beg the question aloud "WHY??? We try so hard...when will there be something to show for this??" That's when J reminds me the importance of B's position in this family.

If B was the perfect dog, I would never have called the trainer/behaviorist I now study under, L, at Smart Dog University. I might not have discovered my passion and potential for dog training. It's B's high needs that drove me to "fix" her. I wanted to understand her but more importantly, I wanted her problem behavior to go away. The main thing I'm learning on this journey is: it might not ever go away. This might be who my B really is. Talk about unconditional love. Isn't that why many people are dog lovers in the first place? Because they feel dogs offer unconditional love? So how ironic is it that instead of finding it flowing freely from my dog, I'm learning that it's me who loves my dog unconditionally. B might never be "fixed"...some days, this is too much for me to bear. On good days, though, it keeps me creative. I have to think of ways for us to enjoy each other's company that doesn't involve frustrating situations. She's taught me patience and compassion - although I'm far from being the Dali Lama. She's helped me realize my dream and every day encourages me to be that much better. All she asks for in return is food and somewhere soft to sleep at night. Okay, and the occasional free petting.

So, before giving up on yourself and your troubled pet, evaluate how deep your love and respect goes for that animal. If you want the perfect dog, you're going to have to work [hard] for it.

"To err is human:To forgive, canine." -- Anonymous

**this blog is in no way a substitute for a professional trainer or behaviorist. If your dog has signs of aggression, it is suggested that you seek the advice of a professional**

Thursday, January 22, 2009

QUOTE and TIP of the DAY

A dog is not "almost human" and I know of no greater insult to the canine race than to describe it as such. ~John Holmes

I decided to combine the two today: quote and Tip of the Day. Many times, we think treating our dogs like "babies" is doing them a great justice. We see ourselves as rescuing them from the miseries of the world and in to our safe and loving homes. While that may very well be the case, many people then take it to the next step and coddle these animals until they conform to our human standards of living. It's difficult as a trainer to suggest that people not do this. They all assume I am some Cruella character trying to rob their beloved puppies of a love-filled life. I find it unfortunate that our emotional needs as humans overshadow the deep-rooted instinctive needs of our animals. When they crossed the threshold in to our homes, they did not leave behind their amazing doggy instincts. We don't need acres of land to put those to good use! Dressing dogs up in sweaters and taking them shopping with us everyday, while cute, is not using those instincts. It's taking away a dog's identity, plain and simple. Just as it is majestic to watch geese fly in formation, it is an equally amazing thing to see a dog be a dog. Roll in the mud, play a game of chase, investigate new smells, teach new tricks - these are all things you can do right in your own home. Coming up with more challenging things for my dogs ironically changed me to match their lives. One of our favorite games: GO HIDE! The girls wait with drool puddles below them (and excellent discipline, I might add) as I scatter treats throughout the house where they can't see them. Then, on my mark, they bolt through the house sniffing every nook and cranny searching for their food. Since they've mastered this, I have to up the ante. Now I'm teaching B to bark when she's found those treats in the hard to reach spots. Get creative, use their talents in a positive way and I PROMISE! you will reap the rewards.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


How do I hold on to all the things necessary for something as simple as a one hour walk? Easy ! I bought a fashion faux pas we all know and loathe: the Fanny Pack! GASP!

I know, I know - I love fashion as much as the next girl but I also looooove me some dog training. I own stilletos AND hiking boots! When I'm not wearing my muddy cargo pants, I'm wearing my fashionista designer label jeans.

So what would possess me to actually own a horrendous Fanny Pack?? My dog Bizzle doesn't go on simple walks. She is dog reactive and right now, I am in the uphill battle of reconditioning her dog response. In order to do that, I need to carry a clicker, eleventy billion little bite size pieces of the highest value treat I can find, kleenex because it's only twenty degrees out, gloves for me, whistle for distractions, poop bags for, well, duh...the list goes on and on.

How is all this supposed to be accessible while at the same time holding on to a loose cannon at the end of a six foot leash?

Enter: the purse that rests on the tummy. The "function is more important than form but I wish I had a sign that said I'm wearing this as a dare" buckle pack. Hey, look at it this way: they've actually upgraded the fanny pack to look a lot more "outdoorsy" than "touristy". You can pull off that "we just got back from a rigorous hike" look! I'm promise you: if you hang your pride up on the leash hook when you go for walks, you'll thank yourself (and hopefully me for my awesome advice).

When training your dog, patience is invaluable but it also pays to have a really good sense of humor. :)


"If you don't have a dog in your life, I'm not saying there's something wrong with you...but there may be something wrong with your life." -- Unknown

-- I read this in a random dog book one day and can't remember who the author was. If you know, please tell me so I can cite correctly! Thanks! -E