Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dogpile and my pal Arfie

Every year you read about certain words that creep into the lexicon and become official dictionary words. The latest version of one such book (see below) came out last September. I've already discussed in the past the way animal behavior fascinates me, but I have to confess, words fascinate me too. So...

You can find these new words in

Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English,
Preview Edition

Barbara Ann Kipfer

and learn all about these new words BUT follow along in my normal state of digression as I'm eventually going to be getting to the point of this post!

So google made it in and it doesn't even matter WHAT search engine you use, we still say google. We don't say yahoo, no that means something completely different, although it saddens me that one of the definitions is not what you yell when your dog does something really really cool or you're zipping down a roller coaster or something....

But given my vocation as a dog trainer/behaviorist, eventually I was turned onto dogpile. The dictionary definition of dogpile is:

When many people post unfriendly responses in short order to a single posting, they are sometimes said to "dogpile" or "dogpile on" the person to whom they're responding. For example, when a religious missionary posts a simplistic appeal to alt.atheism, he can expect to be dogpiled.

Which I certainly hope doesn't happen to any of my blog posts!

For my purposes though, is a very useful search engine (it's tagline is All The Best Search Engines piled into one) AND it has this really cute dog named Arfie to represent it as a widget or a gadget or whatever the heck they call him. Years ago you could buy computer software that would allow a dog or cat to zip around your we have Arfie, a free downloadable widget/gadget dog that plays fetch (whether you want to play with him or not, my kind of dog!) on the desktop and is available at a moment's notice to google, oops, I mean search something on the internet for you and fetch you the info.

I downloaded Arfie yesterday and I move him around the desktop of my computer and when I'm on the phone or idling I watch him and play fetch. The best part about Arfie other than his obvious search and rescue skills in finding me useful info on the information highway is that I do not have to sweep up any stray fallen shedding hairs. You should try him. He might give your real canines a run for the money! He even has a share option in the corner of his little patch of green!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Zen of Stay

The art of nothing. It's all around but everyone seems too busy to notice. Earlier this week I was listening to my local 9 am NPR show called The Sound of Ideas on the topic of The Age of Distraction about the concerns generated by multi tasking and being distracted. Guest Maggie Jackson, of course promoting her book, DISTRACTED, spoke to her audience about the land of distraction. We're so busy multitasking -- blogging (uh oh!), texting, face booking, zipping from here to here in micro meetings -- we're distracted and eroding our capacity of deep attention.

Her site says

"And yet we can recover our powers of focus through a renaissance of attention. Neuroscience is just now decoding the workings of attention, with its three pillars of focus, awareness and judgment, and revealing how these skills can be shaped and taught. This is exciting news for all of us living in an age of overload."

I myself with respect to teaching people about dogs talk about the 3 D's: Distraction, Distance & Duration, but okay, her three pillars work for me too. It was too funny for me that while I listened to the show, being slightly but only slightly distracted at the time, I marveled at how much it chimed in with the lecture (maybe it was a rant?) to my group puppy class the day before about the Zen of Nothing, the art of being happy, doing nothing,preferably but not necessarly a down stay, no matter what, and how hard that it for puppies!

When I'm walking around in a group environment giving students individual attention, I emphasize, repeatedly, to the other students and their dogs, how, when waiting for the next exercise, the important exercise is to just be there happy doing nothing no matter what. My goodness that's a very hard lesson to drum home.

So I decided to continue this invitation only class for another run in the early fall. We'll see how many drop out and how many embrace the next onslaught of training torture. No no, we really do have fun!


Monday, July 21, 2008

Happy Birthday, Bean!

Bean the Spokesdog turned 5 earlier this month -- on the 9th. A wee bit more extra affection, some photos, (have I mentioned this dog absolutely LOVES to get his photo taken?)and because he lucked out and we had a stunningly gorgeous summer day here -- blue sky, sunshine, slight breeze, low humidity, green green green everywhere -- we ended it with a long late afternoon walk, a little extra dinner and a good thick chew for dessert.

When I look at my youngest dog, my boy who is now 5, I see a dog who is loyal, true, not so smart, almost annoyingly thoughty, yet almost wholly reliable in the house and out, on leash and off, representing me in public events and consistently accompanying me each early morning no matter the weather for our brief alone time of getting the newspaper while he waters the tree, the lawn, the expanding hastas, not necessarily but usually in that order. He always beats me back up the stairs, sometimes by just a hair!

I think back to how he entered my life and some of the milestones along the way -- I met Bean sight unseen at a restaurant parking lot off I-77 with his breeders -- they were heading west from NJ to Missouri; I drove south from Cleveland to intersect with them and meet him for the first time. Oh, I had queried his breeder several times and seen video so by the time I did meet him, I felt like I already knew him -- he was exactly as I had imagined. That first day I actually counted how many people met him between pick up and bringing him the house for the first time -- it was a mind boggling 27!

There certainly are a lot of memories from our five years together, but one entered into my active memory recently, probably because it was a crispy hot day. Early on, when Bean was about 5 months old, I took him on a walk along with my brother, his wife and their 3 dogs in the woods and fields about a 15 minute drive from my home. It was a bleak late fall day and as we walked in the crisp, cold of it all, gray skies above and a layer of snow crunching under our boots, the four dogs off leash, we began ambling by what looked like the foundation of a previous building. Peering over the crumbling low remaining walls, you could see into the pit that was formed -- there were lots of dead leaves, snow, branches and other debris littering the ground. I remember mentioning aloud how I wondered how you would get out if you fell in and as the words were leaving my lips, I watched in absolute frozen horror as Bean sailed through the air, over the wall and fell into the pit. He missed being impaled by a jagged branch by inches and safely landed on a large pile of snow covered leaves. Completely unhurt. I remember screaming out, "call 911, get a helicopter to air lift him out." My brother looked at me as if I were insane and Marina, his wife, calmly noted there was an attached ladder down into the pit. Without hesitation she clambered down, picked up Bean and handed him up. The other dogs watched, I have to think they were mildly amused.

Rescue from the pit!

Summer is a month along but it feels like it's zooming by. I have a ton of new puppy clients -- lots of people getting pups during the school summer break to have the time, good weather and opportunity to train before heading back to more structured routines come fall. But inbetween the training classes and private sessions, car pool to camp, endless vacuuming, I try to stop and watch the dogs and thank them, yet again, for being so well behaved, and give myself a small pat on the back for shaping them into such steady pals for my life at this point.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Week In Review

As I get older my vices become less risky and more sinful in my eyes only. I used to hitchhike and mountain bike on real mountain crags and rock climb and para sail and other stuff but then I wanted to survive and become a mother and not just give birth to them but one who could watch her daughters grow up and develop independent living skills. People who think they know me are surprised that I'm an admitted reader of PEOPLE magazine. I argue it's a way to keep my finger on the pulse of America. I also not so secretly fantasize being featured in an article in that magazine as the pinnacle of success, preferably in the do gooder section having something to do with increasing the human animal bond in positive ways. I am contemplating letting my subscription lapse, but as the deadline nears and the renewal notices start to increase, I'm feeling that I will probably succumb to pressure and renew --- maybe for 3 years!

One of my favorite habits is to get up early on Sunday mornings before anyone else and do my obligatory trudge out to the driveway -- in any weather -- with my trusty dog Bean who does his morning constitutional pee mail on the front tree lawn and drag in my Sunday New York Times. I make a pot of coffee and crawl back into bed. The first section I usually read is the STYLES one, sort of the PEOPLE magazine section of the hallowed NY Times; today what caught my eye was an article in the WEEK IN REVIEW called Sit. Stay. Love. by Erica Goode (who writes about human behavior for the NY Times) about the use of pets as a substitute by some people in lieu of human relationships.

What really struck me, though, were paragraphs 20 and 21 and I'll quote:

"Dr. Gavriele-Gold [a NYC psychoanalyst in private practice in Manhattan and the author of WHEN PETS COME BETWEEN PARTNERS] described one patient as a 'total control freak' who became a dog trainer.

'It worked out really well for him,' he said. 'He was able to marry a woman who was totally laid-back, and he had no desire to control her because he was able to do it with the dogs."

I'm concerned about those control issues. Does becoming a dog trainer, albeit as a positive non force based one, make me a control freak? I think I'll have to read the book before I pass judgment but I can tell you this--
-- for me from the ages of 21-32 a diminutive English Springer Spaniel, Teisha, was the most significant relationship I had and outlasted friends, partners, jobs, apartments, cars, cities, and so much more. Her fall from grace as the primary happened with the birth of my first daughter. Now the balance is complete -- the kids, family, close friends, dogs and cats are definitely in that order the most important to me and I'm going to let go of control and not sweep anymore today! I do however, plan to have dogs about me even when the kids leave the nest!