Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Mirror Dance

The first definition in the dictionary for ANXIETY is

1. distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune: He felt anxiety about the possible loss of his job.

I define it in my dog behavioral consults as manifestations of behavior including poor impulse control and see it on a scale from 1 - 10... 1 would be, "yes I have stress in my world but I handle it gracefully and within what I define as normal limits for me" and 8-10 being "whoa, things are really not going too well and it negatively affects function and, well, it's a big problem." That scale is subjective and varies from person to person and, well, also from dog to dog.

I think a lot of pet owners with anxiety on any scale (and I think we all have some level of anxiety at all times which when mild allows, actually encourages us to function) get trapped into a reactive instead of proactive mode in the relationship with their pets and engage in what I call The Mirror Dance. When one is reactive, it's much harder to slow down enough to reflect on What I Want Instead and are instead just caught on this cycle of frustration and usually negativity. And it can worsen. We're being bombarded every day in every way -- print, television, internet, coffee shops, everywhere -- by the nosediving of our economy and the general dismal state of affairs. This anxiety has reached macro proportions and it trickles into the microcosm of the individual(s). With the increased anxiety the Mirror Dance speeds up (think about a prime time network Dancing With The Dogs show doing The Viennese Waltz in a Canine Freestlye Celebrity Competition!) and now one of the side effects is the increased anxiety in the dog and the manifestations of that anxiety becoming so overwhelming it's the I Hate My Dog But I Love My Dog But I Hate My Dog cycle.

It seems to me in my own recent experience that the worse the national and international news gets, the more calls I'm getting and seeing clients and dogs with a lot of anxiety issues. By simply helping slow things down and help people better understand how to achieve control using non force based methods and positive reinforcement and owners taking responsibility, letting go of making excuses and being proactive then they not only can continue to love the dog but the hate gives way to like and the like is what motivates for training.

My favorite challenge is the client who says if I don't fix the problem they will get rid of the dog and in a single 3 hour session without exception I leave having succeeded in the challenge -- I don't fix the dog so much as I teach the owners by modeling and giving explanations of how dogs really think and what dogs really need. And they love and like their dog again.

So this holiday season slow down, be proactive, enjoy the fundamentals of the holidays we begin today to celebrate -- give thanks, spend time with those you love or like, but certainly not with those you hate!, and try to quell the anxiety beast while living in reality.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Measure of Change

In reviewing past posts I recognize I acknowledge milestones in my dogs accomplishments including (and celebrating, but not too over the top!) the passage of another year. Each dog received a birthday post this year. So you probably know, if you are a reader, that my current canine trio are now 5, 7 and 9. (the picture above was taken when Lily, now 9, was a wee pup and shows that even then, at the very beginning of evaluating my goal to become a dog trainer, I was surrounded by my pack of kids and animals -- some things never change!) So the dogs now are old enough to be reliable, trustworthy, trained; young enough for me to not be too stressed about age related decline.

Last night my daughters and I watched old videos. The favorite was one of my oldest daughter, now nearing 16, as a very small infant in a series of vignettes which included some video of my beloved Teisha -- the dog I credit with teaching me the majority of what triggered me onto the path of dog training. I hadn't seen this video in a very very long time, and it was very heartwarming to see from the distance of time how very close that dog and I were without effort. In one shot, I'm sitting in a den with my parents, video taping ex husband (master of the long take), infant daughter and 3 dogs -- Teisha, Maeya and Teisha's son, Nicholas, who lived with my parents for his 14 years) and my foot is just touching Teisha's back as she is curled up on the floor sleeping near me. She was by this time totally deaf (nearly 12 years at the time of the video)but so well connected visually that no one would know unless told and then tested it by banging noises when she wasn't looking!

So I get to thinking as I watch this how critically important I see this measure of change in the bigger picture. While I may focus on the micro change, i.e., the dog increasing duration in a "stay" cue by seconds or minutes -- I also pay heed to the more macro, i.e, the passage of another year, to assess "where was I last year, where am I now" approach to all things -- training of dogs, development of kids, business level, relationships, size of the tree I planted on my front lawn (it happens to be a catulpa tree which grows fast so it's "funner" to measure its growth!), etc.

If you're frustrated with a particular "sticky wicket" in your approach to modifying a behavior -- whether of your partner, dog, kid, colleague, etc. -- slow down, measure in increments that are meaningful, be strong, and keep at it! It really does help!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another Reason I Love Zappos

I just had to make a note that the positive dog training movement is even infiltrating the error pages of super cool online stores like Zappos. Not sure if you can read the text but when zipping around too fast on one of my favorite online stores (just upgraded my memory from 512K to 2 gig and the "computer on steroids" takes some adjusting for someone with quick clicking/typing fingers!) this came up and here's what it says:

Egads! We're Sorry!
It appears we're experiencing an internal server error.
We thought we'd try out this new-fangled "Brisco Dog 5000" server system. Unfortunately it sometimes goes haywire when the mailman walks by. Rest assured, our team is working closely with Brisco to fix the problem and will have it resolved shortly.
Usually it just requires doggie treats to fix! In the meantime, try checking out:
Zappos Homepage or Zappos Site Map or Zappos Customer Service Center
(or) Try a Search

Under the photo of the dog, it says:
No animals were harmed in the making of these error pages.
(mildly embarrassed by being dressed up in silly clothing, but not hurt in any way.)

Think about it. Savor it. The media messages coming out have tipped to showing the humor and benefit and goodness of positive orientation. Kudos, Zappos! (try typing that ten times real fast! Who knows where it might zap you!).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Queen is 9 AND I fixed a Conundrum!

Wow, what a day. The Queen, AKA Lily The Wonder Dog, turned NINE today. We actually don't know her exact birthday, but since her arrival ushered in the 21st century and she was about 8 or 9 weeks old, we counted backwards and picked November 18th because it holds resonance for me in several ways and if it's not actually the right day, it's pretty darn close. What made the day even more special was having ANOTHER epiphany

a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

this one about a leash walking issue that was over a year in the making. Talk about simple.

Here was the issue: When I walk with all 3 of my dogs on leash, I have Lily attached to me, Bean attached by a joiner to Lily's Har-Vest, and Trip attached to me solo. I hope to illustrate with photos someday soon. But here was the thing. If I had Lily attached to me, I put a leash on her Har-Vest 0-ring, ran the leash through the handle, attached another leash to that and wore her around my waist. The length when taut was about 6 feet and I had worked diligently on training her to:
a) pull with just enough consistent tension to move us along at a 3.25 mph rate (using a pedometer to set the pace);
b) walk ahead but have NO tension whatsoever or;
c) drop the leash and have her drag it and be right at my side.

All 3 of these were accomplished with simple voice commands: "pull me", "no pull" and "stay with me".

I couldn't figure out how to get her to just drop back and walk at my side with the leash still attached UNTIL today no matter how hard I tried to communicate "stay with me". Why?

The only thing we changed was swapping out the first leash for a shorter more tab type leash which made the full length Lily could be in front of me with the slight tension (see "a) shorter -- at this length she was 1 foot length in front of me as we walked. And this time, just for fun when I asked her to drop back and after we had picked up my daughter from school and my daughter and I shared the sidewalk, LILY WALKED AT MY SIDE WITH NO TENSION WHILE STILL ATTACHED TO MY WAIST. I'm not sure if I'm really conveying the true magnificence of this accomplishment, and I can't wait to test it for a second consecutive day, but the ONLY thing that changed was the length of the leash she could be out in front and the change was at most 2 feet. So here it was, my own DISTANCE part of the 3 D's (Distance, Distraction, Duration) that solved the conundrum.

Stay tuned for more adventures of the nuances of fine tuning training challenges! And wish my girl many happy returns!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tips, Accepting Advice, Epiphanies

Since I always try to turn potential negatives into positives, upon becoming a single mother, I took to heart and embraced the art of learning handywoman skills I previously seriously lacked -- how to drill, hammer, measure, prep, sand, paint, stain, refinish, scrub, saw, sand some more and repaint not to mention sorting out what tools to use. I did start with a low voltage power drill and realized that my ambition increased so I bought a real heavy duty one and enjoy savoring the fruits of my labor. Given my ADD like behavior, flitting from task to task -- both work and personal ones -- many projects are ongoing.

Some months ago I started filling in holes and patching some bumps and lumps in the walls of the stairway and upper floor hall prior to my plan to paint it during the depths of winter. Swaths of white plaster and brownish wood fill in various sizes and consistencies have been the decor ever since. A few weeks ago a neighbor friend happened by for a cup of coffee and took a look around at all the changes in the house since she had last been inside. When she saw the often very lumpy repairs and patches on the walls she suggested when getting ready to prep for painting I sponge with hot water instead of sand. She told me that the sanding would raise a lot of dust which would exacerbate allergies, especially with winter coming and the house being more closed up. I tucked that suggestion in the back of my mind. Today, as I happened by a splotch of patches, conveniently with a small bucket of very hot clean water and a dry clean rag on hand, I stopped. Put down the bucket. Dropped the rag into the hot water, gingerly squeezed it of the very hot water and scrubbed on the drywall and wood fill parts. Lo and behold, IT WORKED! Now I almost drool with anticipation at the time I'll take to just tackle the whole project of flattening the plaster and fill, which is arguably about 100 x what I did in the few minutes I happened by the wall.

Now, what does this have to do with a blog about dog training? Well, it's this. Before I got distracted into a frenzy about cleaning my wall, I happened to have a talk with a client I had worked with months ago who was calling to reorder some bully sticks. She mentioned remembering something I had said during our session with her unruly adolescent dog that she had completely forgotten about until the situation came up and, lo and behold, such was her conversion to positive training, she remembered the advice, implemented it and had total success. And since the success was a recall that potentially saved the dog from diving into a busy street, she credits it with being a lifesaver.

I'm not sure melting off the plaster and wood fill is going to be lifesaving, but I figure it will be at least two fewer hours spent vacuuming in a week, and that's something!

Monday, November 10, 2008


Teisha's First Snowfall Nov. 1981

27 years ago my first dog -- my muse and inspiration still lo though she has been at The Rainbow Bridge nearly as long as she was alive! -- experienced her very first snow which I recorded with my trusty non digital camera. Granted it was just a dusting, but even then, long before I focused my professional attention on those pillars of training -- distance, distraction & duration and structure, management and training -- I was aware as a "dog mom" how exciting experiencing firsts with her was for me. Teisha was a 5 month old pup at that first snow; she was helping me get through my junior year at The University of Michigan after I had been gone traveling and working overseas for a bit. Ann Arbor was a great place to have a dog -- the arboretum had acres and acres of woods and fields to carouse in, and having a cute well behaved dog in a university town led to lots of connections I might never have made, not to mention helping give balance to the rigors of academia.

Today on my morning walk with the dogs we had what I would call our first real snow of the season. I hadn't expected it to be quite so cold and windy and snowy, but more interesting than become increasingly aware of how cold my toes were getting was observing how very distracted the dogs were. Normally I explain that our morning walks are meant for an aerobic workout..okay, a fast paced walk...not for sniffing and savoring lots of smells (we have those walks too!) but this morning all 3 dogs were nearly besotted by the various smells generated by this rush of seasonal change. My "only having had one cup of coffee so far and I really want 2 more cups" mood nearly went into grump mode, but I found myself stopping that trajectory and instead taking note of how a day of change -- in this it was a seasonal one -- it could just as easily have been a change like the day a newborn baby comes home from the hospital or a new pet is added to the menagerie or a new major piece of furniture arrives or some other novel change -- can generate so much excitement for the canine brain.

I thanked the dogs for reminding me of paying more attention to the little things by slowing down and letting them savor all the sniffs they cared to explore. It made the rest of the day a stellar Monday.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Agent of Change

ELECTION DAY 2008. Election Day has arrived. I'm hopeful that the results are clear, non contested and we select the individual who can bring about change to best benefit the country as a whole and impact in good ways in the world in general -- economy, security, improved standing in the world, health issues of the population and the general health and well being of this third rock from the sun we call Earth. We all know the promises the candidates pledge cannot all be realized; there is that checks and balances system we call democracy, but one promise Barack Obama made, win or lose, was to at last acquire for his beloved and cherished daughters a puppy!

I put out to Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, and to all the other parents out there who promise their children a puppy -- whether it's because they won a national election or the child's report card was improved or they finally did achieve that last notch in the goal to achieve a dog or it was just good timing -- KUDOS. But, as it takes a village to raise a child, so does it take those in the life of the dog the willingness, time, patience and knowledge base to achieve a relationship with a dog (or dogs!) whose function in the life of their people can be one of great joy, humor, love, companionship, improved health, unconditional love...the list goes on.

My three children went to the Barack Obama/Bruce Springsteen event held in downtown Cleveland, OH this past Sunday. No longer myself a big fan of really huge crowds, I got their first hand report on the event. One thing that struck me, of course relating it back to dog training, is their comment about Barack Obama's daughters being up on stage with their parents and The Boss! My youngest daughter, 9, articulated to me that she thought they were very brave to be up on that stage in front of so many many people (I would have to agree with that!). I thought about the anomaly of Malia (also 9) and Sasha's socialization during this long campaign of their father's in which standing up in front of thousands has become a regular experience. One which certainly has had positive reinforcement for these young girls to be so poised and graceful.

So too must a First Pup be exposed to and socialized to all the events that are routine for his/her future family. The pup will need to learn how to handle himself gracefully and show the country, the world, how a well trained pup can be a boon to a family.

My dogs ages are now 5, 7 and very nearly 9.

They are well past their puppy and adolescent behaviors of oppositional/defiant behaviors, chewing, lacking in internalized self control. They're by no means perfect, and each has a distinct personality with qualities that I find both endearing and annoying. But deep down my dogs and I have an abiding trust. They follow me in a comforting, not annoying way. They join me on adventures no others would be available for or interested in, they adjust to changes in routine with little issue, and they definitely bring me more joy and comfort and humor than distress or frustration.

So Barack and Michelle, as you settle into the new life that this post election time frame will bring, spend time with your family and come up with a fantasy wish list of the dog that will help complete the scene for now! Trust me, it will help you greatly when adolescence in your daughters kicks in! And if you need help with any aspect, don't hesitate to get in touch.