Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Boredom Buster

Winter's fierce snows have taken over to the point of absurdity and my limited time for my precious walks have been taken over by incessant shoveling. Here's how I deal with the cabin fever that starts to hit when I'm exhausted from my labor and the dogs are just cold watching me wondering why we're staying by home base!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lola Rehab Update

Back at the end of October I discussed the Rehab of Lola. I'm here to give an update.

While I fully expected a relapse, I have been pleasantly surprised by what I would call a nearly complete recovery. I'm not yet sure until spring how much the endlessly cold and snowy weather has contributed to her suddenly affectionate, sweet and dare I say cheerfulness at home, even when even bigger and ruder Byrne tries to annoy her (photo of Byrne after his first intro to cat nip)

Lola comes when called from outside to inside (although she doesn't go out every day when it's very very cold and only goes out for brief forays on the less frigid ones) and continues to wear a bell on her collar in part to help remind me I'm trying to pay attention to her whereabouts to gauge her increased assimilation into the dogs, other cats, kids and any visitors. While there is still the occasional deep growl of what I call her disturbia, she has not swiped, hissed at people (face it, Byrne deserves it), scratched, bitten or otherwise exhibited behaviors that put her in rehab in the first place AND she's soliciting appropriate affection and spending more time with the group instead of off on her own although she still loves sleeping on my daughter's top bunk. I see that time frame as a way to help her assimilate all these wonderful improvements in her outlook on life and behavior. I'm very proud of her and can't wait to see if it holds over this spring. Actually, Lola aside, I can't wait until it is spring!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fang Shway

Many modern enthusiasts claim that feng shui is the practice of arranging objects (such as furniture) to help people achieve their goals -- whatever they might be. To the traditional ones, feng shui is of great value in choosing a place to live and finding a burial site. To the green thumbers, it's of value in agriculture.

I define Fang Shway as my own derivative:
(Fang)The part used to bite + (Shway)That is a Sure Way when dealing with dogs = Deeper Understanding Towards Developing The Dog(s) of Your Dreams.

In the world of figuring out dog behavior, which neatly combines both my vocation and avocation, I am playing around with my developing 6 Pillars of Dog Training Wisdom and today I'm working specifically with Pillar Number 5: Management. My sub-definition for that is tangibles -- things you can touch. Thing that you can touch that help manage a dog in this case. While you're training it. The obvious ones are those specifically made to manage dogs -- collars, harnesses, head halters, leashes, gates, crates, tethers, etc. But I mean it to include things like doors, walls, rooms, cars, hedges, light poles, etc.

I noticed my 5 1/2 year old and youngest dog Bean developing an interesting dominance aggression around me with some of the regular visiting dogs to my home when they wanted to enter into an area of my living room where I was already seated. While there was no defined threshold like a doorway, there was definitely, upon observation, a particular place where the reactive growling would begin and it was usually at this invisible line of demarcation between a chair and couch of about 4 feet in width.

It didn't escalate when the dog would enter the area, it never even escalated from one low and steady grrrrr when the dog was in that exact invisible spot and in fact would usually stop after the dog either left to go somewhere else in the house or fully entered the space to lay down and settle. Often the dog being growled AT would freeze in that location which is why the duration of the growl would go on for a bit. So it wasn't about the dog BEING in the "inner" space, it was about the dog COMING INTO the space.

I started pairing treats (food or me petting him, both of which are high value to the boy) to Bean when he would 'grrrr' in a classical conditioning approach. This belief is that he would associate "good things" with the "visiting dog" at the threshold and ergo his growling would go away and be replaced by benign acceptance. But my more interesting challenge was to figure out the source and fix that.

Now the real feng shui experts will tell you first to eliminate your clutter, but that isn't going to happen here. Not yet anyway. So I play around with my southwest (location in the house, not decorating theme!) based and cluttered living room by rearranging furniture. And with a drag here and a push there, I have changed the threshold to a wider range of at least 5 feet and can't wait to see if this new look fixes Bean's threshold issue with the future visiting dogs. Perhaps my scruffy spaniel, who I often tease as being the dullest pencil in my pack, is in fact a Fang Shway Master!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dowsing For Doggies & Other Contemplations During Arctic Air Effects

A multitude of options exist when one acquires a dog -- from the impulsive "just gotta have that cute face" to the well thought out and sometimes extraordinary level of patience some people have waiting for that specific pup from that specific breeder's specific mating for specific purpose and of course all the other options for selection inbetween those two.

January is not only usually the friggingest coldest and snowiest month of much but clearly not all of the Northern Hemisphere where 90% of the human population lives, it also happens to be ticking down this particular year to The Inaugural. Today's news inbetween weather reports of arctic cold air sweeping in, included much anticipated disclosure of a narrowing of the Obama's dog choice, predicated in part due to a belief that these types of dogs are hypoallergenic.

The two breed finalists appear to be the Labradoodle and the Portugeuse Water Dog. Both are sporty dogs (read: energetic and ready to rock'n'roll), the former a hybrid between the Labrador Retriever, still our nation's #1 dog pick, and the poodle (the name poodle can be traced back to the German Pudel which is short for Pudel that means "splashing dog")....and the Portuguese Water Dog (PWD) was bred to help fisherman so you can bet both choices have a strong desire to find and play in bodies of water in all forms. Isn't there a public fountain on the grounds of The White House?

Then there was all this talk about the Obamas getting a rescue. Rescue is a term that means saved from distress. That term, distress, is somewhat subjective IMO, but I would think that a dog living in a shelter or crammed into a foster home with too many other dogs or living a livestock oriented lifestyle in a puppy mill barn or crammed into a glass cage in a retail store or living in minimal conditions both physically or emotionally run the risk of distress which can have both physical and physiological and emotional fall out. The good thing about puppies is, with proper socialization, care, guidance, structure, training, rest, good food, balance and love, the recovery can be complete.

Here's my thought. Skip rescue. There are a lot of people out there making tireless and often thankless efforts to save as many discarded dogs as feasible. It is not because I don't have great respect -- in fact my efforts to help rehome dogs and help select excellent rescue candidates for others is done often without proper or any remuneration. It's my own tithing. But throwing such a huge spotlight on the sad plight of many homeless animals enhances the throwaway mentality of many of us and reinforces the financial greed of puppy mills and the pet stores and resellers that play on people's impulses.

I think the Obamas should be those agents of change our country and the world is ready for and in addition to fixing our economic, military and other boo boos, make a choice to go with a sound breeder and help shed light on what is so often overlooked as a good or better choice. And when I say breeder I mean one who breeds for health and temperament, raises pups underfoot with stimulation, socialization, handling and early training and in small numbers so that when the pups enter the mystifying air of The White House, they're guaranteed the best first start which helps to tackle the challenges of puppyhood, the even harder challenges of the defiant adolescent (just wait, Michelle, until your girls hit that fun milestone!), and help show the real truth behind what it takes to maximize the return on the investment of a joyous companion who will grow up right, even under the microscope of what is sure to be in part a very public life.

If the Obamas want to learn what I call the The 6 Pillars Of Dog Training Wisdom: A Proactive Approach To A Deeper Understanding Towards Developing the Dog of your Dreams, I'm ready willing and able to help them in any step of what is sure to be a very wonderful journey. And my three young daughters would be happy to come to Washington, too!

As for me, I think it's a 3 Dog Night here. Thank goodness I'm covered!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Perfect Moments

I define perfect moments as those times in which I suddenly become aware, if even for just a moment, and sometimes in the most innocuous of circumstances, that everything is aligned perfectly and I almost feel like bursting with joy. Just as suddenly the next moment might tank, but I do savor those golden tinged moments often. And I feel blessed to have them regularly.

It's winter here in Cleveland, OH, and we just got our first substantial snowstorm of the season this past weekend. My body still aches a wee bit from the nearly 3 hours I spent painstakingly shoveling out my driveway, front walk and steps the past few days. But I'm grateful my body still can shovel snow! The dogs might have missed their beloved walks, but all 3 had lots of opportunity to frolic in the snow and explore the winter wonderland. And I made it up to them today.

In my walks of late, I have gravitated mostly to the large and charismatic mansions and estates just south of my much more modest abode. In one such enclave I had many many many times passed what I have recently slowed down to discover as a thicket of woods. While no judge of acreage, the woodsy area is certainly large enough to get deeply ensconced in, and has all the requisite elements of real woods hiking -- lots of trees, a creek that winds through, deep in places, steep traverses that require careful navigation and the use of tree limbs and roots to navigate successfully, and depth enough to lose sight of dogs for long periods of time.

Training reliable recalls are key to happiness for all in these off leash romps in the woods, and it's certainly easier to manage during the depths of winter both because there is no foliage of any merit to hide behind, and now, with all the snow, little effort to see the contrast of a dog either possessing its own coat with colors easy to see in the snow, or in my case, my Har-Vest wearing canines. Not to mention at least today it's bloody cold and the probability of eloping in the cold is greatly reduced!

Today's perfect moment was this: I came out from in the woods and walked along the side of the street. I knew the dogs were parallel to me but because of a ridge, they were not visible to me, nor I to them. But I knew the foundation skills (the six things all dogs should know reliably) were in all 3 dogs, even though they had never run freely through this patch of woods before, and that made it a perfect moment. That knowledge, confidence and trust. I knew they were safe, that the trio were having a big fun time, and it was a beautiful winter day and my life allowed for long walks in the woods on a Monday morning.

Sure enough, they returned back to me with big ol' grins and have been happily snoozing away the rest of the day. Which makes for a very productive and peaceful beginning to the week. Dogs happy doing something fun, dogs happy doing nothing!

So get out there, practice your recalls (even if it's warmer and sunny where you are) and have some perfect moments of your own!

Monday, January 05, 2009

I Want Someone to Sing To Me: "You've Got It!"

Do you remember the scene in MY FAIR LADY where Professor Henry Higgins, who has been working with brazen young Eliza Doolittle to learn, among other things, proper diction in the belief that it will bump her up several notches in the Victorian Age of England? And they're doing that RAIN IN SPAIN song and he finally shouts out,

By George, she's got it!

And then, well, suddenly the epiphany of proper speech propels our Eliza onward and upward into grand adventures culminating in an open ended finale that exudes hope and personal growth to my mind, but I digress.

Among the many things I speak to my clients about, one aspect of training I consider very important: STRUCTURE. And by that I mean the schedule or routine of a dog from day to night or day to day or weekday to weekend or season to season or year to year or school year to summer vacation, etc.

And I explain that as dogs spend time with us, they are not so much hearing the "talking the talk" (although we want them to) but are much more aware of and observant of how we "walk the walk." And they often know before us what we're going to do. For those of us, admittedly like myself, who are easily distracted and have gobs of multi taskings to perform on a regular basis in order to keep it all together, dogs uncanny ability to do these psychic exercises NEVER fails to boggle my mind. (if anyone is interested in a copy of a story I wrote about my first dog, Teisha, called Teisha The Wonder Dog all about her secret life when I lived in Los Angeles in the 80's, email me to privately and I'll send you a copy.)

I'm well aware that at some point in a series of behaviors I do in front of my dogs there comes that instant where they know that my getting ready to go out will or will not include them without me saying a word BUT going through actions that suggest my ultimate course. I know the approximate instant it happens, but I'm still flabbergasted, impressed, amazed and befuddled as to HOW DO THEY DO THAT?

Almost always Trip, my irrepressible JRT, is the first to absolutely know my intentions. He's like the advance party in a raid. In him, the manifestations are increased excitability when he has gleaned It's About Me (I always think when he's excited he thinks with all capital letters starting his thought bubbles!). On the other hand, when he knows it's not "About Me", he lays on any number of dog beds and looks at me soulfully.

Bean, my contemplative springer, who I'm sure I've hinted at in previous posts is not the sharpest pencil in the pack, is a being I adore more than I can say. At 5 years old he is loyal, he is true, he is plucky and stoic, and I am so grateful for his presence in my life.

Okay, so, today even that la di da boy read my mind. I don't know how he did it. I implore you out there, if you have cracked the magic black hole of psychic power, please please please share it with me! I'm dying to know. In case I don't get a response, I'll continue on my endless quest to achieve that awareness.

Here are the facts:
Usually if I'm going up and downstairs Bean is as likely to follow me or not, but always will come if I call him. Today after a long and muddy walk, I decided it was finally time to give the scruffy boy a bath. I started upstairs with the intent to do it, and he didn't come. But within a few minutes I was distracted to water a plant and a few other things and he came up on his own, watching me more intently than normal, and that's saying a lot. I went downstairs, did stuff, remembered the bath, and went back up with the intent to bathe him. I SAID NOTHING. I DID NOTHING DIFFERENT. HONEST. It was only my intent AND my follow through. But I was up there and Trip was following me around in a fascinated sort of way. Bean didn't follow us up. I was deliberately walking around different bedrooms and thought to see how long it would take him to come. But I heard no evidence so then I called him. The boy with almost fully reliable recall. I called him cheerfully. NOTHING. Gasp! I knew he now knew, for sure, it would happen. I'm pretty sure Trip gave it away, but even if that's so, how did Bean pick it up? He's not that smart. That's the nut I want to crack.

BTW, I did finally get him up and rubbed him up as a bridging exercise for a few minutes before then going to the bath. Which, by the way, once he's in the tub, he's completely cooperative and a pleasure to bathe. And now he smells oh so much better!

All right, I'll stop now and await she or he out there who has the secret to that conundrum!