CVT & Owner of Awesome Paws Academy
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Too often I see students who have gone to other trainers or facilities and then finally seek myself or another behavior professional because their dog's aggression issues remain unresolved...or worse...have escalated.
Just because someone tells you to do something doesn't mean you should do it. If you are hesitant in any way, do not believe it is right or humane, would rather use another method, etc, Do Not Listen to that person. There are many options available and there WILL be one that works for you and your dog. Even trying something “one time” can create future problems, especially if that “one time” resulted in your dog now learning how to snap or bite at you, in order to get you to go away. Usually what happens after your dog does these behaviors sets up future successes … or failures.
So...how do you "fix" aggression? You don't. Aggression cannot be "fixed". Behaviors can be modified into more acceptable ones, but the aggression, if there, remains there. Your best option is to prevent aggressive tendencies and instead reinforce your dog's acceptable behaviors from day one, modifying unacceptable ones in positive ways if they arise.
Want to know a secret, though? Lean in close...
ALL dogs can bite. There are Golden Retriever cases where they have mauled a child. There are Rottweilers that are great with children. There are Chihuahuas that have bitten people daily and then there are Chihuahuas that cuddle with anyone. Breed doesn't mean a thing. Just like race in people. Stereotypes exist for a reason, but are not always correct in predicting behavior.
Another common misconception is that every behavior is based on “dominance”. I am dominating you right now by having you reading this, but should you call and speak with me, you will be dominating me and my time. The easiest definition for the intent and purpose of this article is this: Dominance changes on a daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute basis. Just because your dog growls when you try and reach for his bone doesn't make him “dominant” over you.
Instead, look at this particular behavior in another view: Your dog has a prized item. You go to reach for it. He growls. You back off. He just successfully communicated with you that he did not like what he thought you were about to do and you responded by going away. There is NO right or wrong theory to this. It is about COMMUNICATION. If you had a $100 bill and I went to snatch it from you, how would YOU react?
I respect a growl. The dog CAN make me stop doing something with a growl. I may not go away, I may not continue to reach, but I will respect the fact that the dog is mistrusting in this moment and then try and find a more acceptable way of communicating to my dog.
Dogs do not know English...and many of us will NEVER be fluent in Dog...even if we study! We ALL make mistakes. Teaching your dog a second language is like teaching a human. It requires: Consistency, Practice, Reinforcement, & Evaluation. How many of you remember your foreign language semester? Can you speak that language fluently today? How can you expect your dog to be able to respond to our English cues, when you probably haven't put as much effort into teaching him?
The point is: If we punish the growl, the dog's next NATURAL INSTINCT is going to be to snap, bite, or cause damage. This is usually when I get called...after damage has occurred. Also, most people have punished the growl by using physical force...teaching the dog that he is indeed correct to mistrust you and that he should be on guard when you are around, because something bad happens. Why would I want my dog to think I am untrustworthy? If I need his help, his growl/bark, later...why should he do it if I have punished him for it in the past? Instead, let's modify the situation!
I use a few different methods to help the dog understand that he does not need to be possessive over items and instead, when he trades them or lets me have them, he actually gets BETTER things. The entire point in modifying behavior is to help the dog learn a new, incompatible, behavior. A dog cannot protect and growl if he is truly taught to how to drop/give up the item and sit patiently. These behaviors are incompatible with one another. Then, instead, we also get a willing dog who learns that he can trust our judgment, respect our cues, and be our happy, working partner.
After class on Monday, Guinness happily ran around, picking up 23 sheets of paper on the ground and handing them to me. He brings me bones, toys, keys, shoes...just about anything I ask of him. HE does it happily, willingly, and HOPING to be able to trade for something cool: a treat, a game of tug, playing ball, or just some relaxing neck scratches. I also know he will go get the bad guy in Schutzhund just fine. Watch our YouTube videos.
Am I dominant? Or just fair? Obedience – true obedience – is about trust, clear communication, and understanding. It does NOT require collar or physical force. What we learn with pleasure, we rarely forget.
So, if you are having aggression issues, do NOT try these things by yourself.
Seek out professional guidance from an experienced behaviorist.
So, what are some first steps?
Step 1: Rule out any physical issues. We CANNOT modify behavioral concerns if there is a physical problem. We may not always think about it, but tumors, underlying disease. And other medical issues CAN and DO cause aggressive tendencies in some cases.
Step 2: Don't be breedist. DO understand what your dog was genetically bred FOR even your mixes!)...but also look at your dog as an individual and then work the actual problematic behaviors...don't jump to conclusions.
Step 3: Consult a professional. Dog Trainers and Behaviorists are two separate kinds of people and you should find someone that not only has experience, but one that YOU can trust and relate to. Only then can they help you in ways that you are going to be comfortable with. There are plenty of options for teaching ANY behavior. We can help you set up a successful game plan that will build your relationship with your dog into one based on trust and understanding, with clear rules and expectations, but fun games and a relaxing atmosphere.
We like to use the KISS acronym, Keep It Simple Silly.
Modifying Aggression does not have to be complicated.
Who knows...maybe you just might start having fun!
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Has it really been a month already since my last post?!? Gee, whillikers! ... Time flies when you're having fun!
Ever wake up with such good intentions, you smile, jump out of bed, and start your day running? Then, about an hour into things, you find yourself on a completely different project, doing something entirely unrelated to the whole day you had planned? But you started doing it, because it FELT SO GOOD to finally get it done?
Yep, it happens to the best of us.
What's more important to realize is that...it happens to our dogs too!
Dogs don't wake up each morning and say to themselves, "What can I do to piss my mom off today?"
But they CAN and DO get distracted, forget what they are supposed to do, and get reinforced by doing something else.
Let's look at this scientifically for a moment: The average study shows that for every one year in a human's life, it averages about 7 years in a dog's life. (Yes, smaller dogs may have 15 years in that one year, and larger dogs may have 2...but bear with me here! Stop looking for the squirrel!)
If this is true, then there are about 8,760 hours in one human year, at 24hrs per day x 365 days in the year. This means, with the study's average, there are about 61,320 hours in a dog's year, so 168hrs per day for a dog. (No wonder they seem to sleep so much! - Oh, look, a squirrel!)
So if you REALLY think about it (I know, that hurts...) if we can get distracted at a 1 hour interval, the average dog gets distracted at about 2.8 minute interval. (Are some of my students beginning to see now why keeping sessions short and fun are critical to success and why I say that an average dog's attention span is about 3 seconds?!?) (...and no, this is not saying anything about memory...just attention span)
Okay, so not based completely in scientific study and totally proven, but it is the best example I can give you for now. Most humans get distracted even faster (minutes!), therefore, so do dogs (seconds!), but I wanted to hopefully help you understand that it may not be about the popular "dominance" theory...it may simply be your dog sees things opportunistically. Just like we do. Doesn't mean we can't remember what we WERE doing...later.
Ever go grocery shopping for milk and come home with 4 bags of groceries? Yah. That's what I'm talking about. Are you being "dominant" or just opportunistic? (...Ever forget the darn milk, the whole reason you went to the store?!?)
Coercion and force doesn't really do a lot of good when your trying to help someone (or in dog training, your dog) learn something new. Positive experiences build trust and respect. Knowing how learning occurs can help your dog - a completely different species - understand you better and build your training relationship. Physically training your dog with collar corrections, dominance downs, and those completed silly alpha-rolls only teaches your dog you must be physically present to correct and are physically going to hurt them. Contrary to popular belief and set purely in misconception, wolves (packs) thrive with mostly non-physical gestures and postures. Submission is given freely by a member (lowered posture, tail tucked, belly or throat exposed to the alpha); they are not forced into that position. The result is a unit, moving together to hunt, protect, and thrive. By forcing issues, we only build resentment. We promote fear, mistrust, and clear anxiety...not unity. Some wolves ARE forced...out of their pack. They are sent to be another pack or to be a lone wolf for whatever reason.
The point to take home here is this: If your dog fears you, why should he have to protect you if you're being robbed/mugged/bitten by another dog? You've shown him you can handle yourself. I have heard many times from people that "my dog will protect me" but have proven just as many times that the dog actually will not. After the shock passes, we begin to rebuild the relationship that can help solidify the family and regain the lost trust.
A true leader leads... not by force, but by example. Sometimes, we have to find different ways of communicating. We get far better rewards by building a confident and happy dog than we do by destroying confidence, creating anxiety, and believing that our dogs are out to dominant us. We are supposed to be the more complex thinking creature...why resort to physical dominance when I can be creative, get the behaviors I want, and have a happy dog who loves to do it?
Please remember to try and trust that your dog is generally just being a dog. You will never be a dog. He/She will never be a human...but that's okay! You dog is living life, having fun, wanting to be loved, reinforced, praised, and told what a good dog he/she is! Please believe in the Power of Good Intentions.
If you are having issues with aggression, anxiety, or just want to learn more fun ways of doing things, just give me a call at: 262-308-2523
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I was a proud supporter today with friends of mine,cheering on the numerous area fire departments as they carried names of the victims of the 9/11 tragedy upwards on the several trips on the stairs, replicating the many stories climbed by those victims of the twin towers.
Suffice to say it was an emotional morning. With each group of firefighters that finished the climb, we honored the names of those lost, including those close to my own family on ladder 118, engine 205.
I wanted to share an image I captured. I just thought this photo really made the day, and represents most American families...I guess I am at a loss for words. The number of children who lost parents, now a decade ago...and the loved ones left to carry on...but the heroes with legends now that will never die.
Today represented how most American families are still united, 10 years later, and still honoring the fallen. The terrorists drove us towards unity...not towards terror. The did NOT accomplish their goal. The lives lost were not in vain.
The picture shows the completion of the climb for one firefighter, getting a cup of Gatorade from his son, after having placed his helmet on his son's head. Luckily, I had the camera ready and the auto-focus did not have to wade through my tears.
United, We Stand.
Thank you for your support, your remembrance of ALL that have lost their lives, not just on 9/11, but before and after, fighting for our freedom and allowing us the ability to be who we are today.
Words do not express my gratitude. Thank You is simply not enough.
I Will Never Forget. 5-5-5-5
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1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection, esteem, or personal regard.
3. a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter: friends of the Boston Symphony.
4. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile: Who goes there? Friend or foe?
5. a member of the same nation, party, etc, or who promote something (a charity)
6. ( initial capital letter ) a member of the Religious Society of Friends; a Quaker.
7. a person favored for companionship
...but nowhere on this list does it define a Friend as a cherished, valued companion...of another species.
A friend is not limited to being human.
Or perhaps, because they are not human, the pets in our lives outshine the term friend altogether. They become more than our most loyal confidant. More than the everyday joy of having another human to confer with...they offer a silent appraisal of any situation and the absolute freedom of living in the now.
Don't get me wrong...I love the few, true human friends in my life. But there is something altogether that can be said of my canine companion that never ceases to push me through the limits I thought I had and aspire to be more than who I am now.
Today...was a grand day of adventure, and insight.
We went to the Wisconsin K-9 Sports Show (for the first time) and per usual at any event we go to, we entered a competition. Also per usual, hours before we were to actually compete in or time slot, my brain decided to short-circuit and my body decided to deplete any amount of nervous system remaining. I love to teach...but I hate competing. It's hard-wired in me. I am an all-around "I want everyone to win and have fun doing it" kind of girl.
For my students to see me competing is quite important...it shows what my dogs can STILL do...when mom is mal-functioning!
It's quite silly, I know...but all of my trials in the last decade have been such. I still do them, my recovery period is much shorter-lived now-a-days, but it still happens. Life goes on.
But all the while, Guinness is happy as a lark, having fun, and wondering what trial we are going to now since mom is started to act weird again.
But in 5 1/2 years he now knows what to do. Experience teaches him well. We sit on the grass, awaiting our turn, and he flops onto his back next to me, punching me briefly, and then flips back over, shakes it off, and stares, panting. I swear he said "Get a grip!"
Climbing over fluffy white dogs (quite literally), going past yappers, bayers, aggressors and statues, we reach open ground. Just me and him.
Collecting our thoughts, they call us over to discuss the rules of the military=style confidence course.
We have two minutes to complete the course. The points are laid out and options and style are discussed. The closer to military style course, the better the points. Time is then determined of a tie in points is.
Exercise 1) Uniform. I get to put on dog tags and fake ammo belt. Guinness must carry goggles and wear a bandanna.
Exercise 2) Run to a shooting board and fire 3 rounds (nerf darts) at the dog's worst enemies while he maintains a Down-Stay. I chose the squirrel, the mailman, and the bicycle. All three targets hit.
Exercise 3) Human and Dog weaves. Backwards earns more points, dog must front while human weaves backwards. Guinness didn't know what to do, but was having fun watching mom weave for once!
Exercise 4) Mini-wall. Military style requires Stay and Recall over. Executed.
Exercise 5) Sway bridge. Just like UKC Agility. No prob, Bob.
Exercise 6) Tire tunnel. 0.5 point for over, full point for through. Second tire is a bit small and Guinness drags it over, but all three done tunnel-style fast and furious.
Exercise 7) Crawl under barbed(tinsel)-wire. With dog full points. Dog only half points. Pft. Full points, baby! If I go, you go!
Exercise 8) Shoot Dog Through Canon. Okay, canon-looking tunnel going up, and stairs to go down (or jump off of) on other side. Check.
Exercise 9) Sometimes, you gotta get your feet wet. Three mini mud-pools. My shoes are still drying. Smart dog jumps over obstacle to begin with, but full points if we can wade through together, so c'mon back, my dear, and destroy that mani-pedi!
Exercise 10) Go through the jungle mesh...only problem with this one was there wasn't a Helper on the other side to give him a bite!
We completed the course in 1min 44sec and with full military points, earning First Place and an Awesome goodie bag.
See our run at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPRGpnP4Sec
After the fact, I realize just how much fun we had...and watching everyone else run, I once again realize the bond we share is more than just the average one. We trust each other. Regardless of the "weirdness" that we encounter.
Once the course was completed, we had applause, compliments, and an odd sense of camaraderie from the next contestants who wanted to kick our butts. They all failed to do such.
We accepted our First Place over 30+ entrants with dignity and grace...and to more applause.
I had nothing to fear.
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With the lovely weather here and the urge to go run and play in the air, we thought this might be a good time to discuss some tips for a Reliable Recall and this is what Julie has to say:
"When people are having difficulty with Recalls (any cued behavior really), the reason is a breakdown in communication. Although I will not rule out an intentional attitude on occasion in some dogs, I will look at the OVERALL behavior of the dog before I judge. If the dog only responds "on occasion" or "when he wants to" to most cues, there is a communication error...we have not taught an appropriate response to the cue and thus the dog does NOT truly understand that cue.
For example: If the dog reliably plants their rear on the ground in EVERY ENVIRONMENT when the owner says Sit and then suddenly "forgets", then this is a mistake. If the dog requires multiple cues for Sit, only listens in the house or yard on occasion, etc...The dog has NOT learned Sit and we must back up a bit, teach a solid foundation and response to the cue, and then we can start proofing the cue to prevent future mistakes.
My definition of Sit is: my dog's rear plants onto the ground immediately upon hearing the "Sit" regardless of what he was doing, where he was going, where I am in relation to him, and in various distractions. Immediate response to a cue could potentially save his life, so I teach one-cued, "naked" obedience (collar on, collar off, my dog responds to the first cue).
So what does Sit have to do with Recall, you ask? Everything! The point is: If your dog does not respond to something fairly innocuous, like Sit, then a Reliable Recall in an emergency, when they are in much higher adrenaline drive, will also be ignored. Sadly, dogs typically do not come in with the leash attached when they have been hit by a car...usually they were hit because they suddenly darted into traffic, after a squirrel, just to run away from an owner, after darting out of the front door, etc...
There are so many reasons why dogs do not "listen" and my best advice for beginning a Reliable Recall is this:
* Reward your dog by giving treats, playing with them, petting and praising them ANYTIME they are interacting with you, ESPECIALLY if you say their name, and they come running! Doesn't matter if you are in the house, out in the yard, in the pet store, etc...If you said your pet's name ONCE and they responded...CELEBRATE! This only reinforces "when I hear my name, I come running and get tons of treats and praise".
* NEVER punish your dog when they come over by you. I don't care if you just had to chase them 5 blocks...Be EXCITED that they are choosing you over running some more. If if they are pestering you, the best thing to do is IGNORE them (no eye contact, no verbal, nothing...just walk away) rather than tell them a negative. Being with you should be a positive experience for your dog. ... The more fun YOU are (and sometimes that means being less available on a whim), the less fun the squirrel is.
* If your dog DOES dart out of the front door, go outside and follow for two steps, then run the OTHER way, enticing your dog to come chase you. This will at least help you get some directional control of where they are headed and then grab some treats, play a quick game, and then tell them Sit or Down and happily gather them up, praising them for listening to you. Do NOT punish them for something they did 3, or even 1, minute ago! Dogs live in the now! On top of that, start working a "wait" cue at the doorways NOW to prevent darting out.
Too often we ignore our dogs when they are doing it "right" (the way we want) and then we negate everything they do wrong...only reinforcing that what they do wrong is what gets attention! I help people see the opposite...REINFORCE what they do right, ignore what they do wrong and you will already be ahead of the game by establishing a better training relationship with your pet. Then, we can do things like a Hide N Seek game to help make recalls fun. Call your pet once to different areas of the house to "find" you and give treats for finding you.
So how do I teach Beginning Recalls?
* Make NOISE first...to get your pet heading over to you. Then, say your dog's name AS THEY ARE COMING OVER (as the behavior is occurring), then mark the behavior as correct (I use a happy YES! - because they are coming to you, which is the right decision), then reach for the treat and let them come get it. This order is extremely important. Too often owners forget a step (or more) and then do not understand why their pet doesn't listen. We must establish CLEAR communication with our pets. It's like me saying something to you in French a couple of times and then having you go represent the country and say it once in front of a French Ambassador. Only through repetitions, studying the exact pronunciation, and having a good teacher could we be able to do something like that!
When broken down into manageable steps, training is actually easy. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise! Whether teaching a person or a pet, learning theory remains the same and what we learn with pleasure, we rarely forget!
1) Get the behavior to occur WITHOUT using the cue that you will say long-term. I use noises, a treat lure, or simply "capture" the behavior when it occurs naturally.
2) Cue the behavior as it is occurring - I made noise and my dog is running over to me excitedly, I would say "Guinness, Come!" as he is running to me.
3) Mark the behavior as correct - I use a "Yes!" to tell him he did it right.
4) Pay the behavior - I use a treat or toy. The paycheck has got to be VERY good in the beginning, because we want the dog to think "if I come running I get this AWESOME treat!" We can fade from treats later when we see the habit is solid...for now, pay BIG!
5) Repeat 1-2 more times, in different spots, so move around and then end the "training session" and PLAY! Do NOT make coming to you boring. Too often we don't make it fun by repeating it so many times that the dog goes away, bored or frustrated. I want my dogs thinking, "Wait! I wasn't done yet! Let's do it some more!" but I will walk always walk away happily and we'll play the "training game" again later.
Keeping sessions short and successful creates DRIVE in the dog. This also teaches them that the BEST rewards come when they listen THE FIRST TIME."
Until next time, Happy Training
For more information or to setup a one-on-one training consultation with Julie, please call us at: 262-308-2523
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This discussion is very open to debate and interpretation due to the many factors involving an actual bite. For instance, when we bite into an apple the "bite force" is going to be different than when we bite into a piece of steak. Also, why we bite into apples will be different than why we bite into the steak.
When dogs bite, they are actually choosing how hard they are biting based on their mood at the time of the bite. If a dog wants to hurt you, they will. We get a lot of commentary from some people that state they are faster than their dog and are able to punish them when they do something wrong. Although there is no scientific way to prove or disprove this statement, we do know that most people do not read a dog's behavior well enough and are bitten far more frequently than a bite actually being stopped when it is decided by the dog to do so. Quite commonly, also, is the fact that punishment occurs AFTER a bite - not before or during - and this results in damage already done. For more information on how to better read your dog and help them understand what behaviors would be more acceptable in our society, please contact us so that I may speak with you more.
Although it is a very sad, growing statistic, dogs bite. They do have other ways of communicating their moods (fear, displeasure, etc) to us, but oftentimes we ignore (or worse-punish!) their warnings. Then, they feel biting is the best option. Sometimes they bite out of defense, due to what they deem a threat (example: a stranger's hand coming into their space). Sometimes they bite on accident (example: when they are playing with a tug toy and you move it after they have launched their mouth at it). Sometimes they bite out of possession aggression (example: they hovered over the bone, showed the whites of their eyes, staring to the side, maybe even gave you direct eye contact, lifted their lip, growled...and you STILL tried to take the bone away, so they had to bite). Sometimes they bite out of fear (example: you seemed mad when you came home and walked in, cornered him and went to grab his collar [he doesn't know you saw the chewed up papers-he was just so happy to see you and you got mad] and he was scared because the last time you grabbed his collar bad things happened. Regardless of WHY they are biting, this is a NATURAL dog behavior...it is just not acceptable in our world.
Think about another example. Dogs do not "pet" each other when they first meet. They sniff, play bow, posture, etc. When a person reaches into your dog's space to "pet" them, it is WEIRD! The dog probably will show signs BEFORE the bite occurs, however, many people miss them because we don't always fluently speak "Dog". Dogs tend to have very simplistic behavioral reactions: Fight, Flight, Freeze. If they are on leash, for example, and cannot Flee, they will Fight or Freeze, depending on temperament, training, etc. We must TEACH dogs that hands reaching for them mean GOOD THINGS, like treats. With that said, teaching cannot occur in stressful situations. That's like expecting you to say a greeting representing the U.S. in French (with only a handful of repetitions) in front of a French Ambassador.
So, although we may feel that biting is wrong, dogs feel differently. Biting gets people to go away in most stressful situations. If biting gets a punishment from a human, then the dog has also now just learned that after a bite, he/she must quickly run away, bite again, ...or distrust their human. This is where the problems continue. Most of the time our dogs learn 1) their body posture and eye contact warning system doesn't work; 2) they get punished for growling; 3) they get punished worse for air snapping (a "missed" bite), and 4) they get punished, crated, or otherwise physically reprimanded for a bite. If they are lucky enough to be timed appropriately, the dog may associate the bite with the punishment) and must bite and flee next time; 4) just bite first and ask questions later when stressed.
What a confusing picture we present!
With that said, just how much pressure are we talking about when a dog really bites?
A dog's mouth can exert 150-200 pounds of pressure per square inch when biting...with up to 450 pounds per square inch recorded in some breeds when truly aggressive! For comparison, an average orangutan has 385, an average
lioness has 938, and an alligator has 2200. Some studies have shown a Mastiff having a 556 psi bite. That's a LOT of pressure...and when you pair that with sharp, rigid teeth...that's potentially a lot of damage.
Now, do I want you to look at your dog, who has always been tolerant of your kids pulling on their tail and harshly patting them, and be worried? No...but be aware. If your dog wanted to do damage, he/she could.
Instead of worrying, try this instead: The next time your dog is being tolerant of behavior that we may "expect" but don't really reinforce... reinforce it by saying what a good dog they are and raining treats from the sky. Example: Your dog is sleeping. Your child goes up and starts hugging him and he just wakes up and tolerates it: Yes! and treats fly over there...what a GOOOOOOOD DOG!
Instead of expecting behaviors all the time...teach your pet that if the kids come close, treats start falling and when "weird" stuff happens, better treats fall. Teach tolerance, not mistrust. If I walked up and smacked you upside the
head...what would YOU do? I am willing to bet the next time someone approached you, you would turn to face them head-on. We learn from experiences. If instead I said, "I'm going to give you $100 and smack you upside the head...okay? Then, I'll give you $100 more after." Now, what would you do? Probably tolerate it. You may not like it, but you have LEARNED that good things will come if you tolerate it.
http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/kids-and-dogs-how-kids-should-and-should-not-interact-with-dogs for more examples for kids.
If anything, try to remember that even if sometimes you really do feel that your dog is your kid (even I feel this way!)...at the end of the day, when all is said and done, they are also still a dog. They are GENETICALLY PROGRAMMED differently than us. It doesn't mean we can modify some behaviors into more acceptable ones. After all, we teach them sit-stay while a squirrel runs past...which they probably wouldn't do in the "wild"! So why can't we teach them to love the other weird stuff that happens when they are around us?
Written by: Julie Westphal, CVT & Behaviorist, Instructor at Cudahy Kennel Club, & Owner of Awesome Paws Academy
***The Doberman in the picures is Siska, a Doberman I was training for Schutzhund competition. We were at a protection training seminar with others and she is practicing her bitework.***
*** The Belgian Malinois with the child is Charlie, a foster dog who was taken in, medically care for during his Heartworm disease treatment, trained, and re-homed with a handler for training as a Search and Rescue (SAR) dog.***
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It’s true, what they say. You never stop learning. There is ALWAYS something there each day, every day, waiting to leap out at you screaming “HAHAHAHAHAHA! Gotcha!”
Owning a dog opens us up to these experiences, new emotions, and quite simply new thoughts that we never would have happened upon on our own. It’s amazing when you stop and actually observe them processing various stimuli: the dog across the street, the squirrel racing up the tree, a bicycle going past, a visitor at our door, a trip in the car, walking into a vet’s office or going to a dog park. How each dog learns, remembers, loves, and lives is an amazing experience that only the purest of open-minded people can really take in.
I was told by a student that it seemed amazing: I could just have a conversation with my dog, and he listened, complied, and was “so well trained” that they could only hope that one day their dog could do that too.
It struck me as odd…but true. I do have conversations with dogs. Which leads me to this:
I was amazed last night when it dawned on me that I had actually offended a dog. No, really. It’s extremely hard to detail as to what happened and why, because I don’t really know altogether, but it had me realizing that although I have been in behavior over a decade now…I still learn new things.
Somehow I had erred in my own behavior while teaching her…and she was offended. She suddenly went away and sulked. I swear.
I know. I know. Any trainer is going to say impossible. Any behaviorist is going to argue about cause and effect. But any dog lover is going to agree; sometimes we offend.
Now, do dogs have the same emotions as we do? Who’s to say, except the dog in question…and she isn’t talking, in words anyhow. I am always telling my clients that we do NOT know how much dogs truly understand. We do know how they can learn, be modified. I know they do not think as complexly as we do. But who’s to say they don’t think complexly period? Not me. I’ve met too many dogs to think that they are anything but individuals, driven by their own genetics and environments…just like people. They have their own set of rules, being a different species, and we MUST respect that, but they are just as capable of learning most of our rules, especially when those rules are clear, concise and taught by fun and rewarding methods.
I ask my students: How many of you remember how to write complete sentences in your foreign language requirement? Yet, we expect dogs to remember the treat from the kid pulling on their ear once when they were 12weeks old? Unless we refresh these teachings, they WILL be forgotten.
I also ask my students: Do you typically remember to brush your teeth? We were taught as kids, reminded after meals and before bed, rewarded with stickers, stories, money for years…and now we have a lifelong habit and are praised (I hope) when we go to the dentist and have a report of no cavities.
When we learn new HABITS (just throw out the word “command” for me, if it’s the only thing you do, and replace it with “cue” or “habit”) with pleasure, we rarely forget. We tend to resist those learned by force or through anger.
So back to my story: realizing I had somehow offended this particular dog, the gears of thought began turning and while I was discussing the next training program outline with her parents, I began realizing she was watching me from afar. I had the distinct feeling that she was waiting for an apology. I know. I KNOW…but still.
We had two more goals for this session and I was bound and determined to make things right. So I went over, made my apology and asked her to come over with us.
And she did. She started training again. Showing off. Accepting treats, racing back and forth in Recall Games and having fun. We accomplished our two remaining goals and set up our plan for homework exercises. She didn’t want to leave my side now, definitely wanted to play some more.
I had been forgiven. We were friends. We were finally communicating.
So believe what you will. Think of me what you wish. Only I and her know the truth.
When you allow yourself the mere glimpse into the improbable, you begin to see the possible.
To some, they are just dogs. To others companions, maybe even fur-kids. To me…they are my friends. So why on Earth would I treat them any other way?
If we can’t force a 9 ton killer whale to perform, but they do anyway…why should I have to force my dog?
Think about. Please. For your dog’s sake.
Want to learn more? Contact me. I don’t bite.
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Not everyone can say they were chosen by their dog, but I am among the lucky ones.
At 4 days of age, it was apparent that I was his.
I helped Wicca (the pup I had named from a different litter years before) whelp the litter and since she had a heck of a time being a new mom away from her human family, by day three I finally gave in and just let everyone sleep on the bed with me, so that we could get SOME sleep, as we all were exhausted having been up non-stop for over 72 hours.
Shortly after everyone settled in, nursed, and were starting to slumber, Wicca included, I remember feeling this wiggly thing on my arm, then crawling across my body, to finally settle under my chin. After a little while, I plopped him (Mr Green Collar) back into the litter by mom, he would nurse, and then start his trek all over again, settling sometimes under my chin, sometimes just exhausted and settling over my heart. This continued for the first few times Wicca needed sleep. As she rested more and more, she became more confident in motherhood and they all settled back into the whelping box.
But my little Mr Green Collar was to seek me out as often as possible over the next few weeks. I knew I was to get a puppy from this litter. Before they were ever conceived, I had decided that this litter, I would get a puppy. But I really did not have a say in the matter.
Guinness picked me.
...and the rest of history is still in the making.
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Reflecting tonight, Guinness curled happily at my side in a total slumber of contentment, I am rejoicing in this battle win against the grey and gloomy outdoors.
I love the actual storm - the deep rumbling of thunder, the flashes of energy charging toward Earth - don't get me wrong, but the preceding grey dreariness can be somewhat depressing!
So, on the way home from work, Guinness mentally nudged me towards the park, as he whined while we were driving past. He was sniffing at the moist air, sensing the coming storms and itchin' for a romp in the dew covered grass.
Whether he sensed I needed it too, or was purely acting on selfishness, I know not. All I do know - he was right.
We pulled into the parking lot and he started the nose-whistling as Dobermans do, excitement beginning to course through his veins. His nose went out the window, then back into the car as his beautiful head came at my face, giving me kisses and pleading with his eyes to open the darn door already!
I got out, inviting him out with a "Let's go" and off we went.
It didn't strike me until then: We had the park to ourselves.
As the storm clouds began rolling in and the sprinkling of rain drops began to fall...we walked onto the plush carpet of green, under the grey skies and rustling leaves, off into the park. Chasing his Kong toy as I threw it, we both began to get wet. Neither one of us noticed; neither one of us cared.
As we slowly circled the walk around this section of the park, we came upon two flocks of geese, bellowing out their great koh-hohs and flapping their wings in fury for disturbing their peace.
We were not alone after all.
Laughing, I watched on as Guinness suddenly bolted towards them, making them take to flight and splash-land in their safety net of combination hydrogen-oxygen.He stopped at the edge and I could see him debating on jumping in to swim after them. A quick "Don't even think it" had him turning about and trotting back over by me. I can still see his amused expression and have to smile.
WE were the intruders on this day.
Looking towards the darkening forest, keeping to the open field by the now goose-infested pond, Guinness and I suddenly just stopped and stood there. I don't know what we waited for. Or maybe Guinness did and I will never know. The peace that slowly trickled over me with the rain, however, was welcomed and refreshing.
I felt Guinness lean his right shoulder into my left leg me, staring with me towards the East, listening to the droplets fall against the leaves of the trees, hearing the crackle of branches, and finally the rumble of soft thunder in the distance. Moments passed. We just stood there. If anyone else would have been watching, we probably looked like weird statues or worse.
The time to leave was nearing as we both were shaken from our tranquility with a snap of thunder. I looked down and he looked up, the understanding clear. "Let's go, boy."
Together, we decided to start our slow walk back around to the car. The geese watched on. A few more throws of the Kong toy, one final potty break, and then he jumped back into the passenger seat as I climbed back into the driver side.
Sometimes ya just gotta stop and smell the flowers.
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Every day I try to find SOMETHING that I can teach Guinness. It's getting harder as time goes on. Some days we succeed and some days there just isn't enough time in the day...but Every Day...is Fun.
I'm going to re-cap from Guinness's point of view:
Today, we went to an indoor swim facility to acclimate me to a dock-diving pool, mom says. Sure, I have swam in Lake Michigan, in some of mom's friend's pools (heck! my first experience was when I was around 8 months old!)...but jumping into a 32 feet long pool...having a RaMp to figure out...and a strange man wanting to hang on to this weird body thing, that mom calls a life vest...aw, jeez! I didn't know what to do at first. But mom was there. And so was this cool new toy.
And I did it. After a few minutes of weirdness, swallowing a little chlorine when I slipped on the funny ramp thing, trying to figure out how to negotiate my legs around the vest straps and then having this weird guy hold onto a long line while mom was standing on the corner of the edge...yea. Weird. But I did it.
And I had fun.
I was free...free to glide through the water, grab my new floaty-toy, yield lightning speed swimmers's turns to the left and race back for mom so she could throw it out again!
Don't forget every time I did this I snuck back up the ramp, stood next to her and shook like crazy. I don't know WHY she wasn't going swimming this time, but I really wanted her to have some fun in the water too, ya know!
Then she'd toss it back out...sometimes really far, sometimes just past the ramp's edge. A few times I fooled everyone and raced around the the side, inching towards it without jumping in...but then mom made me go back down the ramp to get it. But that's okay.
Towards the end (was it really 20minutes already?!?) I was getting tired...but I keep asking "just one more, mom...just one more" I was having so much fun!
I was panting pretty hard after the last throw and I was hot. I shook off and gave mom a kiss as she knelt over. This was SO COOL! I LOVE to swim! Mom says it's good exercise too. Especially in winter, now, I can get some energy out and keep my joints moving...I'm not getting any younger, ya know!
Anyway...I recommend it to everyone!
My mom is the best...she makes every day fun. Whether it's cool chew toys, interactive toys, hiking, chasing the ball, training on Agility equipment, Tracking in the grass, or simply just laying on the ground in the shade and just being with me...She's my mom. I make sure to give her kisses everyday and hopefully she knows I love her. I hope every dog is as lucky as I am!