Counter conditioning canine behavior

counter conditioning

Counter - something that is opposite or contrary to something else.  

Conditioning - a process of changing behavior by rewarding a subject each time an action is performed until the subject associates the action with pleasure.  

Counter conditioning is a highly effective way to alter a dog's response.  It is commonly used to change how a dog reacts to a specific stimulus by changing the meaning of it.  

Example:  Your dog is terrified by the vacuum cleaner.  Every time you try to vacuum your dog runs for the hills, hides under the bed or behind the couch.  

Like most rehabilitation type behavior modification, baby steps in progression should be used to best facilitate success.  Depending on your dog's response you may want to start by just bringing the vacuum out of the closet or just open the vacuum cleaner closet.  Then link an enjoyable activity to it.  Maybe the closet door opens and you pull out your dog's leash.  Maybe it  means feeding time or time to play catch.  

This should be done until you are seeing a positive response from your dog.  Next would be to pull out the vacuum and create the same activity - feeding, playing, walking. etc.  

The goal would be - each time you pull out the vacuum, your dog associates it with something wonderful.  You start small and slow, only moving on to more intense work with complete success at each stage.  

Like desensitizing, counter conditioning is about association.  Counter conditioning is typically used to re-associate the stimulus that causes a fearful or stressful response.  It is on e of  most useful tools in positive behavior modification.  

Questions?

Desensitizing the canine response

 Ready to give up?  Dealing with an out of control trigger?  You can fix it.  Read on.  

Ready to give up?  Dealing with an out of control trigger?  You can fix it.  Read on.  

Desensitize - To lessen the sensitiveness of.  To make indifferent or unaware.  

Many different things can become sensitized for our dogs.  Particular items like leashes, toys, shovels, cars etc. etc.  Sounds can become sensitized; thunder, door bells, food pouring in a bowl, packages being opened etc. etc.  

The moment that we need to step in to desensitize is when the response becomes a problem.  This is a very common issue with dogs, no matter what the cause.  

When a fear response is exhibited due to a sound, item or activity, we typically use counter conditioning which is different from desensitizing.  I will discuss counter conditioning in the next blog.  Today's blog is about desensitizing which is usually used for an over excitement issue.  

I am going to use the leash for my example.  The leash often results in a severe sensitivity caused by the whole "going for a walk" thing.  Dogs love going on walks, most do.  So when a leash is a trigger for wild and out of control behavior we need to step in and fix it.  I have had many clients who had a big time leash sensitivity causing them to race around the house like an out of control maniac resulting in a very frustrated guardian who cannot get the leash on their dog.

The goal with desensitizing training is to make the leash less of a trigger.  The way you do that is to pull it out often with no response.  Mix it up, pull it out and throw it on the floor, walk away.  Pull it out right before your dog's mealtime.  Pull it out and go outside.  Pull it out, hook it up to your dog and go no where.  Your goal is to make the meaning of the leash less powerful. 

By bringing it out often and creating a different meaning of the leash being out it loses its crazy out of control power.  The more mundane the leash becomes the less power it holds.  Soon the leash coming out means a lot more than just a walk; your dog never knows.  

This is how you desensitize things like the doorbell, pulling out the food bowl, a noise making item or any other item or sound that causes a loss of control.  Out of control is never a good state for any dog to be in.  

Make sense?  Questions?  Leave me a comment!

 

 

Reading dog body language

 Not the puppy from today but Elsa clearly stating how much she loves to play with Yogi and as a puppy.  (Taken a couple of years ago)

Not the puppy from today but Elsa clearly stating how much she loves to play with Yogi and as a puppy.  (Taken a couple of years ago)

We were out as the sun came up this morning.  Hearing about our impending heat today, Elsa and I head out to the park early, before the heat hit.   Like myself, Elsa needs to workout strenuously daily; so I love when I can get her power run in before the day starts.  Today's run was a quiet one, as we were out before most others, nice.  

As we were ending our walk we ran into a woman and her 5 1/2 month old yellow Labrador.  From far away I could see his rambunctiousness and that he was quite a handful for his guardian.  Elsa watch carefully and I watched her intently.  As we got closer I could see the question coming from the human on the end of the puppy's leash.  

"Can he meet her?" the woman asked.  I'd been monitoring Elsa's body language well before they were upon us.  Elsa LOVES puppies.  But, she is very wary of adult dogs because she has been attacked several times.  So...I read very carefully before meeting any other dogs face to face.  I go with what Elsa tells me, and if it is another adult dog we typically get space and keep on moving.  But this morning she told me that she was interested in this little man.  

Even though the youngster was exhibiting direct eye contact and straining at his leash to meet her; Elsa knew that he was non threatening.  Elsa is probably one of the best readers that I have ever met.  She also knows who she wants to meet and this one was someone who she wanted to meet.  Her tail was high but not all the way up; and wagging slowly in an excited by not overly excited manner.  She reached out to get a sniff and there was no snorting.  Snorting is her stress signal that I listen carefully for. 

I asked how old he was before allowing a greeting.  He was 5 1/2 months old and even as large as he was, Elsa knew this before I did.  I let Elsa sniff him as he strained at the end of his leash.  I HATE on leash greetings.  Even the friendliest dog greeting can go wrong if they become tangled.  After their first sniff I unhooked Elsa.   Watching like a hawk (as I always do) Elsa's body language went from interested, happy and a little tense while on leash; to instantly no worries and calmly excited off leash.  

The release of tension (unhooking the leash) gave her the freedom to move about, away or closer as she felt the need.  Leashes can interfere with body language drastically.  Of course there are leash laws and most of the time our dogs MUST be on leash.  But it really is amazing to witness the huge change in body language on and off leash.  

Even though Elsa had clearly shown me that she wanted to meet the young man this morning; she was much more relaxed off leash while interacting with him.  She truly is amazing with puppies.  So many adult dogs are not big puppy fans; they don't want to put up with their antics.  But not Elsa, she much prefers puppies over adult dogs.

It always amazes me what she allows puppies to get away with.  Even puppies that she has never met before are allowed to push the boundaries that an adult would NEVER be allowed.  The puppy bounded around, jumping on her and pawing her with his huge feet.  I thought that she might give him a bit of a schooling on etiquette but she just enjoyed his naughtiness.  Now... had this boy been her little brother; he'd would have had a great deal of education at 5 1/2 months of agee.  Elsa is an amazing teacher with the patience of a saint.    

Elsa and Forest (little mans name) had a short romp before I stated that we were going to continue our walk.   "Quit while you're ahead," one of my motto's in life.  They had had a great interaction, so I chose to end it and keep moving along.  Elsa was happy, Forest was happy and both guardians were happy.  I hope to meet Forest and his guardian in the park again; Elsa really enjoyed his crazy and energetic puppy antics.  

Dogs are SOOOOOO much more versed in communication than we humans are.  We can go on and on with our words without saying anything.  But dogs, they speak volumes with their body alone.  Paying attention to that and knowing your dog is so important when living with dogs.  Canine body language is fascinating and telling.  

Do you know what your dog is saying? 

 

 

Leave it

 Elsa doing a very nice "leave it" for demonstration purposes.

Elsa doing a very nice "leave it" for demonstration purposes.

The "leave it" exercise is one of the most useful things that you can teach your dog.  The "leave it" behavior is typically taught for leaving food items; but once your dog is accomplished at it, you can use it for anything.  Personally I have used it for gross items found on the ground during a walk, babies, bees, retrieving items, toys that do not belong to my dogs and so much more.  

Imagine if you could tell your dog not to touch an item and they didn't.  No pulling, no yanking, no yelling?  Wouldn't that be the greatest thing ever?  Well, it is up there with some of the greatest things ever, for sure.

Showing off their "leave it" skills.  

The "leave it," behavior, like most other behaviors is a progression of steps to get to a solid and reliable response.   Once your dog has it down and if you have used it extensively; it is often not needed in certain situations.  Dropping food off of the counter, table or hand can become a non issue once they understand that you control the items.  

The big secret to teaching a solid "leave it" is to reward it.  The exercise begins with a low level food item like toasted o cereal (cheerio type).   The food that is used to reward the dog should be of equal value.  So don't tell them to leave a piece of steak and then give them a cheerio for not touching the steak.  They are very smart and will soon be going for the steak faster and sneakier.  Makes sense right?  

  • Put Cheerio in your open hand and cover with your thumb.
  • They will NEVER be receiving the food in the hand that you have the cheerio.  You do not want them to think that at some point they will get the food in your hand.
  • Tell your dog to "leave it" and put your hand out.  They will typically try to get the food for a while but do not let them pry it out from under your thumb.  
  • As soon as they pull away from your hand for a split second, mark the behavior and reward with a cheerio from your other hand.  At the same time pull the lure hand back beside you.  
  • Do this as many times as it takes for them to "get" that moving away from your hand is what gets them the reward.  
  • This requires a great deal of patience.  
  • Be sure to tell them to "leave it" before you place your hand out.  Give them a heads up.
  • Try doing it with your hand on the floor, then put the food on the floor with your hand hovering over it.  NEVER let them get the item that you have told them to leave.
  • As they become more solid with the "leave it" you can get further and further from the item. 
  • Once they are super star professionals at "leave it" you can drop food from your hand and then the counter top; always rewarding them for not touching the item.  Don't forget to tell them to "leave it" before dropping the food.

Now that they are amazing at "leaving it" you can use it for anything that you don't want them to touch.  

Remember to only make the exercise harder when they have complete success as each step.  Too much challenge can mean failure.  Best to take baby steps during the process.  

 

 

Bad dog training

mean mom

We sat waiting for our flight; a flight that should have got us home early afternoon.  But there we sat at 4:00pm hoping to get home.  My husband and spent a wonderful five days in Cabo San Lucas with great friends and were now headed home.  

As we sat waiting for our flight I spotted a little cutie sitting on a chair by it's guardian.  A small and demure Dachshund that I had noticed earlier in the airport.  Her guardian was eating and she (the little dachshund) glanced up to see the food.  Her owner quickly smacked her in the face.  Not hard but negative enough to create a response from the little dog.  She quickly turned her head, ears back and head down.  

I was appalled by this of course.  Honestly, the dog was not allowed to even look her way when she was eating?  As I watched the little dog turned her head ever so slightly and used mostly her eyes to sneak a peak.  She again got a smack in the face along with a verbal reprimand.  The dog was crushed; she put her head down and shutdown.  My heart was breaking for the little dog. 

First off, I think it is amazing when our dog simply look at us when we are eating.  Many dogs could actually take our food from us but they don't.  In the wild a wolf who is lower in status within the pack will look.  They will then be told with a look from the alpha that they are not allowed to have whatever it is that they are eating.  A glance is all about communication.  Elsa always watches me eat; it is her way to know what she will and will not be allowed to have. 

The other huge issue that I had with this (aside from hitting her dog) was that the dog was then afraid to look at her owner.  There she was in a loud and crowded airport in Cabo; where a big stranger sat beside her, unable to get the reassurance she needed from her owner.  She was dying to look up and connect with her owner but was afraid to do so.

I wanted to run over and tell her what a good girl she was, because she was.  I wanted to lecture the woman about what she was doing; but realized that the middle of an airport in Mexico was probably not the place to do it.  She was indeed a "mean Mom" and probably would not be changing her ways because of what I would say to her. 

There is often so much fallout behavior from one action from us to our dogs.  Just yesterday as my husband and I sat enjoying lunch together in Huntington Beach we saw a beautiful young Labrador with his guardian.  Just moments after sitting down I witnessed the man grab his dogs lip and pull him into him to reprimand him.  Then he grabbed the skin on his back and pushed him into a sit; all because the dog was watching him eat.  

The whole idea behind "begging" has gotten out of control on our part.  Yes, a dog trying to take your food is pretty annoying and should most definitely be stopped.  But, a dog sitting quietly watching us eat is pretty amazing and a very natural response from our dogs.  

Let's look at our dogs as dogs and give them credit where credit is do.  If your dog needs training, train positively.  We have dogs because we love them; let's not treat them poorly.  You don't treat something you love with disrespect. 

Great dog leash

Elsa has a new collar and leash.  How smashing does she look sporting this new beautiful and light weight collar/leash set?  

The collar leash set came from Poodleit and I love it.  Not only is it visually gorgeous, it is light weight and reflective.  It is a great width yet retains an extremely light feel in the hand.  

The first thing I noticed about this collar/leash set was the plastic collar clasp.  Having recently been pinched by one of these type clasps, the difference was very obvious.  The smoothness as I placed the collar on Elsa was unmistakable.  

 Elsa and I head out to give the collar/leash set a try.  One thing that I hadn't noticed until our walk was the reflective trademark on both the leash and collar.  I love this, it was so visible that you could see that it would be a great safety measure during the evening or night talks.  

Elsa and I head out to give the collar/leash set a try.  One thing that I hadn't noticed until our walk was the reflective trademark on both the leash and collar.  I love this, it was so visible that you could see that it would be a great safety measure during the evening or night talks.  

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Elsa is shown sporting the collar and 6' leash but it also comes in a 4' length.  I always prefer a 6' as it gives more flexibility in the distance that you can offer your dog.  The leash is made from climbing spec nylon tubular webbing; so it is extremely strong.  

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I love this pink color, so summery and visible.  The collar/leash would be wonderful for any guardian who loves to walk their dog, no matter what breed or mix of breeds. 

The leash comes in red, purple, black, pink and blue.  A wonderful variety of colors making it easy for everyone to get their favorite.   

Use FROMSHERRI coupon code to get 5% off of your collar/leash

Collar, use FROMSHERRI to get 5% discount

Dogs and fireworks

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Happy 4th.  Last night as we sat enjoying a glass of wine and Elsa was enjoying her rat hunting, the booming began.  My attention turned to her immediately as I heard it.  Waiting to see what she was going to do; I watched without eye contact.  With her attention on a rat that was up in the bushes, she didn't flinch.  

Here it was, proof in the pudding as they say.  The rats were helping Elsa to forget about the fireworks; at least for a little bit.  Our reaction to fearful stimulus needs to be calm and chill.  The solution to fearful response is counter conditioning.  Linking the booming sound to something enjoyable or captivating.

With her full attention on the rats hoping around our yard; she paid little attention to the booming in the distance.  For a good 10 minutes she was preoccupied by the little rodent.  I smiled seeing the evening events unravel before me.  The rat had so much power that it was keeping Elsa's mind off of the scary stuff.  Nice.  

After her time of captivation, the booms got bigger.  Elsa quietly walked inside and remained there until we calmly joined her.  

Like every other year I am putting out a warning about fireworks and your dog.  Each year many dogs are lost, injured or worse.  Fear of fireworks is very common in the species; they don't understand the celebration behind it all.  It would be great if we as guardians could explain the booming; but sadly we cannot let our dogs know that it's just sound and sight and nothing more.  We can't clarify it for them but we can keep them safe when fear strikes.

  • Don't take your dog to the fireworks display.
  • Make sure that your dog is locked safely indoors.
  • Turn your radio and television on if you leave your home.
  • Be sure that your dog has up to date identification on them.
  • Do not coddle their fear.
  • Try to have fun.  If your dog LOVES an activity, try doing that during the booming action.
  • Show your dog that you are not afraid of the fireworks.  Get your best "chill" on.

Have a great day and night.  Be safe and keep your dog out of harms way.  Happy 4th

 

Blind yanking

 Don't yank.

Don't yank.

Yesterday's walk was once again the spur for a blog.  Many times I have to record my blog ideas when they pop into my head (my memory is horrible) but sometimes it just happens on a walk the day before.  As we wandered along the pathway of the park; a woman up ahead was yanking.  She was blind yanking her dog.  

blind - unwilling or unable to perceive or understand.

yanking - to pull or remove abruptly and vigorously.

I see this type of behavior from humans constantly.  Said human is out on their walk without putting any attention on their dog.  They are not interacting with their dog except for the constant blind yanking.  The woman was getting annoyed by her dog's pulling so she pulled back.  Think this works?  Nope.  

Have you ever yanked on your dog in attempt to stop them from pulling?  They yank, you yank...it goes round and round with no results for anyone.  Just annoying on both ends. 

The dog involved in the yanking on this day was a Shiba Inu.  He looked young and rambunctious and was diving in and out of the bushes as they walked.  The dog was lucky that he sported a harness and not a collar.  But even still he just kept getting yanked, blind yanked by his guardian.  This is a really annoying behavior that humans inflict on their dogs.

So what are you to do when your dog yanks you?  Stop walking and wait.  Wait for some slack in the leash and then walk.  DO NOT WALK when the leash it tight.  It takes some work but typically dogs catch on pretty quickly to this rule.  Pull and we stop - Give me slack and we walk.  

If you are a yanker, please stop.  Don't respond to your dog's yanking by yanking back.  Teach them, yanking doesn't work; because it doesn't work for either species.  

 

 

Dog scissors - touch ups

dog grooming scissors

Every once in a while I come across a product that I absolutely love and just have to share.  So I am sharing my love for these little scissors today.  I bought these two years ago and have used them a lot.  For the price, they are amazingly sharp and precise.  I have used them to groom between toes, around eyes and nose and lots of other small places that need extra safety precautions.

I would recommend these for anyone with any breed; and would place them on my "essentials" list without a doubt.  With their rounded end, comfortable grip and small size they make tiny snips a breeze.  I've even used them to cut gum out of Elsa's paw that she picked up somewhere along one of our walks.

Long ago I had a pair of rounded tip scissors but they very quickly went in the trash once I acquired these little guys

The company also has a scissor trimming kit which looks like kinda cool.  I have not used it but for anyone wanting to do more trimming without an electric trimmer it could be a good alternative.   

So for those you would love a pair of i, sharp and safe scissors; these little babies just might do the trick.  

Leash pulling

Leash pulling dogs

Sitting in the coffee shop, sipping my organic home brew I enjoy the view from the outdoor patio down by the coast.  My seat allows me a great vantage point for people and dog watching; a bonus activity after a business meeting.  The sky is overcast which lends itself to more human/canine out enjoying the weather.   As I sit savoring the view; a woman walks by with a HUGE mix breed.  She is literally being dragged down the street behind her dog.  Obviously her monster of a dog is on a mission.  It is unclear if the guardian is aware of the mission or not but she is being dragged along for the ride.   

I hate seeing guardians being dragged by their dog.  Why?  Because I know that the human part of the team is not enjoying their together time with their dog.  With a little training they could both be enjoying the walk instead of just the dog. 

Even tiny dogs can be a drag to walk if they are doing the dragging.  Why do dogs drag their humans on a walk?  They drag their guardians because no one ever taught them to walk differently.  It is as simple as that.  Leash training should start as soon as possible; as soon as you add that little bundle of fluff to your family, it should begin.  If you’ve added an adult dog to your family then start with them immediately as well. 

If your dog already has an ingrained dragging behavior; it will take longer to get rid of but you can do it.  Starting today, don’t allow it.  This means when your dog pulls, you cease to move.  Very literally STOP and don’t move until they offer you some slack on their leash.  No cheating, you cannot give the slack, it must be them.  So you stand completely still and wait for them to move back, offering the slack needed to keep walking.

You can also implement the reward system for loose leash walking.  When your dog walks without pulling, reward them.  Using tiny little bits of treats, keep them coming.  I like to use the “catch” behavior as well.  It not only keeps your dogs attention on you, it is a great behavior to fall back on.

A dragging dog is no fun for anyone, no matter what size they are.  You can start working on it today.

Bicycles and dogs

Bicycles and dogs

I have a new bike and I'm super stoked about it.  After years of not being on a bicycle; my biking days are now back and I'm loving it.  I bought a beautiful crossover or hybrid bike.  This means that I can ride on the pavement/asphalt or dirt and grass.  So I've been out riding as much as I can trying to feel "one with my bike," after a long absence.  :) 

Having fun and being active is my main objective.  Enjoying the freedom of speed I am also very aware of safety.  I wear a helmet and am constantly scanning the environment around me.  That includes dogs.  Those who love to ride bikes must stay very aware to the dogs around them. 

I was riding down a path this weekend, where there were folks walking their dogs.  I zipped off and on the path when needed; always giving pedestrians and dogs the right of way.  Judging the distance of leash guardians had given their dogs and making sure that they knew I was coming; I took the needed amount of space between them and me. 

I am writing today because I had a few moments with dogs that I needed to address.  The first was an area that was very close quarts.  As I rode down the path, a more narrow path was ahead of me.  At the entrance of the path was a couple with their dog.  Their actions made me get off of my bike.  They had cornered their dog; the husband put his leg across the dog and the woman had a stick in ready.  Hmmmmmmm.  This looked like an accident waiting to happen.  Clearly the dog was not going to be okay with me riding by.

I got off my bike and gestured for them to go ahead.   "He loves to run with bikers," they explained as the dog dragged them my way.  "I could see that he was focused on me" I said back to them.  Before I could scoot around them the dog was sniffing my bike.  "How did you know?" they asked.  I told them I was a dog trainer and then we had an impromptu Q&A.  Being that I wanted to continue my ride I quickly answered some of their questions and started to move away.  The dog went into full CUJO mode where they continued to explain what was going on.  I already knew, smiled and continued my ride.  

The dog wanted to control my movement; he was not interested in a fun run by my side.  The dog's guardians were being ruled by their dog.  As long as I stood where he wanted me to stand, things were fine.  But when I took it upon myself to move away, he was not.  Had I just rode my bike passed them; I have no doubt that I would have had to deal with a large Lab/Border Collie lunging at me.  

The next incident was one where I also got off of my bike.  I was riding a long a path and saw a couple of women up ahead with their dogs off leash.  Off leash dogs is not something you like to see when you are on a bike.  I slowed and watched where the woman were going to take their dogs.  They FINALLY saw me coming and moved away from the path.  I got off my bike, both dogs were herding type dogs so I knew they would be more prone to my bike as a trigger. 

What happened next really shocked me.  One of the woman leashed their dog, which was good.  The other woman put her dog between her legs and held onto the collar.  As I got closer, the dog went so crazy that the woman could barely hang onto her dog.  This was direct at me just walking by, I had already got off my bike thinking about what might happen.  The other dog was on high alert, ready to pounce when given the chance.  Neither of these dogs should have been off leash EVER in public.  

So, I love my new bike.  I will enjoy it whenever I can.  Dogs are often triggered by bikes, it is a common occurrence.   It is much the same as walking vs. running trigger chase.  Many dogs have very strong chase drive; so this is something that a rider must be aware of.  Always be prepared to react to a lunge.  Always be ready and give yourself more space when riding by dogs.  

If your dog is not accustom to bicycles or has the drive to chase them; you must take extra precaution.  One lunge, even if the dog does not connect; can send a bike rider off of their bike resulting in a serious injury.  Keep your dog by your side and hire a positive trainer to help you to desensitize them with bicycles if needed.  

By desensitizing and counter conditioning, bicycles can be a problem in the past, very quickly.   

Private dog training

Private dog training

Private dog training, let's break it down.  (I love using definitions)  ;)

  1. Private - confined to or intended only for the persons and or dogs immediately concerned.
  2. Dog - a domesticated canid, Canis familiaris, bred in many varieties.
  3. Training - the education, instruction, or discipline of a dog that is being.

Private in-home dog training is one of the training services that I offer.  The other services are online consultations which is beneficial for those who don't live in my area.  

But my private in-home is a hands on type of training; highly personalized for you, your family and your dog.  This is essentially all about you.  Your home, your dog, your training.  

What are the benefits of in-home personal training?  

  • You have my undivided attention.
  • Training approach is specifically for you and your dog.
  • Training within your home allows me to see environment that you and your dog live in.  Enabling to work up a highly personalized training regimen.
  • Training in your home allows me to show you exactly how to train your dog in your day to day.  
  • Being in your home allows you to show me exactly what is going on and where.
  • In-home makes it easy for us to walk through a day in the life of you and your dog. 
  • We work on a plan that will specifically fit your family and your dog.

I love working one on one so to speak; with a family and their dog.  It gives me the chance to concentrate on only you.  You and your dog that is.  It is a great way to implement the whole family into the training.  No distractions, very specific training work, hands on demonstrations giving you the confidence to do it yourself.  

From the moment I arrive at your home until the day that I leave; there is a huge transformation in you, the family and your dog.  My job is to train you and the family to train your dog.  There inevitably comes the day when I have to say goodbye; and on that day, I have given you all the training to take it from there.  Of course there is always the open line of email and phone help when the need arises. 

Private in-home dog training.  I come to your home, your family and your dog to work on your problems.  Nice. 

 

Moving on - after losing your canine

Losing your canine

It's not easy, how do you move on when you may have lost the love of your life?  This was something that I dealt with after losing my Luke.  Luke was my heart dog and he left a huge gaping hole in my heart when he left.  Getting over a love like we had is never easy, not for anyone.  

Luke's goodbye

I lost Luke in January of 2015; so where am I now in the whole grieving process.  I've been through it all and am out the other side.  Oh, there are still days when I can't talk about him; it really depends on my mood and what the Luke topic is.  It is hard to think that you can ever have that again with another; but I know it will happen, I will fall in love again.  I am very ready to fall in love, as is Elsa. But how do you go from a mess; to being able to move on?  Grief, you must grieve such a loss or you will never get through to the other side.  Writing my book helped me immensely.  Each re-read brought fewer and fewer tears.  I can now read my book with only a few tears rolling down my face.  No sobbing, no heartbreak, just memories.  

The memories are what we need and when they come and bring joy instead of sadness; well then, you are almost there.  

You have to go through it, there is no way around.  Getting to the other side demands that you go through the middle of the sadness.  Deal with it, cry, remember, cry and cry some more.  You must mourn what you have lost, it is essential.  There is no easy way to get to the other side and if you take the easy road; then you'll likely have to go through it later in life.  

Going through the middle of it all was why I wrote my book.  It made me deal with every heartbreaking emotion.  Oh there was a lot of crying.  Some days I couldn't think of moving on.  How could I go through a day without him?  

But here I am, with all of my amazing memories left.  They bring smiles now; how can I not smile when I think of that big goof ball?  I loved him, I will always love him.  But now I only have memories and that my friend is a gift.  One that we should cherish.  

It's not easy, but you can get through it.   

My book

 

Dog harnesses

Ruffwear Harness

Harness your relationship, don't choke it.  

Harness:  together as cooperating partners or equals.  (love this)

Yesterday Elsa and I were out for our evening walk.  We had to cut our path walk short; turn around and head in the opposite direction because of a coyote siting.  Thanks to a nice person who was passing by, we were alerted to it's presence.  We made our way up to the park and continued our walk there; away from the coyotes.  

As we entered the park we noticed a little dog doing damage to his tiny neck.  The dog's human was oblivious to the fact that she was indeed choking her dog.  The little black and furry mix was dying to come to see Elsa.  Lunging and diving in attempt to see the lovely Miss Elsa, he was being choked by his collar.  The woman on the end of the leash seemed absorbed in everything but her dog as he choked and sputtered. 

I couldn't help but shudder as I imagined his little neck taking the impact resulting from his actions.  People don't realize how much damage can be done by a collar, any collar.  Throughout history humans have done a lot of ludicrous things.  If we do not take the time to stand back and reconsider the actions that we take; we can continue the senseless acts without change.  

Life is all about evolution; evolution is about doing better when we know better.  I love the saying

"Expect Better - and move towards better. 

Better is out there." 

If we blindly continue the actions of the people before us without stopping to ponder our behavior, we are not evolving or striving for better.  Sometimes those who came before us didn't know a whole lot.  Perhaps over time we have learned better and should then do better, right?  

This harness above is the one I use for Elsa.  I got it years ago when Luke was still around.  So it was his harness before Elsa's.  I love it and it is my "go to" harness.  It has a hook up on top and out in front to minimize those who like to pull.

As canine guardians, all we can do is our best.  When we learn better, we can do better.  Let's do that.  :)  

Take your life back

 Picture perfect - you can do it.  

Picture perfect - you can do it.  

I cannot tell you how many times I've heard "he doesn't want to," or "they won't stop."  Are you feeling like you've lost control of your life?  

Control - check or restraint.

Have you lost control?

Have you? 

Does your dog rule your life?  Are you feeling like your life is no longer your own?  Do you want to take your life back?  Read on.

We often let our dogs get away with behaviors that we later regret.  Our dogs will do what we allow them to do.  Taking charge does not have anything to do with being mean, cruel or bossy.  It has everything to do with guidance and creating a harmonious canine/human relationship.  Our dogs need us to step up to the plate.

Are you ready?

This all starts in your head.  You can do this, yes you can.  Is your dog charging out open doors?  Jumping all over you?  Counter surfing at will?  Whatever you don't want your dog to do, it is time to stop the behavior.  This all starts with you believing that you can be the one making and enforcing rules.

First, decide what you will allow in your home and life.  Next, think about how to control or stop the unwanted behaviors.  If you are at a loss and can't do it yourself, then get in touch with a positive reinforcement trainer to get you started.   A good trainer will give you the information needed to take your life back.  They should make you feel like you can do it; giving you the guidance to train your dog.

Life can be made better with a dog by your side, but sometimes it's worse.  If we allow the relationship to go amuck with no rules or boundaries set, it can go very bad.  A little guidance, modification and confidence can make a huge difference.  

If you need help, get it.  Life with dogs is amazing, and you can do this.   

Communication - human/canine

 A clear communication

A clear communication

Elsa and I head up the hill towards the lake at one of our favorite spots.  As we neared the bend a woman stood on other side of a narrow road with two large dogs in one hand and her phone in the other.  She kept nervously watching us as we continued.  Needless to say I was now watching her and assessing what exactly was going on before continuing any further.  She yanked at the dogs over and over again; pulling them in to an inch beside her.  It was what she did next that caused me to make the decision to u turn with Elsa. 

Watching the situation with the woman, dogs and phone carefully; it was obvious that she was not comfortable with us passing by.  Trying to balance her phone conversation and two large dogs she then held up one leg and put it in front of the dogs.  Okay, that was enough information for me; I did a quick u-turn and head back down the hill, taking our walk in a different direction.  

 The woman's body language clearly stated "I don't think I can control these guys with one hand."  She was not giving up on her phone conversation so she was hoping to rely on the one leg up and the other leg balancing to do the work.  Hmmmmmmm....

Sometimes it's just best to turn around.  She was not blocking our way at all but I saw the scenario as an accident waiting to happen.  A simple direction change rectified what I saw as a possible situation.  As we turned and head the other way I looked back to see the woman loosen her grip on her dogs and continue her walk.  So it was a win, win. 

Coming across someone who looks like they have no control over their dog can be as intimidating as a loose dog running around.  It fact, it was a woman who had lost control of her Bulldogs while still on leash that attacked Elsa several years ago.  I do not want to be the victim of someone's lack of control over their dog.  Either get control of your dog or don't have a dog so large and strong that you can't physically control it.  

The woman with the two large dogs had communicated to me that she was not confident in her ability to control her dogs.  Having both hands available and not trying to carry on a conversation; she may have been quite capable of controlling her dogs.  I clearly understood her body language because that's what I do.  I read.  Not everyone sees communication via body language and it is a big problem.  

Just the other day Elsa and I were out in a big open field playing catch.  A man with a Labrador started approaching.  Seeing that he was coming our way, I made a clear communication by moving further down the field.  He should have seen this "I don't want to interact," but he didn't.  He kept coming so I upped my communication.  I abruptly turned and walked away.  Nope, he was still coming.  It boggles my mind.  Finally I leashed Elsa, turned around completely and started walking away.  He then called out to see if they could play together.  Wow!!!!

Canines are far superior to us in the reading body language department.  We humans can in fact communicate without ever having to open our mouths.  But whether or not the other person we are trying to communicate with can read or not is the question.  

 

We can do better for our dogs

Toller

With camera in hand, my sister and I head out to visit her breeder.  Finally after all these years, I was going to meet Dawn; the woman behind all the stories.  Sadly I was meeting her after the passing of my sister's much loved Ruby.  

Turning into the driveway, I scanned the springtime terrain that was trying to escape the winter cover.  The ground was very wet and muddy; giving off the very familiar smell of spring.  Even though April is a messy time of year in Canada; it carries with it the hope of sunshine and warmer temperatures of summer to come.  

Getting out of the car, I stepped over a big puddle to avoid getting a soaker (foot submerged in water).  We head towards the house where we got our first sneak peek at the Tollers who were enjoying the outdoors in a fenced area off to the left.  The door opened and we were welcomed in with open arms and hugs.  Dawn and my sister (Bonnie) are family; family through the mutual love of a very special dog.

After our welcome we sat in the living room and waited for the releasing of the hounds.  Excited barking could be heard before a sea of red charged through the doorway and headed our way.   Three Tollers (Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers) and a small but mighty Toy Poodle welcomed us to their home.  Immediately after our welcome the retrieving started.  Tollers love to retrieve.  

Our conversation began with who was related; where everyone came from and breeding.  Dawn then opened a book that held a wealth of information.  I was amazed as she sifted through the family (Toller) records with the topic turning to Ruby's siblings.  Two siblings remained and Dawn shared the history of the rest.  It amazed me that she kept track of each and every family member (Toller) who had left her charge over the years.  The families who had adopted a Toller from Dawn were indeed family.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

It is rare to find someone who is as passionate about dogs as I am but Ruby's breeder (Dawn) is most definitely that and then some.  I have not met a more conscientious breeder.  These are the type of breeders we need to support.  We talked about extensive health testing, health, breeding and temperament testing in detail.  I learned a lot as Dawn shared her Toller mission with us. 

Throughout our discussion Dawn shared a great deal of information that she had learned over the years.  We talked about a wonderful company that focuses on changing the future of dogs called Avidog.  She also explained Nomographs, which I have never heard of.   Nomographs are done by testing a mother's blood to see what level of antibodies are being passed to her puppies in  her colostrum.  This lets a breeder know when it is best to vaccinate puppies.  This explains why puppies given vaccinations too early can get ill.  Fascinating. 

Between the canine conversation, I tried to capture a few photos of the dogs.  It was clear that the little Toy poodle was the boss.  Easily outweighed by all the red dogs she was confident and happy to rule the roost.  

As our visit neared the end we head outside and toward the kennels.  Dawn also runs a boarding kennel.  We were going to meet Ruby's brother who is one of the two siblings remaining from her litter.  As soon as we set eyes on him, it was impossible not to see the resemblance.  Bonnie knelt down to meet the old man; a link to her much loved Ruby.  It was a moment; one that most of us never get to experience.  

 Meeting this old man was an honor for me.

Meeting this old man was an honor for me.

 

Before we left we were lucky to meet the future of Dragonluck kennels.  The new members who will continue the legacy of filling the position of much loved family members with their offspring.  

 Perhaps the future.  

Perhaps the future.  

As we drove away, back down the driveway and head for home we reflected on our visit.  This is what a breeder should be.  Dawn has a wealth of knowledge, a caring heart for dog and human; with a drive to do better and desire to know more.  This is what you want to find when you are searching for a breeder; no matter what breed you are looking for.  This is who we should be supporting.   

 The Queen

The Queen

Temperament testing in dogs

 A most perfect match made when Elsa joined our family.  Thank you Vicki.

A most perfect match made when Elsa joined our family.  Thank you Vicki.

I want to talk about temperament testing today, yes again.  This is something that I am very passionate about and wish that all breeders, rescues and shelters did.  Very few that I speak to think that temperament testing is important.  But why?  Well, from what I can glean from the conversations that I have, it seems that the idea of temperament testing is something you do when you don't "know" your puppies.  The common response I hear from the breeders who don't do it is this; "I don't need to temperament test, I know my puppies."  Leaving me to think that they feel that it is only something you do when you don't know your puppies.  Hmmmmm...

So what exactly does temperament testing do?  Well, let's first say that there is temperament testing and then there is temperament testing.  I have seen many dogs who have been "tested" that have been done completely inaccurately.  So that must be the first understanding.  When a temperament test is done it must be done by someone who is very experienced in dog behavior.  There are so many things to factor in aside from the initial result.  

What am I looking for when I test?   I look to find out who this puppy is as an individual.  What makes them tick; what they like, what they don't like.  How will they deal with life as it unfolds before them.   

What type of family scenario is going to best suit each individual puppy?  Temperament testing is not about finding the good and bad.  It has nothing to do with the best puppy; it is all about finding the best puppy for each family waiting to add one of the bundles of fur to their family.  Who would thrive in each very different individual family life?

  • Are they afraid of loud noise?
  • Are they independent?
  • Do they easily follow a human?
  • What is their recovery time after being startled?  A biggy for me..
  • Are they a soft or hard type dog?  
  • Will they do well with small children?
  • Are they forgiving?  
  • etc etc

There is no reason not to temperament test but a plethora of reason to test.  When a breeder does not test and opts to allow the families to pick their own puppy; every puppy/guardian pairing can be wrong.  It can start with the first choice to the last.  Most people have no idea what they are looking for; they go on a visual choice and who comes to them first.  Nothing can be gleaned from a onetime visit in among a litter of puppies.  

Each puppy must be looked at alone and offered many different experiences to show who they are as an individual.  Why not give each a chance for the best life that they can live.  Much more coming on temperament testing, stay tuned.  

 

Old Dogs

 Ruby, who I was honored to have photographed last November.  She was my sister's family's heart.  Ruby was cherished in her golden years giving both her and her family those special moments that we will always remember.  

Ruby, who I was honored to have photographed last November.  She was my sister's family's heart.  Ruby was cherished in her golden years giving both her and her family those special moments that we will always remember.  

Elsa and I were out walking early at the park yesterday morning.  We were enjoying the warmth of the sun as it rose over the hills and came through the tops of the trees.  I love this time of year; as the spring rains end, leaving a blanket of green and blossoms in their wake.  The sound of birds fill the air; bringing with it a sense of tranquility all around.   Early morning is a great time to get out and find some peace before the day begins.

As we made our way around the park we passed by others who were out enjoying the dawn.  We walked by a couple of little white fluffy dogs, a  Golden Retriever who was wanting nothing to do with retrieving, a big Akita, a rambunctious black Labrador and a Rottweiler.  None of the dogs phased Elsa, except for the Rottie.  As I discussed on my last "LIVE" session on my Facebook page; Rottweilers freak Elsa out.  The lack of tail and dark body leave her with little information to read.

As we continued our walk, further down the path and just ahead of us a bit was an old guy.  An old Siberian Husky who's legs told of his younger years gone by.  They buckled with each step; but his human guardian took her time.  She was meandering with him and smiling as he stopped to smell the bushes.  Old dogs make me smile.  I love old dogs.  

After living with many dogs through their youth, adulthood, middle age and into the golden years; I have been privilege to the joy and wonder of old dogs.  It is a time when we step up to be there.  Our dogs give us their all, they share their life with us and teach us many things throughout our lives together.  But it is in their final years when we learn the most about love, patience, caring and giving.  It is a humbling experience and one that I cherish at every turn.

Living with an old dog is a gift.  One that gives just by being in the moment with our dog.  The memories come flooding back when I think of my dog's golden years.  Luke was my most recent "old guy," and he left behind a legacy; one that I draw on regularly and lovingly.  He was my heart and those last months with him were some of the most precious moments of my life.

Yes, living with old dogs is work.  Many ailments can inflict a dog as they age, just like us.  How lucky are those of us who are given the gift of caring for an old dog.  Many people never get to experience this as they lose their canine companions before the golden years.  Giving is what life is all about.  It comes in many forms but is a life altering act.  

To give - to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation; bestow:

Old dogs force us to slow down, be in the moment, take in life as it unfolds before us.  Watching an old dog as they enjoy the warmth of the sunshine on their body, take in the smells of a passing breeze or simply sit and watch the birds all around, is moving. 

I have experienced so many "moments" with my old dogs over the years.  Just having their head rest on my lap as they sleep and dream of years gone by, is such a gift.  Far too often life gets too busy; we get wrapped up in everything else that those special "moments" pass us by.  Once gone they are gone, never to return. 

Right now, if you are living with an old dog, enjoy it.  If the golden years are still out in the future for your dog, look forward to them.  For those are the years that will impact you the most.  Of course a life spent with a dog by your side is wonderful at every step.  But after so many years together, those intrinsic years of gold are priceless.  

 

Isle of Dogs-the movie

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The first time I heard about Isle of Dogs was only a week ago.  I don't know why it had not come to my attention and not crossed any of my feeds before then.  Once I finally saw the trailer and asked others about it, they had known about it already.  Anyhow, I went to see it yesterday and this was my take away. 

First let me say that I was shocked that you can now get wine at the theater, guess it's been a while.  So with a plastic cup of Pinot Grigio in hand I waited for the movie to start.  I didn't really have any huge expectations except that the movie was about dogs. 

My only complaint was that there could have been fewer humans in the movie; and more dog interactions.  But that is just me.  It was an amazing production when you consider how stop motion movies are made.  I can't even imagine the time and patience it would take to create the movie.  It was done expertly.

Isle of Dogs is set in Japan in the near future when the dog flu sweeps over all the pet and stray dogs and they are banished to a garbage dump island to live out the rest of their lives.  That is until some of the humans (the bad guys) decide to euthanize all of the dogs on the island.  The battle between good and bad ensues.

 The story is mostly about a young boy who loses his guardian dog to the island and he sets out to find him.  A gang of previous "pet dogs" take up with the boy and attempt to find his dog for him.  Albeit one stray dog (Chief) who was never a pet.  He has a rough exterior that he holds strong to retain.  

Isle of Dogs

 

The movie is not for children; it has a few disturbing scenes that would not be okay for young children.  Because of the animation idea around the movie; one might think that it is for kids but it is not, in my opinion. Some dark parts of the movie come from the humans who are against the dogs.  But there are also good humans in the movie who are trying to save the dogs. 

Isle of dogs

There is some translation throughout the movie so that you can understand some of the Japanese spoken segments.  But there are some that are not translated which leaves you with just getting an emotional feel for what is being said.

There are a lot of really big actors who lend their voice to this movie and they are great.  Some were recognizable to me, others not.  

I don't want to give too much away if you are planning on seeing it.   The movie is very artsy and I would assume will be winning awards for the work of art that it is.  It is different, not exactly what I thought it would be but worth seeing.  Being the dog lover that I am; of course I felt that I needed to see it. 

It is definitely a movie that leaves you thinking that this type of situation could actually happen in perhaps a lesser fashion.  Something to think about.

Hold tight to your dog and enjoy every second you can with them.  

Sherri