Thursday, December 20, 2012

Yay for Poop!

It has been a blissful several months (in fact, almost a year I think) that I have enjoyed picking up Oscar's wonderful poops. On the Bristol Stool Chart (pictured above), I would say he is in the "Sweet Spot" with a Type 3-1/2. Perfect, beautiful poops. Not to soft, not to hard. Simply wonderful.

Until this week.

Something that the Dog God only knows about has set Oscar's bowels into a tizzy.

Shame on me for almost forgetting what it was like to have a dog with a sensitive GI tract. Dare I even admit that I have not felt the need to look stare at Oscar's rear end every time he squats for a long, long time. I haven't needed to. With the ridiculous help of Monica Segal, we got Oscar to the point where he was wonderfully healthy with beautiful poops.

Just goes to show you that getting comfortable in routine - whatever that routine may be - often comes back to bite oneself in the behind.

Oscar has pooped 6 times today. I repeat 6 times. While I almost gasped in horror after my husband sent me the "Puke and poop in the kennel" text during lunch today, I almost started crying when he sent me the "He pooped outside" about 10 minutes later, then the "He pooped again, that's #6" messages. I put my head in my hands and prayed that whatever it is that was making my precious Oscar flail at the rump would quickly subside b/c, seriously, I don't know how much more Aaron and I can take. These GSD's are driving us mad. They are wonderful in so many ways and when it rains, it pours - on both ends  of the spectrum...both good and bad. The constant swinging of the pendulum has been steady since May, yet I remind myself that things could be much worse. Fanny could have left us in May, Oscar could still be a skinny-bone boy.

My dogs teach me much more than I ask for...and sometimes I wish they would just shut up. For now, I will try to focus on the good...the many months of fabulous poop from Oscar and the rebound Fanny has made form yet another bout of aspiration pneumonia. I'm grateful that each of them are in my life and that Aaron and I both can tolerate cleaning up more bodily fluids than one person should have to experience in a lifetime.  I leave you with this statement...something you shouldn't take for granted and a phrase that would make an excellent bumper sticker..."Yay for Poop!"

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Finished Book: "Play With Your Dog" by Pat Miller

Q: What do I love getting in a plane for my 8a-5p work-related trips?

A: They allow me to read about dogs...and get paid while doing it.

Thursday morning's schedule had me getting up at 5am and heading to the airport for a trip to Seattle, WA.  The trip would be short; leave MKE at 6am, land in SEA around 11am PST, head to downtown Seattle, eat a little something, then head into a creative brainstorming session for a well-known mobile device manufacturer and their global branding agency.  The return trip would be quite similar; getting up at 4am, heading to the airport, landing at O'Hare for a connection flight that I didn't have a confirmed seat on. I ended up taking the bus back, which actually got me home and hour and a half earlier (yay!).

It all worked out in the end and during the combined hours in an airplane I got to pull back the cover of Pat Miller's Play With Your Dog.

While many of the concepts in the Pat Miller's book were not new to me, I was ultimately looking for additional games...that I could implement into my relationship with Oscar.  He is a dog who LOVES to play. He will (literally!) spit out food if the Frisbee or orange Chuck-it! ball come out. Any movement toward the side door sparks an immediate dash and look of hope from my handsome little man. I got what I was looking for...a few nuggets of ideas and inspiration that I look forward to trying out.

The flow of chapters in Play With Your Dog is brilliant. Pat starts with describing what play really is, then moves along to describe different dog play styles (Oscar is definitely in the typical herding "cheerleader/fun police" category). Following these topics, she discusses proper ways for humans to engage in play, talks about the overall benefits of play (hint: the benefits are HUGE!), different types of play (object play, mind games, chase games, and contact play) and gives great examples of each type, including the wonderful game of TUG! She makes a point to discuss the importance of children playing with dogs and games that should be avoided as well as games that are well-suited to keep the dogs and kids safe and happy. She ends her book with a great section on rehabilitating the play-deprived dog...something that hits very close to home since I can count on both of my hands how many times my dear Fanny has engaged in play just for the thrill of it.

Overall Pat's book lays out a great foundation for those who are looking to engage their dogs in play. Pat challenges us, as owners and guardians, to tailor the play games/style to the individual dog and to keep it fun!  While play can be a very powerful reinforcer, it is absolutely OK to play just for play's sake!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Finished Book: "Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs"

Jean Donaldson's book, Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs, should be on the shelf of every dog trainer. In the perfect world, I would even say that it should be on the coffee table of every new puppy owner too.

Resource guarding is a behavior problem that I'm starting to hear more of the more I get into private consultations. More often than not I'm getting word of the owner's dog - who usually happens to be just around the cusp of adolescence - starting to exhibit aggression when the owner(s) go to remove a bone/chewie/pig ear/(insert other valuable item here) or move them from a certain spot on the bed/couch, etc. In preparation for some inevitable behavior modification I will be doing with a current client of mine, I purchased Jean's book and got reading.

Jean's book is a fantastic resource with step-by-step instructions to help one identify what type(s) of resource guarding their dog has and explains very thoroughly how to "fix" the problem with hierarchies that encourage the owner to break down the training into small, incremental steps. Jean explains typical areas where you may see regression and how you need to handle situations where you may have pushed your dog too much, too soon.

Having finished reading Jean's book, I patted myself on the back and gave myself some credit for instilling good sharing habits in Oscar from the moment he came through my door at 8-weeks of age. Doing the "I'll trade you this for that" games and doing "drive-by treat parties" when he was eating have paid off ten fold.  Like clockwork, when you walk toward him while he is chewing on a bone or rawhide he eagerly begins wagging his tail hoping that you might just hop down on the floor and join him in the fun. We usually do and then continue moving on...sometimes giving him a quick butt scratch, other times getting right in there and holding the bone for him (which he LOVES) and other times dropping him some delicious liver treats.  The only remedial resource guarding I had to do with him was a few months back when I gave him something he had never had before - a raw beef knuckle. He did just a bit of freezing as I approached him to take it away. Enough where I noticed that he was a little uncomfortable and immediately went and got some string cheese to do some "super tasty drive-by's." Problem averted.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Finished Book: "Plenty in Life is Free" by Kathy Sdao

Beautiful, memorable and as perfect as perfect gets.
On this unseasonably warm October afternoon (it's 70-something in Wisconsin!), I finished reading Kathy Sdao's beautiful, 93-page book Plenty in Life is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training and Finding Grace.

For those who have not heard of or read Kathy's book, the pages within talk about rethinking the NILIF (Nothing in Life is Free) training protocol and challenge oneself to consider becoming an active, communicating partner (not leader) in the relationship with your canine friends through alternate ways of training. To be 100% honest, I have never felt comfortable with the NILIF protocol. I tried it with my own "problem" dogs and never made it past a week of of the program. It never felt "right" and I wasn't happy dictating that my dog had to offer me something, at my cue/command, in order to get what he wanted.

In Kathy's beautiful writing, her experience, outlook, passion and ability to deliver a salient message left me satisfied beyond belief.  I am energized, excited and ready to continue on the journey with my own dogs and with my clients, both current and future, with her approach to training. Throughout the pages, Kathy layouts a handful of alternative methods to the NILIF protocol/philosophy, all of which gravitate around the central idea that we, humans, need to get SMART (See Mark and Reward (Training)) with our dogs offer. We must be active in the participation and become skilled partners and listeners. It is our duty to reinforce our dogs (with petting, praise, walks, car rides...whatever!) when they reinforce us (with ANY behavior that you want them to do).
" training focus has shifted gradually away from ensuring animals' compliance with my directives. Instead I've become increasingly aware of the critical need for me to observe the animals I train - intentionally watching their behaviors with mindful intention. This cultivation of the skills of clearly seeing behavior and learning to recognize and respond to desirable behaviors trumps any reward-rationing protocol. It also precedes - temporally and philosophically - any attempts I make to improve the animal's obedience to my requests." 
For me to say that Kathy's book is the best dog book I have ever read would be an understatement. It is about as perfect as perfect gets and I will proudly recommend it atop the previously #1-ranked "Bones".

Kathy - if I ever get the opportunity to meet you in person, I will see, mark and reward you with the biggest bear hug I can offer.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Finished Book: The Official Ahimsa Dog Training Manual

You should get this book.  Seriously.

It has been several months since I finished a dog-related book. Recently, most of my time has been dedicated to training (my own and other’s dogs) and watching a lot of behavior DVD’s, thanks to Tawzer Dog’s fabulous rental program and trying to enjoy the most of the hot Wisconsin summer.  I caught wind of Grisha Stewart’s new book, The Official Ahimsa Dog Training Manual through her facebook page (jeez – what would I do without social media!) and immediately pre-ordered my copy.  Within a few weeks’ time I came home from work to find the perfect little brown package at my doorstep.  It was my very own copy of Grisha’s book.  Eek!

As I cracked open the cover, there it was…Grisha’s personal, hand-written “thank you” and her signature followed by a merry little smiley face.  How cool is that?  I love Grisha’s training methods and was honored that she took the time to sign my book! (OK, so maybe she doesn’t even know who I am, but still I’m going to pretend that we’re friends J).

Grisha’s book manual is beautiful.  It is descriptive enough to satisfy the dog training nerd in me, yet short and sweet enough that it I would recommend it to every single one of my students.  Grisha gets geeky when she has to be, uses fun, light-hearted examples throughout the book that most anyone can relate to and lays out the book the way it should be --- talking about the important stuff up front (communication, learning and understanding).

The Official Ahimsa Dog Training Manural has a welcome spot on my ever-growing D.B.N. library shelf and has already received several dog-eared pages.  Thank you, Grisha, for putting out another fabulous resource!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Just One Student

This week marked the last session in the 6-week Control Unleashed course I teach through BehaviorWorks.  I always like to take a look back and reflect on the journey that was made during the class.  Each class I teach is made up of a unique mix of students and dogs and this session of Control Unleashed was no exception.  

During each of the courses I teach, regardless of the topic, I make a personal goal to help each and every student succeed in the best way possible.  As a teacher, I find it immensely gratifying when I get to witness the moments in time where a true, honest connection between human and canine are made.  Helping people get to this point and recognize they have gotten there is wonderful feeling.  Following closely behind, almost as wonderful, is when I see a student take the initiative to push themselves to make that connection even better.  Whether it's by upping criteria at exactly the right moment, ending the training session after a perfect response or recognizing when their dog is getting stressed and respecting that communication to stop training.  Any of these pure forms of observation and involvement from the human partner make my heart glow with delight and respect.

Over my relatively short "professional" training career, clients who respect and desire a true connection and open communication with their dog are few and far between.  I don't think this viewpoint is rare, but I do think it's unfortunate.  There are many dog owners who just want their dog to sit, lay down, stay and come on command without care to how they get there and don't get me wrong, I like working with these folks.  It's those rare gems that truly want to be with their dog that I love working with. 

There were both ends of the spectrum in my most recent CU class.  

First the I had a well-meaning student who had a reactive dog.
The few times his dog reacted in class, he felt embarrassed and his own mode of thinking became reactive; he jerked the leash.  I know he was embarrassed and frustrated, but I could tell he wanted to change his own behaviors and help his dog.  If I would have only had a few more weeks with him and his dog to help him get to a better state.  Convince him that his dog wasn't being an asshole...he was just acting the best way he knew how in the given situation.  This dog was so food motivated that it easily could have had developed a different CER (conditioned emotional response) with a little bit of extra work.  I mean, c'mon a dog that will literally work for Kibbles-n-Bits dry dog food!  Easy!

Then there was the student who really got it.
A wonderful lady who, admittedly, has been training with BehaviorWorks since her dog was a pup.  She had her timing down for marking correct behaviors to the millisecond.  Her reward delivery was near perfect.  She upped criteria exactly when and where it should be done.  I continued to push her where she needed it, but I gotta tell ya, it wasn't a lot.  She's the one...The One Student...who worked with her dog as he was in the moment.  They grew together over the 6 weeks and blossomed into wonderful partners.

It's a beautiful thing and extremely rewarding to have such a student in class.  Someone who just "gets it."  Someone who wants to push themselves and their dog in a mutual, connected relationship.  This is more than training, this is real life relationship building.  And it's wonderful to witness. 

Monday, July 23, 2012


If there's one thing that I have learned by living with my dear boy, Oscar, it is that he is constantly pushing me to be on my toes.  Just when I think we are in a good place, he'll do something to slip the rug out from underneath my feet.  While I appreciate this gesture, this constant challenge for me to do more, learn more and be more, sometimes I'm ready to call it quits. Sometimes our connection just plain old sucks.

There were times during the weekend that Oscar and I were totally chill, totally connected, having conversations with one another without saying a word.  We would look at each other and I could feel our connection.  Then there were times when, honestly, I don't know what happened. Oscar would run over to the fence and bark at our neighbor I was having a conversation with after being totally fine with the neighbor just a few minutes prior.  It's confusing, frustrating and makes my trust in him fall to pieces. It's incredibly humiliating to both of us having our connection crushed like that.

I understand and appreciate the belief that we get the dog that we need, but being a person who runs on the border between stable and anxious I don't need a dog who errs on the side of reactivity. When I work with clients who have "problem" behaviors in their dogs, I find it quite easy to help them get to a better place.  A place of better understanding on both sides of the relationship through mutual participation. With a little education and understanding and some coaching I have seen near miracles happen in these partnerships. I know this takes determination and commitment.

Getting to this level with Oscar is harder than I've ever imagined it to be. I feel know that I put in an enormous amount of effort and am more than willing to try new things to get to the land of mutual participation and respect. And, sure, there are times when Oscar and I have a connection, but I know there are times when he does not trust me and completely tunes me out.  It's as if he doesn't give a crap if I was around.  This makes me confused, upset and frustrated...not at him, but at myself.  I often look at him and ask him, "What more do I have to do here?" "Why can't you just trust me?" "Would you be happier some place else with someone else?"  In return I get a blank no one is one is listening.  Does he even want to be part of the relationship or would he rather just go live somewhere a land of never-ending tennis balls and Frisbees?

I am committed to developing this relationship and going with the organic flow of ups and downs. And God bless Oscar; he has been there to at least try everything I have asked of him with minimal fuss, however there are still areas in our relationship that need work. I need him to trust me and I know that part of this equation is me trusting him to do what's right. I will keep learning, but the relationship needs to be a two way street...I need a little bit of reinforcement from him sometimes that I am doing the right thing.

So, here I am getting off my soapbox with just one request...and I hope Oscar's listening..."Can we go about our lives together with a promise to one another that we will be equal and willing participants in our relationship?"

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Finished DVD: "Rehabilitation in Aggression Cases" by Trish King

Don't let the artwork of this DVD fool you, "Rehabilitation in Aggression Cases" by Trish King is a great 1.5 hour seminar that is well worth the watch.

As previously mentioned (I think numerous times), I love listening, reading and watching Trish King talk about anything relating to dogs.  In this short seminar, she does a wonderful job highlighting a few types of aggression case and gives her opinions on which cases she would or would not take on as a training case.  As expected, Trish's opinions are realistic and she doesn't sugar coat her feelings.

Besides the video being recorded in what looks like a dark, boarded up garage, it was easy to watch and very informative, especially for those of us who spend time dealing with dogs that have behavioral challenges.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Progressive Reinforcement Training

Happy Monday everyone!  Here I am again, in my never-ending journey to become the ultimate D.B.N. and I had a chance to get my fix over the weekend; this time bringing to you a recent discovery in the wonderful world of positive progressive reinforcement training.  

My current DVD series rental from Tawzer Dog has led me to get a better understanding of "Trick Dog" training as led by a Ms. Emily Larlham.  The name Emily Larlham didn't mean anything to me before I opened up my doggie Netflix rental mail last week. Holy crap, I had no idea who this woman was (shame on me!) and what a wonderful inspiration she has and will continue to be to me. 

She has an absolutely fantastic manifesto written about her Progressive Reinforcement Training methods that is well worth a read for anyone training with their dog or helping others in classes/private sessions.  Her manifesto is refreshing and spot on, in my opinion, to what I am trying to do in my personal and professional dog-related careers.

Some highlights from Emily's manifesto:
"Progressive Reinforcement Training Means: 
1) Training by rewarding desirable behaviors so they will be more likely to occur in the future, while preventing reinforcement of behaviors that are undesirable.  
2) Interrupting and preventing undesirable behaviors without physical or psychological intimidation, as well as rewarding an alternate response (training a behavior you find desirable in it’s place). 
3) Taking an animal’s emotional state and stress levels into account. 
4) Socializing and teaching an animal to cope with his environment using reinforcement. 
5) Using a marker to train, whether it be a clicker, some other noise-maker, your voice or touch, or a visual marker.  Or, on the other hand, not using a marker, and instead for example reinforcing an animal by feeding a treat directly to his mouth. 
6) Employing humane, effective, respectful training based on the latest scientific evidence.
Progressive Reinforcement Training Does Not Mean:  
1) The intentional use of physical or psychological intimidation. 
2) Intentionally disregarding an animal’s stress levels or signals.
3) Holding selfish or uncompassionate goals for your training.
...Progressive Reinforcement Training is not a permissive form of training.  It requires providing consequences to all behaviors.  The trainer takes on the role of a benevolent leader and guide using these ethical and scientifically based methods." 

Beautiful stuff, right? I love that she is sensitive to the animal as an emotional being and could not agree more with her beliefs of interrupting and preventing undesirable behaviors.  

Beyond Emily's manifesto, she has a plethora of free videos (yes, FREE!!!) that are refreshing, easy to watch and easy to understand (I've already used some of the new learning this weekend) and are based on scientific-training methods (and did I mention they are 100% FREE?!!).  I encourage you to swing over to her website, and get your Progressive Reinforcement Training fix!  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Finished DVD: "Different Breeds Have Different Needs" by Trish King

This review has been a long time coming!  I've been busy, I swear, and my lack of blog entries should be excused.  ((I know, I know, none of you have probably noticed or really care that I haven't posted about a finished book or DVD in several months))

It is no secret to those close to me that I love Trish King.  I love her rationale for her training methods, love what she has done professionally and could listen to her talk for days on end about dogs.  In my opinion, she has the beautiful mix of brains, experience and humor that I strive for in my dog-related profession.  I have had the pleasure of speaking with her on the phone once when I was in my "What-the-hell-is-wrong-with-Oscar" phase and it was wonderful. She had empathy mixed with a sense of humor and what I appreciated the most was that she was realistic in her expectations. She didn't sugar coat anything, but said everything with her sound experience.

In her recorded seminar DVD, "Different Breeds Have Different Needs," I found myself nodding almost non-stop as she gave her overview of different breed characteristics in a handful of selected groupings (Bully, Herding, Guard and Terriers were the main focus).  In my limited experience, her findings seemed to be spot on and very informative, if not comforting.  I loved watching her little video snippets shown throughout the seminar showing specific breed behaviors, especially with the herding dogs for obvious reasons.

The main message I took out of watching this wonderful DVD was simple.  Dogs are who they are and are, and are often times predisposed to certain behaviors because of their breed.  Plain and simple, right?!  Then why do so many people (including myself!) get upset or frustrated when our beloved furry family members act the way they are supposed to?  Part of moving forward is accepting your dog for who they are hardwired to be and channeling that knowledge in the right direction!

Thank you, Trish King, and I'll have another!

On deck: "Rehabilitation in Aggression Cases" DVD by Trish King

Monday, July 2, 2012

Lettin' Dogs Be Dogs

This past weekend was all about hanging out as much as possible.  Between crazy work schedules, visiting relatives from out of town and leaving town for our own vacation, Aaron and I did our best to spend as much time as possible outdoors just hanging out.  Of course mother nature has been doing her finest job of throwing heat at us and saving all precipitation for other areas of the world, but that didn't stop us from getting outside and enjoying the weather. 

Oscar and Fanny doing whatever they want.
Oscar has been maturing quite a lot the past couple of months.  I never thought I would see the day where he voluntarily laid down outside, but he has added the fine art of lounging into his vocabulary.  Of course as soon as someone gets up to move, he's ready to play ball...or when he hears something suspicious on the other side of our fence, he just simply cannot sit still and let things pass.  This world was made for his investigation!!  

Fanny has long ago perfected the art of laying low and enjoying the cool, damp shady areas of our yard.  She's a master at sniffing out her spot to potty, then b-lining it for one of her favorite spots.  In her fine age she isn't as tolerant of the heat as she used to be, so when we get up off our butts to do something in the yard, she slowly gets up and looks at us hoping we will go the nice, cool A/C house.  We, of course, let her in at her polite request. 

I enjoy these moments of lounging...just letting everybody be what they want to be.  Oscar loves the new sod area of our lawn and lays down on it with a big thud. Naturally, he has a toy nearby - if not in his mouth - and will sporadically fling himself onto his back with such gusto as he air bats at the toy between his teeth.  It's a sight that makes me smile with delight.  Fanny watches from a far thinking to herself, "Doesn't he know that is such a waste of energy?  What is wrong with him?"  

The summer days are just beginning and I enjoy being with the pups outdoors, just doing what we do...enjoying each others company and lettin' the dogs just be dogs. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Open Eyes, Open Ears, Open Heart

This coming Friday Oscar and I have the opportunity to work with someone who I've been wanting to meet for over a year, Kathy Kawalec.  I had originally signed Oscar and I up to have a private sheep herding lesson last year with Kathy and, unfortunately, had to cancel because something came up.  In hindsight it was very likely a sign that it just was not the right time to do that type of "thing" with Oscar.

Fast forward several months and here we are; a few days away from "sheep herding" with Kathy's help and guidance.  I put the activity of sheep herding in parenthesis because I have some doubts that Oscar and I, together, will be ready to get in with the sheep and I'm 100% OK with that happening.

Friday is going to be about Oscar and I, on our continued journey together.  I look forward to this part of the journey and welcoming it with open eyes, open ears and an open heart to listen to what Oscar communicates to me...and to what Kathy guides us with.  Granted I have not trained with Kathy before, but I did have a lovely phone conversation with a her a few weeks back in preparation for our session and it was very awakening.  She has such a clear message in her teaching coaching to me; let your heart-connected relationship with Oscar remind you of all that is there, all that you can achieve together, and let it be the foundation for what you want to do and where you want to go.  Beautiful.

So, Kathy, if you're listening out we come...with open eyes, open ears and open hearts. Sheep optional.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Helping Rehome

A dear friend of mine from college sent me a message earlier in the week asking if I knew of any places that would be willing to take in one of their two dogs who they are looking home.  Long story short, my friend and his wife have tried several trainers and, even an animal "behaviorist" to help their one dog's dog-dog aggression to no avail and of late, the aggressive outburst have been happening very close in proximity to their 1.5 year old son.  Not knowing who they used or the methods tried (positive and/or negative) and living too far away to personally help them with in-person training, I am doing the only thing I can...trying to help rehome this pup.

It has been an interesting feeling.  I don't feel bad that they are trying to rehome their dog, but I don't feel good either.  I'm quite impartial.  I've met the dog once while I was at their house for a couple of hours and my personal assessment is that this particular pooch has arousal and impulse control issues(something very near and dear to my heart).  It's cocky to say that if I were to work with this dog that I could help it work through the issues it has with the other house dog because, quite frankly, I don't know if I could.  It does bother me that I cannot be there, in the flesh to try and help...not only the dog, but the owners.  I know it is tearing them apart to have to do this, but they are doing the right thing.

I've spread my wings and typed many emails asking for help from other friends in the doggy community and we are all working together to try and find a new home for this dog.  Still it has been a numbing process to be helping a dog that, if not rehomed, will likely be euthanized.  You better believe I am doing everything in my power to make sure that this pup gets a chance to live on this earth for as long as possible.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Positive Encounters of the Same Kind

Over the past week I have had two incidents while out walking with each of my pups, respectively, that have left a HUGE smile on my face. These were moments where I was observant of others around me.  Watching what they were doing (or not doing, in incident #2) with their dog.

Incident #1
Tuesday, early morning.
Laura and Fanny's morning walk.
I was out walking with Ms. Fanny and saw up ahead the "The Doodle Jogger" coming down the street toward us.  (Aaron and I have nicknames for certain dog/human teams in our neighborhood that are memorable...both for good and bad "stuff."  This is one of the "good" people.)  The Doodle Jogger was on her morning jog and has always been respectful of the space around other people...whether they have dogs or not...and often times moves completely off the sidewalk and into the street or even to the other sidewalk.  Tuesday morning was no exception.  Fanny always notices The Doodle Jogger and perks up her head at the 4-legged crew member.  They've never had an exchange of words and, admittedly, the doodle has very lovely, non-confrontational body language.  The one thing I noticed this particular morning as I was watching them, was that right after the Doodle team passed us the human quietly said, "Good dog, (insert name here)" and pulled out a tasty treat from her pocket and  delivered it to her trusty, furry companion.  I this exchange of simple, concise and beautiful communication.  The Doodle Jogger just moved up a few more notches in my book.

Incident #2
Thursday, after work.
Laura and Oscar's evening walk.
Oscar and I have been having great moments on our walks for the past number of weeks.  This week alone we have walking up and back North Ave. multiple times while people are busy coming in and out of shops, restaurants and gas stations.  We don't stop to chat with anyone but keep going...together (Oscar likes to keep things moving - both himself and other people/dogs around us).  On Thursday evening, I decided to walk us down North Avenue a few blocks, then take a turn and walk through the neighborhood a bit.  We were walking along very well, then all of a sudden a kid (probably about 8-10 y/o) came around the corner of a house riding his bike and just stopped at the corner on the sidewalk.  He was about 15 feet away from Oscar who hadn't noticed him because his was busy sniffing a huge tree trunk.  I kept my cool and just let Oscar continue sniffing.  I had my treats ready at the hip to reward him for good decision making when he would, inevitably, get stared at by the kid.  Well, guess what?  That didn't happen.  The kid looked over at us briefly and smiled at Oscar and me then, turned his head and body away from us and continued to wait at the corner.  I gave Oscar a very nice, calm "good job buddy" as I slipped him a treat, then we walked right past the kid who still continued to wait.  As we crossed the street, I looked around to see who or what he was waiting for and saw his father and their gorgeous St. Bernard (whom I see weekly) coming down the sidewalk about 1/2 block back.  Knowing the father a little bit, I know he has taught his child to respect dogs and greet them properly, if at all.  It was a great feeling I had and as I continued to cross the road, I looked back to the father and their dog and smiled and did a little wave.

These beautiful moments...these positive encounters of the same kind...make me hopeful that the change in tide is happening.  People are becoming more educated and receptive to the power of positive training and aren't afraid to do it in public, no matter what time it is.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Because She's Worth It

That's one happy Fanny!
She's glad to be home!
What a difference one week can make.  As most of you know, it's been just over a week since Aaron and I were able to bring Fanny home from her 48+ hour stint at the emergency vet.  During those hours, there was a no shortage of tears.  Knowing that we only had so much money to spend on Fanny's care in what could have been her last days on this side of the bridge, Aaron and I had the discussion we were not prepared to have.  Sure we had talked about what to do if and when we were the ones that needed to help Fanny cross that dreaded, but inevitable rainbow bridge.  We knew we would not keep her alive just to please ourselves.  We knew that when it was time Fanny would, in fact, tell us.  And when it was time to cross that bridge, we knew we wanted to cremate her to continue our physical lives together.

Monday afternoon visit with Fanny.
She looked horrible.
When we went to see Fanny last week Monday, she looked horrible.  She was in a stainless steel, oxygen-assisted kennel.  All sides were metal with the exception of the front doors.  They were solid plastic with two mini-swing open doors just large enough for us to put our hand through and pet her while she was receiving care.  Seeing her in that kennel...with all the tubes, blinking lights, beeping noises...made me realize just how fragile the lives of our dogs really are.  She was laying down in that kennel, sleeping with her back to us as we entered the room.  When we opened the door to gently pet her, her ears moved in recognition.  It took her a moment to get the energy to pick up her head, but when she did, she turned to look at Aaron and I who were holding each other crying.  She struggled to shift her body around in the kennel, but eventually did.  After a brief discussion with the doctor, we asked if we could spend some time with her outside.  Of course, he complied.  Our time outside was precious, but I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that this was it.  It was Fanny's time.  She could barely hold her eyes open and struggled to walk, but she perked up when the wind blew some of its beautiful aroma in her direction. 

Aaron and I left that evening with the decision to keep her on 24 more hours of supportive care. Tuesday morning's phone call with the doctor was not good.  He said that while she had successfully come out of the oxygen-assisted kennel, her temperature continued to wax and wane and her physical strength had gotten worse since the day before.  We decided to try one more antibiotic to hopefully kill the fever and kept our fingers crossed.  That was the extent of what we could afford and, by the looks of it, it seemed like it was Fanny's time.  

We could not have been more wrong. 

A few hours passed and the phone rang.  I saw it was the doctor and debated on letting the call go to voice mail.  I was in denial and didn't want to hear the dreaded words from the doctor that it would be time to let Fanny go.  With a deep breath, I answered the phone.  As the doctor gave me an update, his voice was chipper and quick to deliver the good news that Fanny was doing much, much better.  She had been up and about and she had regained her strength and her temperature had stabilized some.  As we discussed Fanny's prognosis and potential for leaving the hospital with the doctor, he made it very clear that she wasn't "out of the woods" just yet and we decided to keep her there for a few more hours to see how she was. 

The 3pm visit on Tuesday afternoon.
She flattened her ears when I took
my camera out...I swear!
The 3pm visit on Tuesday afternoon is when we knew she was done with this hospital visit.  She strutted into the room, right over to Aaron and was wagging her tail the whole time.  Her bright eyes were back, her spunk was back...she was giving me handshakes and nose touches...and she ate like a horse.  Another discussion with the doctor later and we decided to keep her for a few more hours and take her off the IV fluids to see how she would do.  If everything went well, she was free to come home.... albeit with some committed at-home care and lots of TLC.  

For the first time in almost 48 hours, Aaron and I were smiling, laughing and relieved.  We knew Fanny was still fragile, but she was clearly telling us it was not her time.  After our visit, we went home to take care of Oscar then waited around for a few hours while it down poured and thunder-stormed like no one's business.   I made the call to the hospital at 9:15pm that night and got the go-ahead to bring our beloved Fanny home.  

Every tear and hug, every sleepless hour, every call, text and email from our friends was heard and Fanny continues to heal each and every day.  We are taking things slow with her physical expenditure and sparing no expense with her recovery (well, within limits, of course).  Aaron and I are enjoying our "shower time" with Fanny and make sure to give her an extra special treat after we do our coupage (percussion therapy).  We take her out for short, sniffy walks and let her dictate the pace.  We even made the decision to have Monica Segal formulate a special diet just for my precious, senior girl (thank you, Monica!).  Sure, all of this "stuff" costs money, but you know what?  She's worth it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Paying it Forward

God bless people who ask for help.  One of my wonderful co-workers came and talked to me this morning about his frustration with his 1.5 y/o black lab female.  Knowing that I am gonzo about dogs, he came to me in (almost) desperation this morning asking for help.  

While certain words such as "alpha" came out of his mouth, I was very warm and sympathetic in my involvement with the conversation.  I helped him realize that his dog was not being "alpha" by pulling on lead...she just wanted to get from point A to point B asap!  Plain and simple.  With bright, eager eyes and a big smile, he agreed.  

I shared with him a few ideas on how to reframe what a walk meant for both him and his pup and gave him a top-level, step-by-step way to do it.  This is why I love working with people and their dogs.  Paying forward the knowledge and tools that I have learned about to virgin eyes and ears knowing that some simple help can make an enormous difference in something as simple as a walk. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

"I'll make you laugh"

It was a rather warm, humid day in the metro Milwaukee area yesterday and I found myself alone after work having to take care of the dogs because my hubby was staying late at work for an event.  No big deal since I just got home from being away for 3 days/2 nights for a work trip.  I was actually looking forward to b-lining it home from work to see my white fur babies.

Once home, I changed my clothes, rolled up my pants and went out to the backyard to toss the frisbee for Oscar a few times and let Ms. Fanny do her sniffing.  Fanny did her nose scavenging and found perfect pee-pee spot and then went and laid on the driveway...tongue hanging out just from her olfactory exercise.  Oscar quickly did his business knowing that the quicker he does it, the quicker I will go with him to get his beloved flying disc.  I do love that about him.

After about 10 minutes of frisbee tossing I strolled over to Oscar's favorite reward ever - The Hose.  He was extraordinarily happy to see the turn of the spigot last night because it was warm and humid.  His tongue was down to his chest, giving me the most beautiful, happy smiling face as he ran over to the hose with me.  He loves that damn thing.  I don't know what had gotten in to him yesterday, but he was like Tigger...bouncing up off all four feet into the air to gobble down the jet stream of clear, cold water.  Beautiful and fluid in his movement.  Efficient and precise in his water chomping.  Every time I turn on the water flow, I know we are in for a good time together...and boy-oh-boy does he make me laugh.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bonafide CPDT-KA

That's right, your's truly is now a bonafide, Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed.  The "CPDT-KA" suffix can be proudly displayed after my name in the first of what I hope to be a few alphabet soup titles on myself before I die.  I look forward to continuing the pursuit for greater understanding of the canine species and help as many people as I can along the way.

A special shout out to a few very special people who helped me pursue this dream, guided me along the way and supported me when I needed it most:

First and foremost, my loving husband, Aaron.  You have always been there for me.  Physically, mentally, emotionally.  You are my rock.  My foundation.  My everything.  Without you I would be lost and definitely would not be where I am today.  Special gratitude goes to my dear friend Kristin.  She has been the most understanding friend of mine through all of my own dogs' "stuff."  She never hesitated to help; multiple times donning the "Chicken lady" responsibilities and being ridiculously helpful and supportive.  Thank you, Kristin, for being there and cheering me on throughout the past several years.  Kerry and Eric, thank you for allowing me to become part of the BehaviorWorks family.  I look forward to continued growth under Eric's new ownership.  To my satellite buddy Dee, I hope someday soon we'll get to see each other.  Your energy is always present when I'm with the dogs...and I can hear your kind and thoughtful words when I need them.  To Cheri, you rock and you've helped me in more ways than you know.  I love your teaching style and have learned so much while being your student.  Your always quick to help me when I need a positive outlook on things and I thank you for that!

Others who have left an imprint along the way: Jess, Jan, Linda, Lisa, Trish, Suzanne, Grisha, Karen, Leslie, Temple, Kathy, Patricia, Johanna, Kathy, Addie, Dustin, Dr. Rivera, Stacy and many more.  Each of you has been a piece of the pavement along the way to building my road.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why me?

Warning:  This is going to be one of those posts where I feel sorry for myself...I feel that I can do this from time to time, right?!

UGH.  Today was one of those days with Oscar where I didn't feel any connection what-so-ever.  The dumb ass neighbor with his beagle came out this morning and while Oscar jumped on the fence to peek over, he didn't bark at the guy or his dog (a big YES! in my book).  Aaron then left to take him for a walk and as they were going down our driveway, one of our neighbors was passing by and stopped to chat with Aaron.  Oscar did well, but for whatever reason he barked and lunged in the lady's direction after they were talking (I wasn't there, so I don't know what the hell happened).  Then Oscar had another episode when Aaron was picking up his poop.  Aaron's back was to Oscar while he was picking up the poo and during that time, a lady with her two dogs came out of their house and walked directly at Oscar and Aaron.  Oscar made his presence known.  In my book, this was excusable.  Oscar is bred to alert to S.E.C.'s (sudden environmental changes).   The good news is that Aaron and Oscar saw the same lady and dogs later in the walk and both of them did fine.  

Then there was this evening's extravaganza.  The stupid neighbor takes his dog out again and Oscar, jumped on the fence.  No barking again (AWESOME!).  But then I didn't hold on to him long enough (or simply remove him from the backyard!) and he charged the fence again, jumped on it and barked a few times.  This time the stupid neighbor faces his dog and says, "Boss, say "HI!"  Boss, say "HI!"  Well, then his dog barks and Oscar gets amped up and starts barking at him with a lot more gusto.  Yay for that!  UGH!

It's embarrassing having a dog that is reactive.  Plain and simple.  The majority of people out there don't realize the time, effort, patience and perseverance it takes to work with such a dog.  All they see is the dog who is barking/lunging/growling.  They don't see the dog who is exhibiting self-control in situations that are scary/nerve racking for them.   Today was one of those days when I doubted why I even got a second dog in the first place...and, especially, another shepherd.  I love the breed, but Jesus, they are a lot of work.

Oscar has pure moments of brilliance at times...and lately they have been far outweighing the butthead moments...but still, today I so desired that I could come home to an EASY dog.  A dog that wouldn't have me walking around the backyard or neighborhood with a treat pouch on.  A dog that doesn't need to be on anti-anxiety meds.  A dog that doesn't need a ridiculous amount of home-cooked food each day.  A dog that happily walks over to our fence to greet the neighborhood visitors.

I know I sound incredibly selfish when I type this, but why me?  I give so much effort to both of my dogs and admittedly, the majority of that is to Oscar, and I feel like I get nothing in return.  I would throw myself in front of a bullet for this dog.  Doesn't he know that?  The blank looks I got from him today.  The inability to hear me when I was talking with him.  It's incredibly hurtful to have moments with your dog where there is only one being present.  (Here I go again...almost starting to cry!)

Yet I also know this is part of our journey, our dance together.  Today was not Oscar's day to shine.  I know he was doing the best he could, but what made him feel so unsafe that he had to act that way?  I'll never know...I can only look forward and move that next step toward making our life together better.  Dwelling on this won't help, but it is incredibly therapeutic to (once and a while) sit alone in the dark and just say, "Why me?"

Saturday, April 7, 2012


There is something incredibly satisfying about doing 1-on-1 training with someone.  Whether it is dog training, going to school, being in a relationship, heck - driving your car, nothing beats the connection two "things" can share.

Until very recently, I've always been on the other side of the 1-on-1 equation (the "asking for help!" side, that is).  A short while ago, I was contacted by a woman looking for help with her adolescent labrador.  She wanted to get into one of the training classes I teach, however the class schedule conflicted with a prior commitment on hers.  Having heard the sincere desire through her words as we emailed back and forth a few times, I knew this is a woman who wanted dearly to help her young dog and was getting advice from some other trainers that she was not comfortable with.  I could just feel it in her typing that she needed help and knew that there just had to be a better way than what was being told to her (jerking of a head collar and shaking the dog by the scruff!).

Very kindly I apologized that our class schedule did not work for her and I did something that I just knew was right; I offered to help her through private training.  There wasn't an ounce of hesitation in my mind, body or soul to open my services to someone who was suffering from behaviors that have struck very close to home with me.

Reactivity, impulse control, lack of focus, loss of or failure of connection are rapidly becoming modules of dog behavior that I live and breathe by.  There is no greater joy than seeing someone have that "Ah-ha!" moment when you are working with them. When they realize that they made something happen and they are in control. Sure, these moments happen in group classes, but the 1-on-1 sessions allow for a much more focused relationship and that is what leaves me beaming this afternoon.  The ultimate gratitude this new client of mine has had in just 2 short sessions is amazing.  She is seeing the potential in her their relationship...and I am honored that the perfect sequence of events happened that allowed me to help guide her along her journey.

It seems silly and often times redundant to keep reflecting on how much Oscar has changed my life, but I can't ignore how much he has allowed me to learn.  So, a special shout out to Oscar ("Thank you, Buddy!")

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Finished Book (again): Bones Would Rain from the Sky

I love this book so much that I had to read it again (a special "Thank you" goes out to my 8-5 job for flying me out to Seattle this week which allowed me to read it on the plane!).

There is sometime completely comforting each time I read the pages of Suzanne Clothier's book Bones Would Rain from the Sky.  I don't even know how to describe it, really, but it's the same feeling I get when I drink a very welcome warm cup of coffee on a cold winter morning.  It just feels damn good.

I've written about how much I resonate with Suzanne's style of teaching connecting with our beloved canines and I feel and incredible disservice trying to even capture it in my own writing because I know I will fall short. All I can say to those of you who share a life with a dog and looked deep into their eyes and felt that warm, comforting connection, you need to read this book.

For now, I place Bones back on my bookshelf...edges of the cover lovingly starting to curl...the spine prominently shown as an invite to pick it up, once again, when the time is right.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bust out the Kleenex...

Those who know me, who really know me, understand that it is a rarity to hear about, let alone see, me crying.  The two words "emotion" and "Laura" just don't go together.  I proudly grew up as a tomboy, playing with dirt and stones, G.I. Joe's and Legos, burning insects with a magnifying glass.  Christ, I remember getting several Barbie dolls and, without hesitation, cutting their hair straight down to the scalp.  Someone got me a Barbie car for my birthday went I was about 9 years old and I proceeded to drive it straight off the top of my mom's car...busting the doors off in the process.

I guess you could say that I'm too proud to let emotions in the form of crying and grievance surface in my daily life.  Ever since I can remember I've been of the "Let's have some fun!" mindset, laughing all along the way trying to see the (cliche) glass half-full.   I like to smile, I like to laugh, I like to get by with the least invasive emotions during my waking hours.

Blame it on hormones, getting wiser, being married, whatever you want, but I think I'm starting to become a softy.  I've cried more in the past couple of months than I have between the ages of 9 and 29 combined.  Some of it has been over human-human relationships, but most of it has been over dog-human relationships.  For the sake of this blog, I will focus on the latter.

Simple thoughts, reflections and contemplative thoughts have given Laura's "Water Works" a run for their money.  The realization and acceptance that Fanny is in her last phase of physical life.  Witnessing the special relationship Fanny and Aaron have...the nightly ritual where Aaron rubs her eyes in the perfect spot, at the perfect pressure for the perfect duration; something she has never enjoyed from me...just him.  The beautiful relationship Fanny and Oscar share; the sincere muzzle kisses and mutual acceptance.  The pure joy a simple Frisbee can bring to Oscar (for hours!).  The amazing perseverance Oscar has had with all his digestive and behavioral challenges.

These dang dogs have respectfully demanded more emotional involvement in me than most of my human friends.  They have given back more than their fair share of unconditional love in return.  Reflecting on relationships, respecting another being (fur or skin), and understanding a true sense of togetherness.  Involvement at this level is what makes life worth living...and it never hurts to have a box of Kleenex as a wing man.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

One Happy Puppy

If I only knew the immense happiness that dang, rancid, floppy Frisbee brings to Oscar...


Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Yesterday I took my computer exam to test my knowledge in order to hopefully become a Certified Pet Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed.   And now, on the back end of my studying and preparing, I find myself reflecting back on the past 15 months of my "official" dog training experiences.

I say "official" because before I met Kerry and Eric, I was just a hobby trainer...having fun with my own dogs.  I'm quite sure that both Kerry and Eric pegged me right away as one of those crazy dog owners and I am grateful that one Saturday morning Eric asked if I would like to help out with classes and perhaps become an assistant trainer.  It was hard not to just splurt out, "OH my golly, yes, yes, yes!" so I did my best to have some impulse control and thanked him and told him I would think about it and get back to him.   

Fast forward to a few weeks later and there I assistant trainer with BehaviorWorks.  I am grateful and honored that Kerry and Eric asked me to join them.  Over time, they even trusted me enough to lead my own class and now have afforded me the opportunity to spearhead an entirely new agility class series.

Yesterday was a milestone in my life, both personally and professionally.  Personally, it felt good to fulfill a desire I have to continue learning about dog behavior and never settle into know, striving for greater knowledge.  Professionally, I'm thrilled that if I do, in fact, pass the CPDT-KA exam, that I can represent a company that helped push me get where I am today.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Absolutely Lovely

Hubby, Fanny, Oscar and I just got back from a beautiful exploration journey.  The weather is gorgeous today in Wisconsin.  I mean, c'mon, it's March 10th and it's 60 degrees outside?  Yes, I'll take it, thank you very much.

I was pleasantly surprised when I told my hubby that I was going to take off with Oscar for a little car ride and romp around that he wanted to tag along with Fanny (insert a click and reward for him here!).  So, off we went.  We all packed into my little black station wagon and headed off to a nearby college that has a great, large open area for romping and exploring.

Everything was perfect.  All humans were 100% present in the moment and thoroughly enjoying themselves.  And the dogs, with complete and utter appreciation, joined us on our hour-long adventure.  The sun was shining brightly, the wind was nice and brisk -- to which the dogs' noses went up in peak interest countless times -- there were a scattering of other people and dogs, but not too much that we all had to be concerned about running up on each other.

Oscar behaved perfectly to which I caught myself on numerous occasions smiling from ear-to-ear.  I watched as he eagerly and effortlessly bounded around, directing small invitations of play to Fanny (of course ignored!). We brought his most favorite frisbee along and he gladly ran after it...sometimes he ran right by because of more interesting things, but then would come back and find it, then lop it up and gallop around oh-so-happily.

Fanny was a pure joy to watch.  She is fascinating to watch at her age, as I've blogged about in the past.  She plowed up and down the hills and had her "I'm outside and lovin' it" face on.  She walked slowly and with intention and for the first time in a very long time, did not lose her footing at any time.  After our venture came to an end and it was time to jump up into the car - she cleared it with ease.  I pure sign to my hubby and I that the refreshment of our journey was exactly what she needed.

Moments like this are ones to be cherished.  They are extremely special to me.  Our entire family was out together.  There were times where I wanted to bring out my camera and capture this time, but I consciously stopped myself, wanting to soak in the pure beauty of just being there.  We were with each other with mutual, genuine interest and intent.  We were truly connected.  It was absolutely lovely.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Hey, do you workout?

Really Oscar?  Really?!  It's a snowy afternoon and early evening here in the Milwaukee area and in typical Friday fashion, Oscar spent all day at day care.  I went to pick him up a little early because of the weather and when he came out from the back crate room, he gave me his normal ear-down, wiggle wag butt greeting.  Yay!  Then, he looked out the door to leave and froze...then walked backwards away from the door like he didn't want to have anything to do with going out there.  Silly boy! He's done this before when it's been really wet out, so I knew there was no way of coaxing him out (I did NOT have my treat pouch on me at work today, after all).

So, much to the surprise of the two full-grown men waiting for their dogs in the lobby, I bent down at the knees and picked Oscar straight up off the ground.  All 75 pounds of him.  Both guys were taken back a bit and just sat there almost dumbfounded that I had the physical ability to do that.  Part of me wishes that one of them asked me if I worked out, where in response I would have said, "Why no, I don't.  I just love my dog enough to lift his ass off the ground to get him home."

Oh, Oscar, how I love you and all your little quirks.  Silly puppy.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Ever heard of D.I.N.O.S. (Dogs In Need Of Space)?  What about M.D.I.F. (My Dog Is Friendly)?

If you haven't, you need to check this website out! NOW!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I'm an addict of dog behavior and training.  It was obvious last night as I was giving the orientation for the second Control Unleashed class I'll be teaching that every pore of my body oozes "dog."  I found myself speeding up as I talked about the stuff I will be helping teach and going off on well-deserved tangents here and there.

Bless the clients who signed up for class and listened as I laid out the class curriculum and gathered information about them and their beloved pups.  I warned them at the beginning that I could talk for days on end about dog stuff and gave them strict instruction to reel me back in if I fly away into D.B.N. land.  They seemed sincerely appreciative of my passion and we all had a few good laughs.  If I can help just 1 person in each class I teach to become more connected with their dog, I will die a happy trainer.  And last night I got the feeling that I was going to help each and every person (and their dogs).

I drove home feeling so high.  So happy.  So thankful.  So full of life.  This chapter in my life journey has brought me to where I am today and I am so grateful for many people and poochies who have helped pave the way.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Finished DVD: "Pattern Games" by Leslie McDevitt

When someone asks me, "Laura, what did you do on Friday night?"  I'll be proud to tell them exactly what, in fact, I did.  I finished watching Leslie McDevitt's Pattern Games: Clicking for Confidence and Connection DVD.  I know what their response will be.  Either, "Oh. Sounds like fun." or "Hmm.  That's interesting."  The thing of it is...well...I don't care.  Everyone knows that I'm a self-proclaimed D.B.N. so it should be a surprise that I spent part of my Friday night watching a dog-related DVD.  And in all fairness Aaron and I caught up on some backlogged episodes of 30Rock (golly, I love that show!).

Moving on to the DVD review...

Pattern Games is a wonderful, 1.5 hour long DVD put together by Leslie McDevitt  to present a series of "Pattern Games" that are helpful for dogs that are shy, fearful, reactive, worried, and/or aggressive.  She describes 6 specific games that are very rhythmic in nature and, therefore, predictable.  Anyone who truly understands dogs knows that they thrive on routine and predictability.  That is exactly what Leslie's games set you and your dog up to do.  She starts with describing the 6 foundation games and does a good job explaining how you can increase the criteria as you and, more importantly, your dog are ready.

In all honesty, the information I found the most valuable was Leslie's explanation of her LAT (Look At That!) game.  (Side note: I do not own her Control Unleashed DVD's, only the book, so maybe she gives more of a detailed explanation in her videos)

There were 3 things in reference to LAT that I found extremely helpful....
1.) The rule structure of LAT.  Leslie explained that it is extremely important to have the rule structure set up so that the dog knows that when you are playing the LAT game, he will never, ever, ever be going over to interact with the stimulus and the stimulus will never, ever, ever be coming over to interact with him.  If you do want interaction, be very clear with the dog that LAT game is over by using a different cued behavior, then a release word. I never heard LAT explained with this rule structure and, luckily, I never did this.
2.) When teaching the LAT game, start with a neutral object such as a water bottle, book, whatever!  It should be something that is boring to the dog.  After your pup is getting the LAT behavior down, next introduce a positive stimulus (something the dog likes - whether it's a human or dog) and work on repetitions   with them. Lastly, you will progress to doing LAT with the stimulus that is worrisome to your dog.  Remember #1 from not let the dog interact with the stimulus during the working LAT game at any point.
3.) Knowing when you should and should not cue the dog for LAT.  This is highly dependent on the environment and you should not cue LAT if there is more than 1 stimulus in an environment.  In other words, do NOT go to the farmer's market and work on LAT.

So, where do I go from here?  I'm actually going to reteach the LAT game from the ground up using an entirely new verbal cue.  Since I taught it wrong from the beginning no wonder Oscar has only done an OK job with the behavior!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Watching the Brain Work

It's amazing to harness the true intelligence that our dogs exhibit.  When we put aside our human thinking and reasoning and pull way...way...way back and give a concerted effort to think like an animal (in this case a dog), it's amazing how clear things become.  Dogs are very linear in their thinking.  It's a straight line from A to B.  They react to stimulus in the only way they know how and while that might drive us humans crazy, it's actually takes a lot of pressure off of us (the humans) and them (the dogs) and allows us to move forward.

Case in point: Oscar and the vacuum cleaner.

Ever since Oscar was a pup, he hasn't particularly enjoyed the vacuum cleaner.  I understand that.  It's loud.  It's big.  It moves on it's own.  He never went berserk or anything, but he would bark-bark-bark at it when I pulled it out from the closet and would bark-bark-bark at it off and on while I would move it around the house.

I can thank Grisha Stewart for helping >me< re-frame and understand why Oscar was exhibiting said behaviors when it was time to clean the house.  What was the function of the behavior?  Surely it wasn't distance decreasing behavior.  It was distance increasing in nature; he wanted Mr. Dyson to go away.
The Dyson DC07:
Once a cause of barking; now a cue for behavior!

Using my superior (!) human brain, I decided to start marking and rewarding him for offering any calming behaviors at the vacuum (looking away, sniffing the ground, turning his body away, taking a step back, licking his lips).  He figured out very quickly that those were good, self-soothing behaviors and I put the icing on the cake by tossing the food reward away from the vacuum...the increased distance was his functional reward.

Could Oscar move himself away from the vacuum to create that extra distance he wanted?  Of course he could, but in his mind, he definitely could not (A to B) so I had to teach it to him through shaping.

Well, fast forward to this past weekend and what happens?  Oscar starts throwing behaviors at the vacuum cleaner in the form of walking backwards from the yellow monster.  With glee, I mark and reward him and I see that happy boy come back in the vicinity and repeat.  He's got it!  Way to go, buddy!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Finished Book: "Don't Shoot the Dog" by Karen Pryor

At long last, I have finished reading Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training by the world-renowned Karen Pryor.  Anyone who is involved with positive-based dog training has surely read this book and with good reason.  It is fantastic.  Truly, ultimately fantastic.  And the book isn't specifically written to speak to dog's written as a guide how you can use reinforcement in everyday relationships.

I found myself delightfully flipping through the pages, becoming infused with the obvious passion she has for teaching using reinforcement.  I especially enjoyed the chapter titled  "Untraining: Using Reinforcement to Get Rid of Behavior You Don't Want" where Karen speaks of "Eight methods of getting rid of behavior you don't want, from messy roommates to barking dogs to bad tennis to harmful addiction, starting with Method 1: Shoot the Animal, which definitely works, and ending with Method 8: Change the Motivation, which is more humane and definitely works too."

By no surprise, there is an entire chapter at the end of the book devoted to clicker training.  And in this chapter, on page 166, as Karen was talking about the explosion of popularity with clicker training in the early 90's, I became extremely happy when she highlighted, "Steve White, a K-9 police officer in Seattle, developed a clicker-training system for training patrol dogs.  One of this canine graduates caught three "bad guys" on his first night on the streets (and his tail was wagging the whole time, a characteristic of clicker dogs)."  This couldn't be more dead on.  I see this in classes all the time.  Dogs who are clicker trained have a perpetual wagging tail during training session.  It's a true delight to witness (and it's hard to get upset when training with a happy dog!).

Also included in Karen's book are her infamous 10 Laws of Shaping that, upon reading, made me get up off my couch and do some quick shaping with my beloved boy, Oscar.

In closing, this book is a must-read for anyone seeking to improve any relationship in their life...whether it's with their dog(s), spouse, co-workers, horse, cat, neighbor, etc.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Finished Book: Excel-Erated Learning by Pam Reid

In preparation for my CPDT-KA exam, many of my colleagues recommended that I read Excel-Erated Learning: Explaining in Plain English How Dogs Learn and How Best to Teach Them  by Pamela J. Reid.  I quickly found myself on Amazon early January and added it to my collection.

I have to say, it was a delightful read.  There is a lot of great information and I will most definitely need to re-read the entire section on reinforcement schedules due to the high rate of alphabet soup that is used throughout the explanations.  Whew!!

One thing that I did like about the book...and let me preface this by saying that I do not practice these techniques at that Ms. Reid took the time to explain two of the quadrants of operant conditioning that tend to get a lot of heat; positive punishment and negative reinforcement.  What I appreciated is that she explained each of these in a very cut and dry fashion and said that using them can be effective, however there are much better ways to get behavior.

This is a fantastic article to add to the D.B.N. Library and I'm thankful to those of you who suggested it to me.

On deck: the remaining chapters of Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lots and lots and lots and lots

I've been totally slacking with blog entries lately, but I swear, it's excusable.  I've been working my ass off lately (and luckily I have a lot of ass - otherwise it would be gone!).

For starters, my #1 job (a.k.a. my day non-dog job) has been extremely busy.  It's a good thing and we are growing, which is awesome.  I got to go to LA this week for a pretty kick ass client of the better perks of the job, for sure.  On top of that we are working on an insane global program for one of the world's largest handset manufacturers which has been amazing to be a part of.  For the first time in my career I am working at a company that is actually helping pave the way this company will market itself at retail; not just getting some design intent package that I have to value-design, engineering, prototype and produce in a ridiculous time frame.

Second, I just finished teaching the first session of BehaviorWorks' Control Unleashed class.  It was way more than fun, it was AWESOME.  The group of people and poochies in that class rocked and, while I helped, they really took the reins and ran with the information I gave them.  So, so, so happy for all of them!

Third, there have been a lot of changes going on at the dog training company I work for.  All good stuff.  So, I've been spending the majority of my "doggy" time helping with planning and marketing for them.

Fourth, I had to get everything ready for my CPDT-KA application.  I found out this week that I was approved after going through a whole rigmarole with getting my vets to fill out the form.  Thankfully everything worked out and I will be testing in March.

Fifth, as related to #3, I've been doing a fair amount of studying for the exam.  Learning theory, ethology, reinforcement schedules (holy alphabet soup!).  So, any free time I've had has been spent with a glass (or two, or three) of wine on the couch in my living room.

Sixth, I started re-reading Suzanne Clothier's "Bones" and I thank the heavens that she wrote it in the fashion as she did so I can pick it up for a couple of minutes at a time and get infused with goodness.  I need that book right now more than ever.

There are a lot more things that have been pecking away at my time the past couple of weeks (both my husband AND sister have pretty serious job interviews for starters!) and I haven't forgotten about those of you that follow my blog.  As always, my pups have been there for me through this craziness and I have enjoyed their reliabililty and honesty (Oscar "visiting" me when I'm at my laptop for two long with those "It's time for Frisbee, Mom" eyes and Fanny doing her pre-dinner laps around the house).

There are lots and lots and lots and lots of good things coming up in the next few months.  I can feel it in my body, I can feel it in the air.  I really, truly can.  A culmination of events is coming together -- in perfect time, perfect harmony -- and it just feels damn good.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Connection in the Classroom

Together with paw and hand...not paw in hand.
I love teaching...helping people do whatever it is that they seek to get better at.  And for as long as I can remember I have gravitated towards leadership roles.  The roles have not historically been academic, although I did receive high honors in high school and college, but I was never the class president or part of the debate club or anything like that.  I found (and still find) my leadership more natural on the athletic field/court, within a group of friends, at work...even when I worked at McDonald's, in real life situations and when helping people with their dogs.  These environments allow me to feel natural...helping people see what they cannot; and thus helping me see how I can become better at who I am, what I am and what I can offer.  I love that part of being a leader...I'm very unselfish and am not afraid to make a wrong decision if my heart is behind it.  I've fallen on my ass many times, literally and figuratively, and have taken each with a sense of humility that helps me grow into a better learner and teacher.

Last night at the Control Unleashed class I teach, I saw some magical moments between the humans and their canine partners.  True time lapses of connection that left me beaming with a grin ear-to-ear.  I cannot explain the feeling of happiness I felt as I watched each partnership - truly, ultimately, deeply - connected for sequences of training.  It was nothing short of fulfilling for me to watch and I wanted to keep them going...watching them in that beautiful space, dancing with each other.  These were moments that I have longed for with my students and their dogs and to see it actually happen was awesome!  Even if the humans didn't know what was happening (I'm sure some of them were just happy their dogs were "listening" to them when asked to do something), it was clear to me that there was a mutual dance of communication happening that lifted the enjoyment for both ends of the leash.

I look forward to many more moments like this in my years ahead...not only in my students and myself, but for those people who I don't even know.  Having watched these partners succeed in their dance - as a a a humble human - reminds me that life is all about those special moments where two beings become more than separate entities...these two come together and create something magical...a true relationship.

Friday, January 6, 2012


I've read a lot of articles about how EVERY dog is food motivated.  The claims that dogs wouldn't be around if they were not motivated by food is obvious (they would starve if they did not have a desire to eat).   Often times I hear people in my training classes make claims when their dog is not focused..."He's full.  I gave him dinner before class," "He's bored,"  "He's just ignoring me," etc...and a simple change of food often times helps (the dogs always go ga-ga over my *new-to-them* kibble in my pouch).  The majority of dogs will work for food in a heartbeat.

However, for those of us who have a dog with a sensitive GI tract unfortunately the use of food has to be carefully conducted and limited.  That makes training in a class room environment very hard if you have a dog that is not crazy about food in the first place.  Once again, I will use Oscar as an example.  After more than a year and a half of his life, I finally got his tummy under control with the informed and gentle guidance of Monica Segal.  He was on a very strict diet and for the first time ever we were consistently getting solid stools out of him.  Woot-woot!  The diet was formulated with sweet potato, chicken, beef, turnip, carrot and the required supplements.  All of the ingredients were cooked...the chicken and beef were rinsed with hot water too.   As you can imagine it isn't easy using this "mush" to train a dog.  Still, I tried.

Around the house I would do small training sessions before his breakfast and supper (mostly nose work games where Oscar would seek out small plates of food).  He liked this, but it was sloppy. I'm OK with sloppy, but when it came time to go to doggy class, I knew there was no way I would be able to use this "mush" to deliver rapid reinforcement.  Ugh.  So, I resorted to cut up cooked chicken.  Now, most dogs go absolutely bananas for cooked meat.  Oscar...well, not so much...because he gets it every single day as part of his two meals.  I'm not making excuses by any means, but it was challenging.

So, what was I to do...I made a laundry list of things that REALLY motivate Oscar:
#1 - The garden hose (that's out...can't take that to class)
#2 - Fetch with his frisbee or a ball (that's out too b/c the actual fetch game in class is next to impossible)

I am Oscar.  And I will do anything for the Frisbee to fly.

Shit!  That's only two things.  I didn't forget to put food on the list because there was (and still is) a huge gap between #2 and food that it's not even worth it.  If he didn't have a sensitive tummy could I get him more motivated by food?  Absolutely!  But I didn't want to go there...especially after all the hard work we had done getting him to where he currently was.

As a lot of other "things" have developed in my relationship with Oscar, I decided that after his Focus & Control class I would take a break with him and just work him at and around the house.  This is still challenging, so I am trying to do a better job of identifying environmental rewards...since they are everywhere...and using those to my advantage.  Example:  Oscar really wants to go and sniff that fire hydrant.  Awesome.  I ask him for a touch, sit and watch me...if he complies, his is rewarded with a release to "Go sniff!"  If not, I give him a NRM (no reward marker) and we continue walking or walk the other direction.  Sometimes I'll give him a second chance...sometimes not, but I'm using the environment instead of competing with it and that is powerful stuff.

So, look around you...what is your dog really motivated by?   The garden hose?  Butt scratches?  Interactions with people/dogs?  Food?  Toys?  Identify the motivators and exploit them. :)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Annual Review

2011 was quite a year.
Not only for myself, but my family and several of my friends.   Lots of ups and downs.  Happiness and sorrow.  Joy and frustration.  Wins and losses.  While a lot of people are glad to see it gone, I am not.  It was one year in the journey of making all of us who we are and I am thankful for each day that I was able to participate.  There are many things I am thankful for and, for those interested and care to read, below is a brief review of the year 2011...

Aaron and I on his 30th HOT South Carolina

To my dearest  husband...
I am in debt to my very loving, incredible husband, Aaron.  This year he saw his wife take her doggy nerdiness to a whole new level and he always went along for the ride and was supportive with what I was doing.  If you're reading this, my love, know that I couldn't ask for a better companion and I know you were rolling your eyes at times, but your unconditional love in me has inspired me in more ways than you know.

To say that I grew and learned a lot in 2011 would be a vast understatement.  I look back and can barely remember January 3rd of 2011.  At times I thought my brain simply could not take any more crazy dog behavior, but it could and I plowed times with you taking a sideline.  Yet you were always there for me being the much needed constant in my life.

Ms. Fanny lounging in the hallway
To the dogs...
I am thankful that, relatively speaking, both Fanny and Oscar were healthy in 2011.  Besides the digestive rollercoaster Fanny has been on the past couple of months, there were no major injuries or illnesses.  I am grateful that the two of them continue to get along fabulously and stay out of each other's hair.  No fights, no scuffles what-so-ever.  Oscar still gives Ms. Fanny nose kisses and ear licks each warms my heart every time.

Mr. Oscar being a bed hog...with a toy, of course

To my growing dog community...
I am incredibly lucky and gracious to have talked to two of the most admirable women I have known, to date, in the dog training/behavior world - Trish King and Suzanne Clothier.  Both of them were wonderful to speak with...actually, that's an was amazing.  I saved up some money and was blessed to work with another amazing woman, Monica Segal, who is nothing short of miraculous in turning around my boy, Oscar's, on-going digestive problems.  I am thankful for having a great 2nd boss, Eric, who has been one of the most supportive, kind-hearted men and helped me start my own dog training class, Control Unleashed.  Sprinkled in there are a few others, Lisa, Jan, Claudeen, Cheri and Linda.  Each and every one of you made an impact in the journey of 2011 that I am grateful for.  For one of the people I hope to get connected with more in 2012, Dee, you have been an inspiration for me and a great sounding board when I need a little reality check and pick-me-up.

...My wishes for 2012...
I don't know what the year has in store for me - or the dogs - but I have a few wishes that I hope the greater powers can help me with.

I wish that I keep learning and a human, as a wife, as a daughter, as a sister, as an aunt and as a doggy momma.  Let my brain take in as much information as it can handle.  I'll never be able to retain information about history or politics and that's just means it's open for other information.

I wish for my lovely husband that we continue to grow together and persevere though all the tough challenges that are thrown our way.  I hope that we can get away this year...just you and me...and enjoy what we do most...some wine, a good meal and each other's laughter. 

I wish for my dear Ms. Fanny that her body, mind and soul will last another year.  I hope to keep her as comfortable as possible and am currently formulating a balanced home-cooked diet to help her tummy out in her remaining time with us.  Many warm beds and short walks for you, my sweet girl.

I wish for my special Oscar boy that I can help bring clarity and a sense of security to his life and help him relieve the anxiety he has.  I promised to him last week that I was done bringing trainers over to try and figure out what was "wrong" with him...because, really, there is nothing wrong with him.  I vow to take the time and get to know him better and to actually listen...not just hear...him when he's telling me something.  Lots of tennis ball and frisbee chasing for you, my silly boy.

For all of you out there, I wish for you all to have a wonderful year and take the low times with the high times and realize that it all is part of our journey on this earth.  Time passes all too fast when we are watching rather than living.  Live it up as if it were your last and don't forget to laugh along the way.