Monday, December 30, 2013

Confessions of a Dog Trainer #5: My Dog is Not Perfect and I'm Fine With That

I've struggled to write this post for several weeks. There have been multiple attempts at typing out my thoughts for this entry, just to be deleted one letter at a time, then typed again a few days later...then, again, followed, by holding down the delete button. I don't know why it's been so tough to write this entry (maybe it's the weather, maybe it's the time of year...maybe it was because I needed a break from writing). Ironically, I think I was trying to make it perfect. Which, is much harder than I thought (and contradictory my own post), therefore I will welcome this "better than it was before" entry and let 'er rip...

Summing up this year's series of "Confessions of a Dog Trainer" posts, I must confess...I am a dog trainer and my dog is NOT perfect.

Oscar has some challenging behaviors. My sweet, Oscar Handsome Pants, bless his soul, will always need to be be managed - and I will always need to help guide him when it comes to certain things.
Little stinker around 12 weeks

Talking about my own dog's "naughty" behaviors is always humbling and an opportunity for me to reflect on how far we have come together. It also helps keep me grounded with my students and offer a piece of mind that they often times need.  I'll never get sick of seeing their faces when I tell them that, "I, too, have a sensitive dog."

I wasn't always this comfortable talking about my naughty dog. The first two (plus) years of raising Oscar were very trying on me - both personally and professionally. I spent countless hours feeling frustrated, confused, disappointed, upset (to the point of crying bawling) and unable to move past the fact that I had a "bad dog." I was failing as a pet owner and I was failing as a trainer. It was embarrassing and I felt defeated on several occasions. I didn't understand how the same suggestions and advice I was suggesting to my clients were not working in my own life. Or they would work one day, but not the next with my own dog.

I didn't know what was going on, I was trying everything that I knew how to do (without resorting to aversives like prong collars, shock collars, alpha rolls and the like). I tried classical counter conditioning, desensitization, BAT, CAT, clicking to calm and so on.  You name it and I swear I tried it. My dog book/DVD library was growing by the week as I looked for solutions to Oscar's "problems." I felt emotionally and physically drained...why wasn't this "stuff" working with my own dog?!

I was convinced that part of the "problem" was Oscar's age (anyone who has owned a dog between 6 months and 2-1/2 years knows what I am talking about). Adolescence is typically a VERY difficult time for the majority of pet owners - especially if they have a more sensitive dog like Oscar. Adolescence is also very hard on many dogs - something I have a much greater appreciation for now that I've lived through it and see many clients experiencing the same struggles.
Who's happy? Oscar is!

I also thought that part of the "problem" was Oscar's breed. Shepherds are highly intelligent and most are quite sensitive. That's not an excuse, but it is a reality and I knew that when I brought him into my family, so that didn't bother me so much.

I knew part of the "problem" was me (in fact, it still is - I'm working on it, I promise!). I'll spare you the pity party on that one, but I know I am definitely not perfect (see Aaron - I do admit it!).

I also believe that part of the "problem" stemmed from the months upon months of GI issues Oscar had experienced. His growing body and mind were being deprived of valuable nutrients he needed.

What I truly feel to be the root of this "imperfection," though, points directly at me and the unrealistic expectations I had for Oscar. That combined with my own selfish needs and wants....well, no wonder things were so crappy.  What was even more humbling is that when I sat down and audited my commitment and involvement, I didn't give Oscar a fair chance with some of the previously mentioned training techniques.

So, there you have it. I wanted Oscar to be perfect, but I since have found that perfect doesn't exist. That doesn't mean that I've given up on improving his undesirable behaviors...that's not the case (I've actually gone back to focusing on classical counter conditioning and desensitization with him). What I am saying though, is that being in tune with your dog and being honest with yourself enough to put your ego aside and acknowledge their unique ability to change needs to be respected. Having this sense of honesty builds an amazing relationship with your that is based on trust and free of ego. And, for me us, what could be more perfect than that?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Confessions of a Dog Trainer #4: My Dog Gets Fed First

Here's another one piece of advice that come from folks who are advising others that they need to be "the top dog in your home," the "leader of the pack," or the "alpha dog."

YOU NEED TO EAT BEFORE YOUR DOG...or even more awkward, SPIT in your dog's food before you feed show 'em who's boss. If you don't, OH NO, they are going to become dominant and think they rule the house.  That's a lot of pressure on the person (OMG - that means that every time I want to give my dog a food treat, I need to eat before them?! Ack!)!

WHAT?! Really?

Don't believe the hype. You DO NOT need to eat before your dog because of the potential fallout it might cause.
Oscar waiting patiently for his release word.
He looks worried, but he's not (the camera was
being held by my belt), my eyes were up higher,
which is where he's looking :)

As some of you know, my amazing husband, Aaron, is a very good cook. OK, that's an understatement. He's an artist in the kitchen and routinely turns out delicious meals with lots of thought and love and, oh lucky me, I'm there to eat it.  And for those of you who know Aaron, you know that he is very thorough in whatever he does. He enjoys the process of making things...and while some of us take shortcuts, he doesn't even consider it. What this also means is that, more often than not, Aaron and I are not eating supper before 8:30pm on any given day. And what that means is that Oscar gets fed before us almost every night. That said, in the morning, Oscar typically does get fed before the humans. Just because our schedule makes it so (and the fact that he gets digestive enzymes so his food percolates while I eat).

Has this made him a conniving, dominance-seeking dog? Heck no. I would argue the exact opposite happens because our feeding is on a schedule. And, boy-oh-boy, Oscar thrives when our schedule is predictable.

Our feeding routine is consistent and they work for everyone; the humans and Oscar. And in all honesty, Oscar could care less if he eats before, during or after us, he just wants to get fed!  The only caveat to feeding time is that we do use it as an opportunity to reinforce him for good manners (hello life reward - cha-ching). Oscar has developed a beautiful behavior chain; dinner bowl comes out, run to crate, offer an auto sit, food bowl gets placed down, offer auto eye contact, wait for release word, and viola! FOOD TIME!

The main thing I want readers to consider is that you should do whatever works for your family. To me, it's more important to focus on teaching your dog dinnertime manners (a sit until released is a great place to start) than to waste your energy thinking about trying to find a cracker to eat before you feed your dog. Feed your dog when it's convenient for you, ask your pup for a sit and then let them eat in peace while you go on worrying about more important things, like what's going to happen in the next season of The Walking Dead.

Stay tuned for my last post in this series...
Confessions of a Dog Trainer #5: My Dog is Not Perfect and I'm Fine With That

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Confessions of a Dog Trainer #3: My Dog Goes Through Doors Before Me

Today's topic is another hot topic that countless people think is "bad" or "unacceptable": Letting your dog go through a doorway before you.

Dear Lord, If I had a nickel for every time that I heard that if you allow this behavior, your dog is trying to dominate you, I would be that much closer to buying the Lamborghini I've always wanted.

So, here I am again with another confession to make...

Oscar goes through doorways before me.

Gasp! Oh wait a minute....the lights are still on!  The sun is still shining and I'm still on my two feet. What?!  How did that happen?!

Because my dog is doing what works for him.

You see, dogs are innocently selfish...oh, how I love that about them...and they are always doing what works for them. Dogs are not born with an understanding that they should let humans go through doorways first - that idea was created by us and taken way out of proportion when people started saying that your dog is trying to dominate you because they want to get outside. Wrong. All they are doing is trying to get from point A to point B as fast as possible because arriving at point B is highly reinforcing. It's plain and simple. That's it.

As an example, let's focus on an entry door to your home. Usually the doorway leads to "good stuff" for the dog. If you are in your house, going out the exterior door leads to The Almighty Outdoors. There are things to sniff, stuff to explore and items to be peed and pooped on.  There are games to play, walks to be had and a potential car ride to go on. Going outside is typically VERY reinforcing for dogs.

That said, I think everyone should teach their dog to wait at physical thresholds until they are cued to go through. It's one of my top 5 life skills for all dogs and it is one of the first behaviors I teach a dog that becomes a part of my family.

~ Mr. Handsome Pants showing off his door manners ~
Oscar is allowed out of our entry door multiple times per day and he almost always goes out first. Sometimes my husband or I go out before him to scan the yard for squirrels or make sure his toy box didn't tip over and spill all over the driveway. Most times, however, we open the door and while we are still standing inside give him his release cue to go outside.

Since waiting at the door has been heavily reinforced (at least 5x/day for 4 years), it has become one of Oscar's strongest behaviors. So much so that he sat waiting at the door while the wind blew it open a few days ago as I was standing about 20 feet away (and up a few steps) in the nearby kitchen. He just sat there, looked at me and I thanked him profusely as I walked down the steps, closed the door (and locked it), then called him upstairs and gave him a bone.

Oscar could really care less if one of his humans goes out the door before him. All he wants is to come outside and we have made it contingent upon him offering an auto wait at the door. He doesn't get to go outside every time we go outside, however when he does, we don't worry about whether or not he goes out first. What's important for us is that he exhibits some self control and can wait until he is cued to pass through. Plain and simple.

Stay tuned for more confessions from my daily life with my special boy...

Coming Up Next: 
Confessions of a Dog Trainer #4: My Dog Eats Before Me

Monday, November 11, 2013

Confessions of a Dog Trainer #2: My Dog Pulls On Leash

In this edition of "Confessions of a Dog Trainer," I am going to talk about another behavior that is at the top of a lot of dog owner's "Must Fix" list; pulling on leash. In my previous post I talked about the first of my dirty little secrets and today's post is aimed at another common "problem" behavior that I hear complaints about...a lot.

So as I stretch out my legs and begin my ascent onto my soap box...let me start by asking a few warm-up questions to those of you out there reading...and be honest with your answers.

Question 1: Are dogs born knowing how to walk on a leash?
Question 2: What is your dog's natural walking pace compared to yours?
Question 3: How many dogs pull when they are NOT on a leash?
Question 4: Who's idea is it to walk on leash? Your's? Or your dog's?

Now, think about your answers. Like, really think about them.

If you're like me, your answers were:

Answer 1: No.
Answer 2: Faster. In my case, a lot faster.
Answer 3: Zero.
Answer 4: Mine. 

Walking on leash is NOT a natural behavior for dogs. 

Yet for many dogs, being on a leash is an everyday occurrence and it is a necessary safety precaution to keep themselves and others safe. Have you ever seen an off-leash dog hauling ass down a busy road in the city as cars swerve and slam on their brakes? I have. And It's scary. Really scary. It is a hazard to more than the dog at large...I have seen cars swerving in rush hour traffic to avoid hitting a dog who was on the loose.

I do think leash laws are important for safety reasons and I wholeheartedly believe that all dogs should be taught how to walk politely on leash. Do I think every dog needs to walk in a perfect heel position? No. Do I think that they should be taught to walk on a loose leash - even if they are in front of their owner from time to time? Yes.  Do I think that owners should allow their dog to pull them down the street the entire walk. No.

But, I do have a confession... 
My dog is NOT perfect and pulls on leash, on occasion.
Oscar pulling on leash. GASP!
Oh wait, the world kept turning!

The leash pulling is usually in one of the following contexts:
  • At the initial sight of a squirrel or bunny rabbit.
  • If we are on our walk and get home to see Aaron has arrived home while we've been gone.
  • When he gets dropped off at doggy day care.
  • When I have released him to "go sniff" in nature's shopping mall.
Is Oscar being a "bad" dog when he pulls on leash? No. He simply wants to get from point A to point B as fast as possible...which happens to be faster than I can move...and wouldn't you know, there's a piece of leather that doesn't let that happen and tension is created on the leash.

Have I taught him how to walk politely so I can cue that behavior when I think it's important? Yes I can.

Do I stop moving if he is pulling on leash when I don't want him to be? Yes I do.

Do I "allow" Oscar to sniff on walks? Um, yeah. And a lot. 

Do I use access to what he wants (squirrel chase, Aaron, day care gate, pee tree) to reward a few steps with me on a loose leash? YOU BET.  

Do I want him to be a robot dog that walks perfectly at my left knee at all times? Nope. How boring for both him and I.

Do I think a walk should be a mutually enjoyable time for us to be together? Absolutely

Do we negotiate during our walks and listen to each other's requests to stop and sniff or keep walking? Yes.

Do I sometimes adjust my pace to keep up with Oscar? Yeup. 

Does Oscar sometimes adjust his pace to keep up - or slow down - with me? Yes.

To me - in my life and in my situation with my dog - an occasional pulling on the leash is completely acceptable. I don't lose sleep over it and I certainly do not think Oscar is trying to take over the world by pulling.  I actually like having a dog that acts like a dog from time to time...a dog that is excited about the environment around him.

And here's my challenge to you, on the loop end of the leash:
Have the same respect for your dog as you would like. If you don't want your dog pulling on leash, then you should mirror the same behavior...don't pull them all over the place. Instead focus your efforts on reconnecting with your dog with your voice, body and mind and invite them to come along with you. Unless if it is a life-threatening situation - or you NEED to get your dog out of somewhere (say, there are 20 toddlers running toward you and your not-so-kid-friendly dog), NEVER initiate a leash pull. 

Stay tuned for more confessions from my daily life with my special boy...

Coming Up Next: 
Confessions of a Dog Trainer #3: My Dog Goes Through Doors Before Me

Monday, November 4, 2013

Confessions of a Dog Trainer #1: My Dog Sleeps On My Bed

Those who know me know that I talk about dogs a lot. No matter how a conversation with my co-workers or friends begins, it’s not uncommon for it to turn into questions about dogs. A few of my friends - and countless dog training clients - often confess to me that they know it's wrong that they let their dogs up on their furniture and allow them to sleep in bed with them. They are often very apologetic and often times humiliated by the "awful" truth that they allow their dog "human" privileges.

Well, I've got news for you, my dog is allowed on furniture and he makes himself quite comfortable each evening at the foot of my side of the bed.

Oscar, on "my" side of the bed

While allowing pets on furniture is a personal choice, let me lay a few guidelines as to when I feel it is and is not appropriate to allow pets this comfort.
  • If my dog growled at me while he was on any piece of furniture, I would not allow him to be up there. I would use varying levels of management to prevent his access to it and actively modify this behavior if my end goal was to share the space with him.
  • If I would like to gain access to a certain piece of furniture, at my request, I expect my dog to relinquish his spot and take up camp somewhere else. Of course, I don't expect him to be born knowing this behavior...I train it and make it worth his while for moving (treats, access to a different squishy, warm spot, or an invitation to jump back up after he has jumped off).
  • If I am already up on a piece of furniture and my dog wants to join me, I expect him to wait for an invitation. The majority of the time I will offer an invitation, but other times I do not because I am eating or simply want to relish in the full surface area of the couch and stretch out my tired legs.
Oscar sleeps on our bed and he is allowed on both of our couches. Of course he has other options too...and most of the time when we are hanging out during waking hours, he finds comfort in strategically placing himself on a nearby rug or dog bed where he can keep tabs on every single entry door to our house while simultaneously keeping track of all of his humans. 

This simple matter of comfort and choice has not made Oscar a "dominant" dog in any way, shape or form. He is a healthy dog who enjoys being comfortable and I am confident in the relationship we have that I do not need to worry about his furniture privileges. 

If your situation is similar to that of mine, don't apologize or feel guilty that your dog sleeps in bed with you or hops up on the couch with you. I guarantee you he is not trying to take over the world...he's just more comfortable being on a soft piece of furniture.

Stay tuned for more confessions from my daily life with my special boy...

Coming Up Next: 
Confessions of a Dog Trainer #2: My Dog Pulls on Leash

Monday, October 7, 2013

Kick in the Pants

Oscar "Handsome Pants" with his not-so-used-anymore harness

Besides being a self-proclaimed dog behavior nerd, I am also a self-proclaimed "to-do" list writer, calendar keeper, email checker and (insert other OCD-like thing here).

I'm very passionate about "stuff" I like and, on average, spend 10+ hours each week prepping and teaching several group dog classes and carrying out private in-home training for my clients. This is on top of the 50+ hours I am away from home working at my day job and the varying amount of time I put in for a few freelance clients. And of course the daily training and weekly class I take with Oscar (I know, oh everyone...let's feel sorry for Laura. This entry is not a pity party on me, I promise!).

My amazing husband and my own dog, Oscar, often times take a back seat to the moving maelstrom that is Laura Holder, so it was with great surprise that I actually paused to read a short post a fellow dog trainer left on her Facebook page recently. The topic was around training equipment and how relying on a certain piece of equipment (in this case a front-clip harness) is often used to masque a training problem (that your dog doesn't know how to walk nicely on a leash). 

I quickly and fervently self-evaluated myself as a trainer and guardian who is a self-proclaimed dog behavior nerd. Around the same time -- in fact I think it was within 24 hours -- I had just began reading a fabulous book by Kay Laurence, Every Dog, Every Day. If you don't know her, please do yourself a favor and get to know here. In her book, Kay discusses the dance and connection that should happen as you walk with your dog while on leash. She challenges us as guardians to rethink the walk and to allow our dogs to get out there an sniff and in the event that they do pull on leash (GASP!)...simply stop and wait. Let them take the environment is important to them (and as you'll learn, if you read her book, it's important to you too). It was a somewhat different dog training book in that it didn't offer a quick if you do this, you will get that solutions. It was much more contemplative and definitely not for a person who is unwilling to sit down, sit back and really think about the relationship with their dog without ego. If this sounds like something you could do, then you and your dog will benefit from reading Kay's book. It is simply beautiful.  

Back to the story...

The combination of the FB post and finishing Kay's book challenged me to rethink how I go about walking with Oscar, who I've had on a front-clip harness for almost 3.5 years. The afternoon after finishing Kay's book, I clipped the leash on Oscar's collar, put my agenda and OCD tendencies on the kitchen counter and headed out to experience a "walk" with him.  It was beautiful and each day it gets even more so.

What have you done to kick yourself in the pants lately?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

They Deserve a Choice

I'm noticing a lot more acceptance of a certain facet of dog relationships lately.  It has been circulating blog posts, Facebook pages, websites, training discussion name is started to invade at an awesomely alarming rate. I'm seeing this fabulous ripple start to gain some momentum worthy of a nautical warning.  

And I couldn't be happier.

It centers around the dog, as an individual.  It challenges us to put our control freak human nature aside and sit down and shut up.  It allows our dogs to have a choice...and, for some pups, to teach them that it is OK to have one.

Far too many dogs are forced into doing things they don't enjoy.  I'm talking about "force" that goes beyond the silver prong collar donning dogs that I routinely see being walking around my neighborhood.  I'm talking about emotional force...for example, a dog who does obedience heeling but doesn't have and ounce of sparkle in his eyes as he does when his owner is playing fetch with him in the yard. I'm talking about those dogs who oh-so-badly want to go sniff a tree on their walk, but the owner is so disconnected that she drags the dog down the street on the front-clip harness.   I'm talking about the perfectly stable dog who has a natural desire to do something, such as playing tug, get deprived of the activity because his owner thinks it will create "dominance" in their dog.

I've done a lot of growing - and made even more mistakes - since welcoming Oscar into the family and I know am never going to stop learning from him.  I know that each dog I get to teach and each future dog that graces me with their partnership will have something to teach me.

I also know that I've made some pretty damn good decisions during his lifetime because I've shut up, put myself aside and listened to others (thank you Aaron).

Perhaps the most powerful lessons I've learned in the past few months is the importance of giving every dog a choice. Each and every dog is as much an individual as I am and they deserve every right to choose what they want.  Lord knows us humans "force" our dogs to live in our lives, in a home with limited access to things dogs love and want (outdoors, squirrels, food, running......).

Funny thing is that when I've sat down and actually allowed my own dog to have a choice, some of his behaviors have actually gotten better...and our mutual understanding of each other has blossomed.

Here's what has worked for us:

  • Giving them a choice to interact with people (including myself). 
  • Giving them a choice when to "train."
  • Giving them a choice in how long we play outside.
  • Giving him a choice to go for a walk (no, he really doesn't want to go walk in the rain...and that's OK).
  • Giving him a choice as to what type of activity we do (chase, fetch, connected walking...) 

Suzanne Clothier has a fabulous way of summarizing this concept when she challenges us to ask our dogs, "How is this for you?" Give it a try sometime and you might just be surprised at what happens when you listen to the honest answer from your pooch.

Friday, May 10, 2013

2 Years in the Making

It's been approximately 2 years since Aaron and I started making Oscar's home-cooked meals.  When I look back on the desperation I had when I contacted Monica Segal --- all I wanted was a solid poo -- I can still stay, with 100% confidence that it has been the best money spent on my dear Oscar.  Flipping through multiple books and watching countless hours of dog training stuff makes me realize that without health and safety, our dogs have nothing.  Plain and simple.  As doggy parents we have an absolute obligation to make sure our dogs are as healthy as possible and provide them with shelter and safety before anything else; and that includes training them for such things as coming when called, loose leash walking or sitting nicely.

Just like any living species, in order for dogs to live, they need to eat. They need access to water, an appropriate diet (which is as unique to each dog as they are to each other) that keeps their body in prime working condition for their individual situation.  My boy thrives on a diet that is over 1/2 cooked sweet potatoes and while some may gasp at his diet saying that dogs do not need carbs or startches...well, guess what?  Oscar is a walking example of a dog who does thrive on exactly those foods - and he loves them.  Over 700 days of the same exact diet and he still spins in circles and rushes to his kennel to eat his morning and evening meals.  And he looks fabulous.  As they saying goes, the proof is in the pudding; I let his beauty speak for himself.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Yes, I am Still Alive

Lots of things have been going on in my life in the past few months (I know I'm preaching to the cyber choir), and when I popped over to my blog this morning, I couldn't believe that I haven't posted for over 2 months. While it was a conscious decision to remove myself from blogging and focus on other things - like actually living with my husband and dog - there has been a lot going on that is worthy of a quick entry.

Let's start with Oscar and our nose work training...

I am happy to report that Oscar passed his birch ORT a few weeks ago.  He had a fabulous run - found the odor in 18 seconds and, more importantly, behaved himself like a true gentleman the entire day.  With all the hub-bub of the day - lots of people and dogs in relatively near proximity - he only had one little reactive spat. (Did I mention it was "little"?)

The weeks leading up to the ORT test, I was somewhat doubtful of our ability to pass, but with some clear, concise reflection and wonderfully constructive coaching calls with Kathy Kawalec, we went into the day feeling confident.  I had a great training plan - and the ever important, back-up plan in the event that things went awry.  I stuck to my plan and, golly gee-whiz, it worked.

Speaking of Kathy Kawalec...

For those who do not know Kathy, she is an amazing woman and teacher. I have learned more from the handful of times I have worked with her than the cumulative traditional "training" seminars and workshops and books I have read on dog training throughout the past 8 years.  The emphasis she places on developing - and supporting - the partnership you have with your dog/s is intoxicating. The way she helps you build that relationship is even better...her kind words and support, yet critical critique are empowering.  Her ability to communicate the importance of using personal rewards (that would be you) over non-personal rewards (treats, toys...) and how to use them has turned a new leaf in my everyday interactions with Oscar.  She has helped me shift my awareness in so many ways and I continue to learn from her through her amazing online Cognitive Dog Training Foundation course.  For anyone wanting more...more than the click and treat- type training...consider working with Kathy. She's simply fabulous and your dog will truly thank you for it. 

And on the home front...

Aaron and I have been busy builder bees with our bathroom remodel...a complete tear-out...and it's finally getting near completion. What a project it has been.  The day we began demolition the water line busted from the old pedestal sink (and of course, it was the hot water) and shot water across the room until one of us could run down to the basement to turn the water supply off.  Lesson learned: turn the water off before you being working - and have a plan when $hit hits the fan! As with all projects that wasn't our only surprise along the way.  A near 90-year old house sure has a history...let's just leave it at that.  So, here we are, today, 3 months later with a beautiful new bathroom (still in progress) that was built from the foundation up - the way we wanted it.

I hope to get back into some regular blogging and share a lot of my recent learning.  God knows that I've done a lot of that lately...between nose work, more nose work, Kathy Kawalec and a new instructor's puppy course through the Karen Pryor academy...I'd say my academic mind has reached it's tipping point for the first half of the year.  Phew!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Farewell to Ms. Fanny

~ Farwell, my sweet Ms. Fanny ~
It's been shortly over a week since Aaron and I sent Fanny to the rainbow bridge. Though it was a tough decision on all levels, it was clear that she was suffering over the weekend. Although the current winter has been quite mild, a godsend for Fanny's ailing body, a recent cold snap, coupled with freezing rain ended up being too much for her to cope with. In the final 48 hours of her physical existence with us, she struggled to stand up outside...falling to her belly on a several occasions.  It broke my heart to watch her in such a state because I knew she was trying so hard to fight her failing body.

~ Fanny on one of our camping trips in Door County ~
 When I arrived home from work last Monday evening, there she was, laying on her bed - exactly where Aaron had left her 5 hours earlier when he left for work. She could barely lift her head as she opened her eyes to greet me. Her breathing was rapid and shallow, she struggled to keep her eyes open and as I quickly came to her side she gave out a great sigh of relief. I knew it was time. She was ready to go onto the next part of her life.

As tears began to pool in my eyes, I made the call to the vet...telling them that it was time for us to let our sweet Fanny's body go and that we needed to honor her request tonight; it could not wait until the next morning. I called Aaron and told him that when he got home from work we needed to do this act of love. Shortly thereafter, Aaron arrived home and we both consoled Fanny and promised her that soon she would be happy and running pain-free. Her lungs would be free and clear and her back legs would have the strength and abundance of a puppy. With a great sigh, and one last request for an eye rub, she agreed and asked, "Well, let's get goin' then!"
~ Fanny's favorite activity (besides eating!)
was going for car rides ~

Having never experienced the loss of a close pet before, I knew the evening's events would be difficult. Aaron and I packed a full Kleenex box, Fanny's blanket and got Oscar situated. We had been preparing for this inevitable day for a few months, still there was a huge flash of reality when we were going through the motions of getting her ready for her last breathing car ride. Upon arrival to the vet's office, they welcomed us into our private room, where they had already set out a thick warm blanket for Fanny to rest on. We laid her down, never once ceasing to be with her...Aaron rubbed her ears and eyes and I quietly beamed healing energy to her as I steadily placed my hands on her rear end.  Soon, our sweet girl would be at rest. The tech administered a sedative to help Fanny relax before the procedure and gave us a few minutes alone before the doctor came in. They prepped the injection site and together, we all told Fanny how wonderful she was and how her life was only going to get better...a new body will be born and she will run wild and free until we see her again. Without hesitation, she went quietly and peacefully to her final rest.

~ "Is he really staying?"~
We had made prearrangement's to bring her home the evening of the procedure to help Oscar - and us, quite frankly - cope with the event. Just like he always has, Oscar went over and sniffed her body... concentrating on her sweet front paws and her ears. We quietly spoke to the two of them as they said their good-byes and Oscar finally got his wish...for Fanny to allow him to lay by her. It was a sweet moment between the two. The following morning, we returned Fanny to have her body cremated.

So as we wait for Fanny to return home to us, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on how much she brought to my life over the past 10 years.
To my dear, sweet Fanny,  
You were my first dog. The memories I have of the first day we met are some of the happiest moments in my life. After 22 years of begging my parents for a dog - I finally went out and got one myself! Fanny, you were simply stunning...a beautiful White Shepherd girl...all alone in your adoption room. I knew you would bring great joy to my life as I signed the application papers. I didn't care about the 'negatives' on your intake form - they didn't scare me - although you certainly fulfilled them as some of my friends would soon find out. 
You taught me that kangaroo tails aren't reserved for kangaroos - you had a fabulous tail and carried it well...on multiple occasions hitting it on something that made it go limp. You taught me that you would gladly eat any and all food that was offered to you - even those that were for my anniversary dinner with Aaron. You taught me that you are smarter (and stronger) than most humans - I will never forget the time when you moved Chris' entertainment center away from the wall to puke back there. You taught me that you could, in fact, be trusted around anyone - it just took some time, love and lots of hot dogs for some of those scary men to be OK. You taught me that I couldn't live a day without finding white dog hair everywhere - admittedly  I would miss it if it weren't around.  You taught me that finding a man who really loves dog is a hard thing - but I found him and will never let him go. You taught me that I had to be careful when I was preparing your food b/c you have secret ninja skills and could sneak up on me nearly tripping me on multiple occasions. You taught me to never give up on anything, and make adjustments along the way - I regret those days when I didn't know any better and used a prong collar on you, but it afforded me the opportunity for ultimate growth into the positive training world and I have never looked back since. You taught me that you were always there with me - your timely "drive by" nose bumps at night are sincerely missed. You taught me about unconditional love - I never once regret staying home on a Friday night to be with you because I know appreciated it, even though I got shit from a lot of my "friends" for it. Fanny, you were a wonderful companion. You put up with your little brother and set a wonderful example for your breed. Your presence will be missed by all that knew you...but the memories you have given will always be there.
Until we meet again, my dear, run wild and free - and jump on a counter or two, especially if there's a steak up there in the sink. ~ Your proud Momma, Laura ~
~ The ultimate lounger in her golden years ~

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 in Review

Another year has flown by in the blink of an eye and, 2012, you were another year to remember. You gave many of us new challenges, new victories and a few failures. As I look back on my review from last year, I am grateful for so many things and am proud to say that I lived up to most of the goals I set for myself and my family, both skin and fur.

So, let's's the year 2012 in review...

To my loving husband...
You never cease to amaze me with your kindness. Not only to me, but the dogs and almost everyone in your life (and I know your Grandmother does love you, even though she can be very nasty). Your patience is unmatched and your tolerance is that of a saint. I love you more each day and know that between all of the "adult" stuff we deal with, my love for you grows with each pass of the clock hand. I look forward to growing old with you and will keep my promise that our next dog will not be a GSD :)

To my dogs...

First, and foremost, my dear, sweet Fanny. We almost lost you in May and many tears were shed during your hospital stay. It forced me to stop my life and focus on taking care of you - something that, admittedly, had been put behind Oscar as we were working hard on his behavior "problems." I am sorry for putting you second so many times in the past few years. Aaron and I took off of work while you were hospitalized because we couldn't be any other place than with you in those moments. I knew when that beautiful Spring thunderstorm rolled into the sky the afternoon we were to bring you home, you were not ready to leave your physical life with us just yet. You still had dignity and fight left in you. Aaron and I love you and - while it drives us crazy how you can sneak up on us and near trip us every time we prepare one of your meals - we want you to stay around for as long as you want to bless us with your presence.

Next, my silly, sweet Oscar. We had quite the year. I vowed to stop bringing trainers over to help me figure out what was "wrong" with you and I'm proud to say that I kept that promise. I did, however, take you to meet a wonderful woman, Kathy Kawalec, but I promised you a bit of fun (sheep!).  You have grown so much in the past year and I feel that our relationship can only get stronger. I'm happy that you have felt comfortable enough to hop up into bed with Aaron and I each night and are learning the fine art of comfortable relaxation on a warm, shared bed. I'm grateful that you have remained healthy this year and have filled out into your stud muffin body :)  You teach me so much and each day with you is an adventure. Never stop wagging your tail, my sweet little man.

To the "Dog Nerd Community"...
This year was a lot of fun and I had a lot of support along the way. First, to dog boss. Becoming part of the BehaviorWorks family has been wonderful. Eric, you have allowed me to grow as an individual and as a dog trainer. Thank you for listening to all of my crazy ranting and receiving my emails :)  To Kathy Kawalec, meeting and working with you has been amazing. Even though we've only been together twice, your kindness and honesty has spoken volumes to the way that I want to be with everyone in my life. Thank you, Tresa Laferty, for hosting Kathy at your fabulous home and opening the invitation to those, like me, who are seeking a deeper connection with those in their life. To Kathy Sdao, an infinite "Thank You" for writing and publishing your book Plenty in Life is Free. Your words throughout the pages had me smiling and wanting to be more to every dog in my life. To Dee Wilsuz, a challenge for you. We need to get together in 2013. If for nothing else, to drink a bunch of margaritas and talk about dogs.  To Monica Segal, thank you, again, for supporting the entire Holder family. Your dedication, passion and humor are second to none and I wish that more people get the opportunity to get to know you and see that you are an amazing woman. To Ms. Kathy Hatch, I am thankful our paths connected in 2012. You have helped and supported me the most. Oscar and I joined your wonderful NoseWork classes and are having a blast, but what I am getting our of your classes far surpasses the fun sniffing we are doing.

Professionally speaking, I am most proud of passing my CPDT-KA exam this year. It was a long couple weeks of studying - followed by another stretch of time while I waited for the test results. (Eric - if you are reading this, you still owe me a beer!).

My wishes and goals for 2013...
First, and foremost, I wish that all of my family members stay happy and healthy this year. There were a lot of uncertainties in 2012 for some of my close family members and may this year bring you clarity and security.

To my husband, I wish for a year of challenges, but one with more rewards. I'm already looking forward to our trip in July where we can enjoy some food, wine and good company. You are my best friend and I don't want to share the world with anyone else. We will continue to grow together and I only see great things for us.

To Ms. Fanny, the fighter, what I wish the most is that this winter not be too harsh on your aging body. Wherever 2013 takes you, Aaron and I will be at your side, supporting you all the way.  Lots of warm beds,  delicious food, and on-demand belly and eye rubs for you, my sweet girl.

To Mr. Oscar, the ding dong, I wish you happiness mixed with a bit more learning. I vow to keep showing you that the world is not as scary as it may seem and that people actually like you when you aren't yelling at them :) My goal for the two of us is to get out there and pass the ORT birch test. That's it. If you want to try a NW trial, cool, if not - no biggie, I promise :) Lots of "butt flosses," Frisbee games and maybe even a few lure coursing dates for you, my silly boy.

To the other important folks in my life. May you have a challenging and fair 2013 that affords you the opportunity for personal, professional and financial growth. I wish that those around you be happy, safe and healthy and that you get to do something that you love every day.  Never stop learning.

To myself. I challenge you to stop and smell the roses every once and a while. The emails can wait and the dog nerd books will be on the book shelf...they won't walk off on their own. Be with your family and when you are, be as committed as you can be while you are with them. Go someplace new, fun and exciting with Aaron and explore like an 8-year old with no reservations....just breathe, love and live it up.

Here's to a great year!  Happy 2013!