Reflect v. Resolve

So, we’ve made it through this year. I can’t say it was easy, it really wasnt. However, I do think I have learned so much, both in the dog sense and the personal-general-life-growth sense.

I am thankful for having two awesome dogs. They are both neurotic in their own special ways, yet I am more greatful for them now than ever after working with many other dogs. My dogs love to work, love to be out and about in the world, and are in general, pretty easy to live with.

While Forest was far from perfect in our multi-day seminar (proper post on that to follow), after having a few days to marinate on it all, I am truly, truly proud of how well he handled it. We were indoors for two-and-a-half days, packed in like sardines, with day care dogs barking non-stop in adjacent rooms and people coming in and going constantly. I watched an excruciating 15 minute video segment of us–excruciating less because of my horrible handling, and more so because he truly hung in there like a champ while I was oblivious to how lovely he was being. I was only half-paying attention to him in between our attempts, desperately trying to absorb what Rachel was telling me, dangling his toy in his face, and yet he stayed in the game. The whole time. He is my best pal, and in so many ways, a huge factor in why I am where I am in life right now. He has come a very long way from the wild, compulsive dog that would run away from me any chance he got. He now is more often the “good dog” of the household than not, which is something we would not have believed, not all that long ago.

Poor Diego had a rough go this year. Moving, dumb foster dogs, and lots of household stress. It all but pushed him over the edge. However, I think 2011 could be his year. We have had a few brief goes in the last few weeks training in group settings, and he has been a star. Totally 100% focused on me, willing to work for as long as I need him to. I think he just might have a future as a demo dog. I haven’t done much of anything yet to fulfill my goal with him to do Rally, but we will be required to take a variety of basic obedience classes at work, so maybe that will be where we can hone our skills together.

I am proud of myself for having the gumption (or maybe pure stupidity) to take the leap into a new career, which two months later is still terrifying. But, regardless of what happens, I will never wonder “what if.” I will know whether or not I am cut out to be a dog trainer.

An anti-climactic early off to bed tonight, as I get to work the early holiday shift tomorrow. I am looking forward to seeing the first sunrise of the year.

Happy 2011.

Quickie on Bloat and Seminars (Oh and Christmas)

Merry Christmas from Family Brown Dog. One certain normally-lithe brown dog is curled, moaning, in a ball in his furry pocket post-gorging himself on someone else’s (ie. the boyfriend’s parents dog) dog food.  It was some sort of Science Diet kidney failure kibble, and he must have eaten at least a few cups. We hoped he would yack it up and tried several ways of inducing him, including hydrogen peroxide, brisk walking and even the old finger down the throat trick, but despite his obvious miserable state, he was having none of it.

So, his abdomen is swollen, and he is very unhappy, and we have day one of a seminar with Rachel Sanders tomorrow at 8:30am! I am praying for no poop explosions or lead-bellied dog partners. If worse comes to worse, I can probably borrow one of Laurie’s dogs, but that would not be as desirable as running Forest. And, of course, its still freaking raining, so we have the added complication of him not wanting to go outside. Fun stuff.

We survived Christmas with me actually receiving the few items I did want, and obtaining a minimum of crap in general. It seemed to be a generally minimalist Christmas which was fine with me. I am happy with my new flannel PJs, FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer, and hand-me-down squash blossom necklace. I made out like a bandit (albeit a focused one). I got my mom’s dog and my dad’s cat gifts, yet neglected my own two. Though I did spring for some small deer antlers last month at a trial which have been a hit, so we’ll just say that was their early gift.

Happy holidays to anyone who may read this, and assuming my dog is not still comatose tomorrow, I’ll follow up with a seminar recap.

*sigh*

Oh dear, I have been bad to my blog. I don’t mean to go this long without writing, but its indicative of how manic my life is right now. Lots of static and distractions and useless diversions that I am trying so hard to tune out but am not doing the best job at.

As far as my job-job, I think its going well. I am definitely having something of a culture shock going from a pseudo-corporate office job to a place where the work force is much more diverse, skills and background-wise. Not to mention mostly composed of females. I have never worked with majority females at any permanent job I have held. Maybe the seasonal hold over stint at retail or my short flower shop time, but not career-wise. Definitely throwing me for a loop. Men get pissed at me, call me a bitch and move on, back to buddies and beers in a day or two. Women get pissy and catty and are much more subliminal when they are angry. I guess I kind of have developed an in-your-face dude style over the last ten years, so I am struggling with keeping my mouth shut while trying to appease the involved parties. I adore my boss—partially because she is as zero-bullshit as I am—but unfortunately she’s not around a ton so I am learning to fend for myself. Which I am sure is good for me in many ways.

This week we sent home one of my favorite dogs. He was with us for longer than usual—he had been there about a week I believe when I started, so about 6 weeks total. He was pulled from a shelter by a well-meaning but uneducated first-time dog owner, and brought straight to us. This dog was not housebroken, was reactive to dogs and people on-leash, could not be let out in day care with the general population, barks incessantly in his kennel, fought the leash like a fish on a line… And yet, he truly is a really neat dog.

He is an Aussie/Border Collie “type”. Hard to say which because he kind of defies fitting into one or another breed—“Aussie-ish” in coat and color with a poofy tail sticking straight up in the air. He was/is just plain wild. He came so far in the time that we had him, and I really truly fell in love with his goofiness. He would not hurt a fly and just was oozing at the seams with personality, as out of hand as he was. He is bright, but just literally bursting out of his own skin, vibrating with energy. By the last week, we’d treadmill him 20 minutes twice a day, train him twice a day, send him out into daycare or the yard—supervised—once or twice a day, and he’d still be reverberating off the walls of his kennel. Yesterday he had his “go home bath” and I was brushing him out, or trying to, as he lolled like a spaz around on the floor, mouthing my arms, hands and the brush. I was annoyed with him, but simultaneously giggling as his silliness is just so infectious. I also took him out to the day care area with all the other dogs, and babysat as he lovingly mauled two 100+ pound Malamutes. He was in heaven. I was so happy for him and devastated at the same time.

This dog is so awesome, yet so tragic. Quite a few people at work grew to love him, but every one of us knew that we could not—would not—take a dog like that. At least in all of our respective scenarios. He needs to roam and be wild, and if he was allowed that, he would be a spectacular dog. Yet, yesterday he went home. To a one bedroom apartment. To an owner, who while completely well-meaning and wanting to do the right thing, works a full 40-hour week with a solid commute. Who cannot bring this dog to our day care facility—which he will sorely need 4-5 days a week.

We will hear back from the owner, no doubt. I give it a week, maybe ten days if he really digs in. But he is way in over his head. Way, way waaaay in. And, our rescue slots are all filled with much easier, mostly quite lovely dogs who are still in need of homes. It just kills me, and I have been thinking about him all day.

Anyone know anyone with mass acreage in search of a crazy but charming dog?

(And I know this happens every day. So sad.)

On Dominance

This popped up on Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels email list today, and I thought it was a very nice read (as per usual, she is quite eloquent, not to mention sassy, and well-worth experiencing either in person or online).

In my less-than-a-month at work, I’ve already heard plenty of clients make the excuse that Fluffy’s jumping/counter surfing/leash pulling/dog reactivity is attributed to “dominance.” I always cringe inside when I hear this. I’ll have to write and rehearse a speech of my own for the day when I am teaching classes and I get dragged, reluctantly, into the “he’s dominant!” discussion. Luckily, I have plenty of time to prepare.

As per Sue Ailsby;

“I think it’s time for some serious talk about dominance.

I don’t want any of you to let the “dominance” thing go to your head!

The dominance model of dog behaviour is an easy one to understand, and supplies simple rules for people to follow. Unfortunately it’s partly wrong and it leads to people thinking unfortunate thoughts – like ‘he runs out the door because he’s trying to be dominant’.

Dominance, if it actually exists in a group, is not a linear situation. It’s circular, flowing. Possession IS 9/10 of the law. THIS dog may be the boss in THIS situation, but THAT dog is the final authority in THAT situation.

99% of dogs don’t give a hoot who gets to be the boss. The key point – THE KEY POINT – is that they have to KNOW what the rules are. Who’s going to pay the bills? Who do we report to? Who’s in charge of the food?

While typing the last paragraph I had a sideslip to a Hutterite colony. This is a communal community. Everybody works for the benefit of all. Within each colony there is a livestock Boss, a kitchen Boss, a vehicle Boss, and so on.

What this means is that there IS no Alpha dog. There Can Be Only One – or two, or three, or whatever – and that One is me. Not because I’m bigger, or stronger (or smarter), but because I make the rules and let everybody know what the rules are. If a dog is standing on my lap, or a child is throwing toys at my head, it’s not because they want to be Alpha, it’s because *I* have failed to let them know what the rules are.

When I’m talking about dominance, I often say this:

Every dog needs to know what the rules are and who makes them. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels know that the boss is the person with the money for Dairy Queen. If there’s no boss, there’ll be no ice cream today. Cavaliers sit around every morning talking like this: “Spot, are you going to be boss today? Me? Oh no! I was the boss yesterday! Too much responsibility! Hey, I know, let’s get mom to do it!”

Giant Schnauzers, OTOH, know that the boss is the person who makes the sun rise and the grass grow. When you wake up in the morning, they’ll be sitting beside your bed staring at you. “What do you people want?” “We just want to know if you’re on the ball today. It’s nearly time for you to make the sun rise!”

Dogs, like children, need rules. Rules provide stability, confidence, security. It doesn’t really matter what the rules are, as long as there are rules. Dogs and children, unaware of rules, will push their limits until they find some.

They play head games to determine what the rules are. And we frequently lose the games because we didn’t realize we were playing. All the “No Free Lunch” programs are designed to help humans play and win the games. This is truly a win-win situation, since, as I mentioned, the dog doesn’t care who actually comes out on top in any given situation, so long as the rules are clear to everybody. Some No Free Lunch programs are confrontational. This is not the way dogs normally operate. All group-oriented animals have huge numbers of body language “words” to help them avoid confrontation. Fights only happen when communication about the rules has broken down and the body language discussions aren’t solving the problem.

Leading The Dance is the name of my version of the No Free Lunch thing. It’s specifically non-confrontational . It’s designed simply to help humans establish or re-establish rules so everybody can live together comfortably.

Once in a while a dog (or person) comes along who doesn’t speak the language, or simply refuses to be a communal creature. These dogs (or people) or safest placed in situations where they can’t harm anyone or be harmed.”

Please read more by Sue and her Levels Training at dragonflyllama.com.