When I was a child, I used to imagine what it would be like if I could transport myself to another land. It was always someplace magical and exciting. Sometimes it was a magic stone that allowed me to travel to a foreign land – Italy, France, Ireland, etc. Other times, it was the arch of the trees in the woods across the street from my house that became a magical portal to a magical kingdom. Almost always, my fantasies were fueled by the books I read, adventurous stories filled with heroes (and heroines) taking on new worlds and succeeding. What child doesn’t want to escape to another land once in a while?
I’d like to say that over time I grew up and stopped fantasizing about those strange new lands, those magical places where enchantment and wonder abounded, but the truth is I am still a dreamer. I still love the idea of finding a land untouched by human hand. Or, exploring a faraway place where the crowds of humanity and the craziness of the world can be forgotten. I like to imagine the America that existed before buildings blocked our view of the sky. I wish to revel in the beauty and awesomeness of nature before it was destroyed by huge machines and mass consumption.
I think that’s why I fell in love with the dog park where I first started taking my dogs five years ago. Back then the park was a magical place, filled with wonder and excitement. Birds sang their beautiful songs of love from nearly every branch. Squirrels and chipmunks ran from tree to tree, gathering nuts and leaves for their nests. The sun streamed down between the treetops, creating rays of light that would hit dewy spots of grass and make steam rise from the ground. It was truly a magical place. One could enjoy the sights and sounds of nature without feeling the full encroachment of man. No people talking. No dogs barking. Just me and my dogs communing with nature. I could almost believe we had escaped to another land.
But, as it is with all fantasies, reality has a way of seeping in. What seems magical to one will seem magical to another, and then another, and then yet again another. Soon word had spread about this magical place, the place where my dogs and I have walked quietly through the forest and listened to the birds singing from the trees, and as it did, the quiet solitude of the forest was replaced by more and more human voices and barking dogs. Suddenly what had seemed magical and private to me had become less so.
We still love our dog park, my dogs and I, but there is something different about it now. It has lost some of its luster. It has become more of the dog park it was always designed to be.
The fenced in forest, where the wildlife used to outnumber the canines, has become less magical and I feel less entranced. I am craving a new land to explore. What does it take to find a private place to park your dreams these days? Where can one go to enjoy the quietude of the forest? Colorado? Montana?
Where do you go when you want that kind of solitude with your dogs?
A few weeks ago I asked you “What has your dog learned by watching other dogs and you?”
The responses were funny and interesting, and they completely reinforced my belief that dogs are waaaaayyyyy smarter than we give them credit for. We still have so much to learn about them….
One of the things I often ponder is what my dogs have trained me to do, like playing ball when they want or letting them outside for a potty break or cuddling when they demand it. All three of my dogs have behaviors that indicate something they want.
Jasper will wave his paw in the air when he wants me to continue rubbing his belly. Daisy will pace back and forth, between her kennel and the living room, when she wants to go outside, and Cupcake will stand on her back legs and place her paws on my lap when she wants attention. All are behaviors that have worked for them in the past so they know it will likely get them what they want.
Of course, I really do know that my dogs haven’t trained me as much as I have trained them. By giving them what they want when they exhibit these behaviors, I am reinforcing in their minds that this is the behavior they must do to get what they want. It sounds like a circular argument doesn’t it? It is to some extent.
When Jasper wants to play ball and continuously drops it at my feet and I pick it up to throw it, I have told him that dropping it over and over again at my feet will get the desired behavior from me (i.e., me throwing his ball).
We dog owners all have these behaviors we do when our dogs give us a behavior or cue. They have learned from us what works because we reinforce it. Barking at something outside gets our attention, whether it be positive or negative. Jumping on us gets them attention too. Again, it may be a positive or negative response, but it IS attention.
One of the things Jasper has learned is that walks are really, really exciting. When we leash up for a walk in the neighborhood he starts barking and jumping and pulling. Up until last week, I was reinforcing his behavior by giving him attention (“Jasper stop it!” or “Jasper, no barking”). He had learned that barking, jumping and pulling were all behaviors that got him what he wanted… a walk through the neighborhood.
That’s when I realized I hadn’t been taking my own advice, the one I had been giving to clients for years – stop reinforcing the behavior.
So, last week I stopped reinforcing the behaviors by taking away the expected response (i.e., continuing on our walk).. Instead of responding to the Jasper’s behavior with the desired result (to keep walking) I just stopped and ignored him until he stopped barking. When he was quiet for more than 3-5 seconds we started walking again. If he started barking again, we stopped and went through the whole process all over again until he stopped.
It didn’t take him long to figure out that he wasn’t getting the desired response he wanted when he barked and jumped and pulled. I was training him what desired behaviors would get him what he wanted (i.e., walking quietly and without pulling = moving forward and walking). we still have some work to do, but he is getting better about our walks.
I bet many of you have behaviors your dog has taught you to do too. What are you reinforcing with your dog? What behaviors does your dog do that leads to a desired response from you every single time? Have you tried changing your response? What happens when you do?
In my early days with Daisy, I often would think refer to her as my tabula rasa, my little blank slate. Being a “normal” dog was so completely foreign to her back then that I’m not sure she even knew how to be a dog. Meeting other dogs (and people) was so new to her that when other dogs came up to her to say hello she would just stand there with a distant look in her eye. More often than not, the other dog would end up walking away with a noticeable air of disinterest. She was so completely foreign to them, like an alien from another planet. She just didn’t speak their language.
But, over time, I started to notice that Daisy was actually learning how to be a dog in the same way children model after their parents. She was watching what other dogs were doing and taking note. Whenever we went to the dog park, she would watch other dogs playing and try to mimic their behaviors. She made it her goal to learn as much as she could from them.
Of course, there was always an up and down side to that. She might be learning how to be a dog, but she was also learning some bad dog behaviors along the way. I was on constant guard to make sure she was surrounded by dogs I thought could show her the best way to be a happy and healthy dog. I didn’t want her learning behaviors that other dogs would find annoying or ones that might make her a less than desirable dog at the park. I know it sounds silly, but I am being completely serious when I say she watched how others dogs acted and tried to copy them – ALL OF THE TIME.
You may already know this, but dogs are observing a lot in their day-to-day lives. They are very keen on picking up on new behaviors displayed by other dogs. But they are just as keen on picking up on our own behaviors. Think your dogs don’t observe you? Try picking up your keys and walking towards the door. What did your dog do?
I think I was more aware of my dogs observing me and my behaviors than I was about them observing other dogs and their behavior. It wasn’t until Daisy that I began to realize just how much dogs observe other dogs and how much they learn from them.
When Jasper came into our lives at 9 months of age, he chewed on everything he could get his little teeth on. He tore up stuffed toys with a vengeance. He destroyed plastic toys and left little bits of them all over the house. Until Jasper came into our lives, Daisy never chewed up anything. Ever. Suddenly, she was chewing up frisbees and other plastic toys. She learned by observing Jasper.
When I started taking boarders into my home, Jasper learned from them just like Daisy learned from him. From Tuffy, he learned that a raised paw flicking in the air would get him a belly rub. He discovered the joys of squeaking a tennis ball over and over again from Maggie, who also seemed to savor her tennis balls in the very same way. He learned carrots could be quite tasty from our friend, Buddy.
When Cupcake joined our family, she learned new behaviors too. She learned from Jasper that putting your paws on my lap would get you lots of love and attention. From Daisy, she learned that running around in excitement would get me up off the couch to let her outside. She learned from both of Daisy and Jasper that stealing each other’s toys was okay and even acceptable behavior here. There is no hard and fast rule that what’s yours is yours. Everyone shared here.
Watching my own dogs has made me realize how much dogs are really observing in their environment. They are constantly watching us and other dogs, and they are constantly learning from those observations. They watch and they learn.
It made me wonder… What behaviors has your own dog learned by watching another dog? What behaviors has your dog learned by watching you? I would love to know.
I don’t know about you, but I have become pretty paranoid about my dogs getting loose and getting lost. Maybe it was my whole experience with Cupcake last year (she was lost for 12 very long days) or maybe it’s seeing all the lost dog postings on Facebook every day, but I am now super vigilant about where my dogs are at, whether at home or out and about.
I think one of my biggest worries used to be that someone would leave one of my gates open and the dogs would get out. I have read one too many stories of dogs who became lost after a construction guy or a plumber or a yard guy left the gate open and the dog escaped. What is up with that anyways? Do they not have a brain?
Yesterday I saw another posting, this one on Lost Dogs Arizona. It reaffirmed my belief that putting locks on my gates was not as crazy as I first thought (I could care less if it offends the neighbor).
The posting was a frantic message about a Cattle Dog named Jessi Jane who was lost after the “yard guy left the gate open” and then “chased Jessi Jane” after realizing his mistake. Of course, this only scared her even more and she ran even harder. (Side note: Chasing a dog is the worst thing you can do. If anything, run away from the dog or lay down like you are injured or open your car door and ask them if they want to go for a ride.) Jessi Jane’s mother was absolutely frantic. Who could blame her? I would be too! Fortunately, Jessie Jane returned home one day later. The yard guy was fired and Jessi was home safe.
Seeing yet another story about a lost dog that was the result of someone leaving a gate open made me wonder if this is more common than I think. So I would like to ask you… Have you ever had your dog escape the yard because someone left a gate open? If so, was it someone you hired ir maybe a family member? Has it happened to you and what happened with your dog?
A couple of weeks ago a friend posted on her Facebook page that her brain was hurting after attending a Suzanne Clothier seminar. I had to laugh. I could SO relate to what she was feeling. Back in November, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend two of the three sessions held by Suzanne here in Minnesota.
To say the sessions were mind-blowing would be an understatement. I can still remember driving home after that first session and feeling like the synapses in my brain were going off all at once. I learned more about dogs in those first three hours than I had ever learned before. I’m pretty sure I said “Wow.” at least twenty times during that first night’s drive home.
The second session was just as mind-blowing as the first and included a lot of real life demonstrations using dogs with real issues. It was exciting to be able to pick out some of the behavioral cues being given by the dogs as Suzanne worked with them.
But the highlight of the session (for me) was a video Suzanne showed during her last session. When I say it was a highlight I mean that it gave me that “A-ha” moment, a moment of insight into myself and into dogs.
Suzanne introduced the video by saying that what we were about to see was an initial meeting between a potential adopter ( a man) and a Shepherd/Husky/Lab mix. The man had come in to meet the dog after seeing his picture on the internet. He was certain that this was the dog for him.
We watched the video in silence as the man met the dog outside. Right away, it was evident that the dog had no interest in the man. As they stood on the gravel driveway, the dog made it clear that he wanted distance. He stood at the very end of the leash and put his back to the man (facing out and away from him). When the man tried to pull the dog in closer to him, he resisted and tried to maintain some distance from him.
When the man sat down on the ground, he pulled the dog in towards him and tried to hug him. The dog tolerated it way more than most people would have, but it was clear from his body language that he wanted no part of it. He pulled away, and even when pulled in close, looked uncomfortable and stiff and always faced away from the man. There were also a lot of yawns and lip-licking (signs of stress in a dog).
As I watched the video, I remember being irritated with the man for not recognizing the dog wanted nothing to do with him. Couldn’t he see the dog was resistant to his attention? Couldn’t he see the dog did not want a hug?
I was so caught up in the dog’s behavioral signals that I had failed to notice something else, something that Suzanne later pointed out – the man’s behavior. In every move and action, he was telling us what kind of dog he wanted,. He wanted a dog who was affectionate and wanted to be close to him. Throughout the video, he made every attempt to create this closeness – pulling the dog towards him,, hugging him, holding him, etc.. The only problem was that he was trying to create that closeness with a dog who clearly preferred distance. This was a dog who probably preferred to sleep on the floor across the room from you or maybe at you feet, not a dog who wanted to be hugged.
What I had completely missed throughout the video was the dynamic between the man and the dog. Suzanne called it a mismatch, and she was completely right. It was a mismatch. The guy was a perfectly nice gentleman, and the dog was a perfectly wonderful dog – they just wanted very different things from one another.
As I thought about it even more, I started to realize how similarly matched me and my dogs are to one another. I am not someone who wants constant affection and attention from my dogs, and funny enough, my dogs are not interested in giving it back to me on a constant basis either. That’s not to say that I don’t like to cuddle with my dogs from time to time. I do. It’s just I prefer not to have a dog glued to my side and needing to touch me at every moment of the day. I like that my dogs prefer to sleep on the floor at night. I love that they have some sense of independence from me.
And yet I know, for other dog owners, this would be the exact opposite of what they want. They want that closeness. They want the little dog in their lap at night… and you know what? That’s totally okay. In the end, it’s making sure that the dog you have matches what you want and that what you both have a need for the same things.
So it made me curious… Do you consider yourself someone who wants that closeness with a dog? Or someone who prefers a little independence and distance? Do you consider you and your dog well-matched? If so, why do you think so?
And, have you ever had a dog that was a mismatch for you and how did you know?
The first time I saw Jasper, it was here…
He was in impound with his sister, waiting to be examined by one of our vet techs before being fostered or put up for adoption. I fell in love with his handsome little face right then (I also fell in love with his sister). I practically begged to foster them…just for a little while. But I should have known then, he wouldn’t be leaving. He was home the moment he walked through my door.
The first time I saw Daisy, she was cowering in a kennel much like the one Jasper was in. She was terrified as hell and my heart broke when I saw how she cowered and flinched when people came near her. I knew then that I would foster her. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I worried someone inexperienced would adopt her and place her in a situation where she could be further damaged.
But it wasn’t until two weeks later, when I picked her up after being spayed, that I knew that she was mine. Her vulnerability drew me in and captured my heart. She needed me. She needed someone who understood her. There was no way I would give her up to someone who didn’t understand her needs for space, time and patience. She was home.
Cupcake was different. She had already been living in a foster home and was more than likely going to be adopted soon. Besides, I had already had a talk with myself about how I would not be falling in love with her. Two dogs was more than enough thank you. I couldn’t possibly take on another. I was sure she would be moving on to her forever home soon and then I would foster yet another dog in need of help.
But then, one fateful night, she went missing, and I was distraught. I was a complete wreck. I imagined all sorts of awful things happening to her. I worried she would be killed by a coyote or would starve to death or be hit by a car. It wasn’t until she was found and finally started to recognize me again that I started to have an inkling that she would be staying. At that very moment when she recognized me and sighed and leaned into me, I knew. There was no way Cupcake would be leaving my home to go to another. She already was home. She had been all along. I think she knew before I did.
I suspect that most everyone has had that moment, the one where you just KNOW that this dog is “the one.” With each of my dogs it was different. Jasper was love at first sight (he had me at “Hello”). With Daisy it was much more gradual. It started as a strong sense of responsibility towards a dog in need and slowly grew into something much, much more. With Cupcake, it took a traumatic event to make me realize how much I loved her. Like I said, I think she knew she was home before I did.
So what was your moment? When did you KNOW that your dog was “the one?” Was it love at first sight? Or, did it take time to bond? I would love to hear your story.
This past weekend my friend Emily posted a picture of her and her dog, Lilly, on a special outing together. It was their girls day out.
It brought back a lot of happy memories of my outings with Daisy. Back when I was a pet sitter, she used to ride with me on some of my pet visits. I would also take her on special outings to get some ice cream (that’s probably how she got to be 75 lbs back then!). I would buy one ice cream cone for me and one for her. Then, we would go sit in a park and watch the world go by as we enjoyed our cones and each others company.
Seeing Emily’s picture reminded me how long it has been since we’ve done something like that. Now that I have three dogs, it can be hard to get that one-on-one time with any one of them. But last night I had the opportunity to enjoy some one-on-one time with each of my dogs and it felt really good, especially with Daisy.
Since it was so cold out, I decided to switch things up a bit and bring out our doggie puzzle from Trixie and let each of the dogs have their own chance to play with it. The game is called Chess and it comes with 4 yellow cups and a board with sliding squares. Under the squares are little holes in which you can place treats. The squares also have holes in them so you can place treats in them and cover them with the cups. It requires a dog to really use their brain to figure out how to get to the treats.
I decided Daisy would be first. I set up a baby gate so Jasper and Cupcake were on one side and Daisy and I on the other. Then, I placed the game (loaded with tiny pieces of pork) on the floor. Daisy was very nervous at first, not having really played with the puzzle much before, but she was also very intrigued by the smells coming from it. Since she was nervous about what to do, I sat down on the floor near her. I placed the game in front of her, but she still seemed unsure, so I showed her some of the hidden pieces of pork and then covered them up again.
She tentatively reached out with her nose to smell one yellow cup. Then she nudged it a little. The cup started to topple over. She jumped. She went back again and nudged the cup aside and grabbed the piece of meat. It took time, but eventually, with my encouragement and revealing the treats to her from time to time, she eventually started to figure it out. And with each successive find, she became more confident.
It was so rewarding to sit next to her and work the puzzle together. We worked as a team and had so much fun in doing so.
After each round, we would just sit there and hang out, I would give her belly rubs and kisses, and she would give me nose bumps and pleading looks for more of the same. It was a very special evening. I can’t remember how many times we did this, but I think it was at least five. I think she loved our time together as much as she loved getting the treats
Afterwards, Jasper and Cupcake got their special time alone with me and we did the same thing. They seemed to enjoy it just as much as Daisy.
Having this special time together with each of my dogs makes me think that I need to do this kind of thing more often. Maybe each dog should have their special day.
What do you think? Do you have special days with your dog? If you have more than one dog, do you take time out to spend it with just one dog at a time? I would love to hear what you have to say.
Over the past few days I have received several comments from people about Daisy’s weight. It’s not the typical “your dog is fat” comment. No. The comments from both family and friends have been “Daisy looks really thin.” or “Daisy is looking pretty thin.”.
How odd it is to have people tell you your dog is too thin. To be honest, it kind of made me a little paranoid to hear so many comments in such a short period of time. Was Daisy too thin? Was I not feeding her enough? Should I be feeding her more?
I started to feel bad. Was I being a bad dog mom?
When I first brought Daisy home, she was way too thin. You could see her ribs.
Having seen way (WAY) too many fat Labs in my life, I have always tried to keep Daisy at a healthy weight. When she was too fat, I got concerned about what that would mean for her joints and energy level. I didn’t want her to be one of those older dogs, waddling along, hardly able to go for a walk around the block. She’s 9 years old now and arthritis is a real possibility. Extra weight would not help her in this area at all.
But, all the recent comments made me wonder if I was keeping her too thin. Should I add some food to her dish each morning and evening?
This past summer I saw a body condition chart at a dog adoption event and I remembered wondering where my dogs fit on that chart. Surely I could find one online and see where Daisy fell on it, right?
It turns out there are several variations of the body condition chart online (see below), but Body Condition Score chart I like is one on the Hospital for Companion Animals.
So where did Daisy fall?
Using images in the first chart (above), I determined that she fell within the ideal weight category. On the second chart, she scored between a 2 and 3 – which falls anywhere from thin and an ideal weight. And, on the third chart, she scored as “moderate”. So is Daisy too thin? I don’t think so. She’s healthy and happy and looking like a dog at a healthy weight.
Is it possible that we have gotten so used to seeing overweight and obese dogs that our view of what a healthy weight looks like on a dog has been skewed? Maybe. It’s hard to know. But, to be sure, I am going to take her into our vet and see what she says. I think that will give me more peace of mind.
What about your dog? Do you get comments on their weight? Too thin? Too fat?
Recently a friend posted her volunteer pin from our old local humane society that I used to volunteer at here in town. It brought back a lot of memories for me. We used to be such a tight-knit group of staff and volunteers. There was something special about the place. Even now, two years later, we all still pine for the days when we would all work together to help the animals in our care.
One of the things that made us such a close group was the amount of time we spent learning how to help the dogs and cats in our care. Like other humane societies, ours offered training classes for puppies and newly adopted dogs. We also had training for staff and volunteers, including such topics as cat care, dog care, positive reinforcement training and understanding dog behavioral cues. And, we had a training program for STAR volunteers, for those of us who worked with some of the less adoptable dogs to help them become more adoptable.
I like to think that our volunteers were trained better than those in most other shelters. I might be a bit biased on that front, but I know we certainly were given every opportunities to learn more about dogs and dog behavior (Thank you Rut, Inga, Kate and Colleen!).
Perhaps one of my favorite training segments was the one that didn’t include any dogs at all. It was a regular part of the dog training classes, both for adopters and their dogs and the volunteers and STAR members.
The instructor (i.e., dog trainer) would first have people pair up in class. Once pairs had been established, one person from each pair would be asked to leave the room. The trainer would then tell those who remained that they would be playing the role of a trainer. They would be responsible for training the other person a new trick or command. The catch was the trainer could not use any words to explain to the other person what they wanted them to do. They could use some hand gestures and head nods, but no sounds or words. The class trainer would then assign a trick or command and let the other people back in the room.
It was always fun to watch the other people come back in as we tried to get the to do what we wanted them to do. They would stand there with puzzled looks on their faces trying to figure out what were asking of them. Many would try the obvious commands -sit, down, come, etc. Others would resort to offering a variety of behaviors in hope they would hit upon the right one eventually. Most people figured out what they were being asked to do, with a little time and trial and error, but occasionally, they wouldn’t be able to figure it out and would just give up.
If you haven’t already figured it out, the purpose of the exercise was to help us understand what our own dogs go through when we are trying to train them. As many of you already know, training a dog with words only works if you first show them what the behavior is that you want. Saying “sit, Sit Sit, SIT!” over and over again is unlikely to get the behavior you want if your dog has never been shown the behavior in the first place, or if they haven’t been shown how that word “sit” is connected to a specific behavior. (I can’t tell you how many times I heard people going through the dog kennels at our shelter yelling “SIT!” to a dog who had no clue what they were saying or why.)
Dogs aren’t genetically hardwired to know “SIT”. Helping us to understand what it felt like to be our dogs helped us to be better trainers and to have more patience and understanding when working with them. Sometimes putting ourselves in their shoes can open our eyes to things we had not seen before. I know this one certainly made an impact on me and how I work with my dogs.
What about you? Have you ever done this exercise with your spouse or a friend before? How did it change how you work with your dog?
We have all heard the news stories touting the health benefits of dogs and cats – how they enrich our lives, lower out heart rates and make us get outside and get exercise (even in the frigid cold temperatures in Minnesota!).
But, do they open our worlds for us? Do they make us see things we may not have seen before? Or, help us to realize the vast possibilities before us?
I know that my dogs have taught me to be more balanced and calmer. I’m not sure that has necessarily opened new worlds for me, but it has made me a better person for my dogs to be around.
I think I have explored more, tried more things, and sought new places to walk because of my dogs. I love seeing them explore a new place (noses to the ground, running through the woods, enjoying the water, etc.) and try new things. I guess if you think about it, I am trying new things too!
Perhaps the area in which my dogs have opened a new world for me is through blogging. I started blogging to catalog Daisy’s progress as a puppy mill dog, nothing more, nothing less. I never imagined becoming a part of a blogging community that loves dogs and cats, or having such fantastic readers like you (or readers at all!) who challenge me and comfort me, or learning so much more about dogs and the business that surrounds them. I never imagined running my own business and caring for other people’s pets either. My dogs gave me that too.
The more I think about it, maybe dogs do open a new world for us. What do you think? Has your dog opened a new world for you? How?