Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What is a name?

What is a name?

One of my favorite dog scenes from a movie is a scene in Steve Martin's "The Jerk". Martin plays the role of simpleton Navin Johnson. While staying at a motel, a dog starts barking at him frantically, urgently, as if trying to convey a message. Navin is convinced the dog is trying to warn him of a fire and runs out of his room in a bathrobe and bangs on every door to wake up the guests and evacuate the motel. While waiting as the fire department clears the building, Navin proclaims that he is going to name the dog "Lifesaver". When the firefighters determine there is no fire and it was a false alarm, one of the motel guests turns and informs Navin that he should call the dog Shithead... and Navin takes his advice. As it turns out, the dog is kind of a shithead. He isn't loyal. He ruins stuff. But he's cute and scruffy and knows that there is food for him in tagging along.

I think it is interesting how much we think about names, what they mean, how they will be used. We develop nick-names for each other to show a special bond. A name says quite a bit about your heritage, perhaps even where you are from. A name can make you stand out or blend in. A change in name can change the way we view ourselves and how others view us. Anyone who has ever changed last names or has left behind a childhood nickname for the more adult version can relate to the power and identity behind a name.

When it comes to choosing a name for a dog, cat, or other animal, everyone has their own technique. I think every family who had animals has had their share of names from physical characteristics. In my family's past, Mittens, Blackie, Sandy, Rusty, Whiskers, and Boots are all fondly remembered.

Some animals are named according to a theme. I tend to name my animals after literary characters or authors. Ollie, my ridgeback, is properly 'Oliver' the orphan from Oliver Twist. My cats from my high school years were named Dante after writer and father of the Italian language Dante Alighieri, and Murphy after Edward Murphy the supposed originator of Murphy's Law. Some animal's names are family names or people names. I've known animals named after favorite composers, musicians, actors--even products. Marshall is named after the company that makes electric guitar amplifiers.

These names are often badges of honor that rarely have to do with the attitude of the animal itself and say more about us and our interests as namers than the namees. Where I think we run into trouble in the naming process is when some animals get their name from a predominant personality trait.

When we name an animal after a personality trait (or a name we associate with that trait), we are doing two things that get in the way of our connection with out animals. The first is we are highlighting a trait that may limit our understanding of our furry friend. The second risk we take in naming an animal after a personality trait is the danger in reinforcing bad behavior without realizing it.

Take Angel for example. As a emaciated stray, she peacefully slept and eagerly ate for almost a week in her new home. Her docile behavior earned her the name 'angel'. Once she regained her energy (and a little body mass), her personality became that of the energetic adolescent hound she was. What one would normally associate with exuberance and some behaviors that need managing and training, her actions weren't exactly 'angelic'. Calling the dog 'Angel' constantly brought back to mind and expectation of the peaceful (sickly and malnourished) pup that showed up on the back stoop weeks before. This dog needed a set of rules and consistency from her owners early on and didn't get it for months, simply because they were waiting for their 'little angel' to return.

Pogo, a Jack Russell terrier, was named for hopping about with excitement when greeting family and strangers alike. Smiles and petting constantly rewarded his jumping for years before the novelty wore off. Once the family and friends weren't entertained with Pogo's behavior, the dog looked for other antics to elicit petting and attention. Destructive chewing and incessant barking got attention at first, but then was written off along with the jumping. The irritating combination of jumping, barking, and chewing earned the Jack Russell hours of confinement when guests were in the house. His owners just assumed his behavior went along with the jumping and nothing could be done.

An adult black and orange cat earned the name 'Damien' after the evil child in the horror classic 'The Omen'. The way his eyes glowed from under the bed where he hid the first three days he was home was rather evil-looking. Cats are normally loathe to soil their sleeping space, but the cat repeatedly chose his new owner's bed to relieve himself during those first weeks. Misunderstanding this as bad (rather than a cat's attempt to mingle scents and bond) the owner's doubt about naming the cat Damien was erased. Although affectionate with his owner, the cat hissed, bit, and hid or raced up the curtains when strangers entered the house. The real issue was the cat's actions signaled stress and uncertainty. The name directly resulted in the owner accepting some pretty bad behavior with the assumption that the destruction was simply a part of the cat's nature. After years of escalating destruction, Damien's stress responses went unaswered and eventually the cat had developed neurotic and violent behavior that made him unfit to be around children or anyone other than his owner.

I'd like you to think about the names of the animals in your life. These stories are extreme cases to highlight what can happen if we don't think about the ways our human need to 'name' interferes with inter-species communication. Are they symbolic of a behavior or a person that you admire for a shared personality trait? Can you think of ways that the name might be holding back your understanding and responding to animal communication?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Walking Meditation III

I am not walking today.

I am sitting.

Sitting, grieving. Reflecting on loss.

Sitting inside and looking at the gray.

I am sitting and thinking about a very missed friend. Winston, my bunny, passed on his energy in October 0f 2008. He was seven and a half.

I am sitting and thinking about how when he was about five months old, I bought a harness and Flexi-leash for him and we would go out outings. I would stop at Jimmy John's and get myself a sandwich and soda. Winston would get my alfalfa sprouts, sometimes a cucumber.

I am sitting and thinking how I am -- finally -- not sad. I just miss. I miss the garden and the snuggles and the playing-in-grass. I miss little rememberings and chin nuzzles and happy-chuck-chuck noises. I miss time.

I still hurt.

I am sitting and holding my hurt. I look at it. It is silver and gauzy. It fits in my hands like a six pound medicine ball. It is a weight I forget is there because it is not cold.

I am sitting and imagining our energies intertwined deep into our roots. When I too go into the ground, our energies will be a fall breeze that brings the scent of leaves and change and apples.

I notice small movements in my hands and think about small creatures and small breaths. We have to be gentle with these creatures. Secure, confident, and gentle. A steady holding. Be willing to make ourselves appear to be smaller to gain their confidence. Prove through consistency in our actions that we are to be trusted. Learn that exploring does not have to happen quickly and with profound movement, but slowly with smell, soft whisker touch, little lips and tongues and toes.

Be gentle with all creatures. Secure, confident, and gentle.

A steady holding.

I am sitting inside, looking at the gray.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Farewell, Orange Cat

It's been a few weeks and I've been reluctant to share that one of my furry four paws passed away. Maybe in a few more weeks or months, I will be able to write about the circumstances more. But for now I will just note a farewell.

There You'll Always Be
from Disney's The Fox And The Hound

We met it seems such a short time ago
You looked at me needing me so
Yet from your sadness our happiness grew
And I found out I needed you too
I remember how we used to play
I recall those rainy days
The fire's glow that kept us warm
And now I find we're both alone
Goodbye may seem forever
Farewell is like the end
But in my heart's memory
In there you'll always be

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Furry Four Paws: Winston (RIP)

Winston F. Bunny
2/2001 - 10/31/08

Originally posted on 10/31/08

My darling friend Kate called a year and a half ago from her home in San Diego for an update on Winston. “You know I have a soft spot in my heart for him,” she said. I remember when Mike and I were in Hawaii in 2002 and she bunny-sat for three weeks. I can imagine there was a lot of bonding that happened during that time. While we were gone, she was mending a broken heart. I bet Winston got an earful. Fortunately for Kate, he has enormous ears. That was when I lived in a one-room bedroom apartment in Auburn Place. Winston and I moved in there together in 2001.

I only had Winston a month before I moved in to that apartment by myself. I had been lonely, a little withdrawn. Mike, boyfriend at the time and now my husband, decided I needed something furry to love. We took a trip to the pet store and found the perfect companion: a half-off Easter bunny. When I first brought my little bit of gray fluff home I would cradle him scooped in my hands. His lop ears stuck out to the side like a little helicopter. His body barely filled the cup my hands created but his back feet were almost twice as long as my thumbs. Feet that size seemed to be an indicator of quite a bit of growth. I had my suspicions then that he was not a true Mini Holland Lop. I didn't care. I was in love.

My roommate of the old apartment and I sat my bed watching this little creature with very large and inquisitive brown eyes as he explored his new surroundings. “What’s his name?” she asked. I had no clue. For three days, he was simply “Bunny”. This situation was getting critical, so like a true English major I sat down and began to brainstorm everything I could think of that was gray. Smudges. Grunge music. Flannel. Rain clouds. Cement. Plymouth Rock. Nickels. The novel 1984 by George Orwell. Looking at my little friend made me think of freedom. The reflection made by Winston Smith, the protagonist in 1984, "Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four," and an old mix tape of Seattle grunge music got my creative naming abilities going and Winston Foo-Foo Fighters Bunny was officially named. Since then, he's had lots of names: Bunny Butt, Grumpy Butt, Fluffy Butt, Bun, Snuggle Bunny, Twitchyface. Yes, I know. A lot of references to his cute li'l behind.

Back to the spring of 2001, the year I graduated from college, I was excited to have my first apartment without a roommate. Or, at least that is what I thought I was doing. My best friend Lori’s lease ran up and she needed a place to stay while she was in transition. I told her she could camp out in the living room for as long as she liked. By then, Winston was litter-trained and was allowed to hop about the apartment whenever someone was home. He would jump up and snuggle into my lap to demand and ear-scratch. Sometimes he would perch on the back of the futon while we watched T.V. looking like a little gray, furry pirate parrot. Mostly he kept waking Lori up at night by chewing on his water bottle for marathon water-guzzling sessions.

Living on my own was a big step for me, so I was glad to have Lori as my training wheels. But the coming months were momentous for Winston, too. That was the summer that Winston fell in love. Winston had finally hit puberty and had begun humping stuffed animals, throw pillows, shoes, blankets…well, there’s a reason for the saying “do it like rabbits.” Nothing, however, compared to Winston’s adoration of Mike's friend Andy. Andy would come over and Winston would pursue him across the kitchen, down the hallway, through the living room, and back into the kitchen. He wouldn't leave Andy alone when he was sitting on the couch. I decided to have Winston 'fixed' after a few episodes of this behavior.

Soon after we solved that problem, my mom went in the hospital for emergency surgery. Winston went to live with Mike and Andy while I temporarily moved back home to help my mom during her recovery until late August when I started student teaching. That September, Winston sat on my lap while the nation was glued to our televisions, watching as a giant plume of smoke and debris changed our lives. By October and November, my students were used to getting papers back with bits of the corners missing where Winston had nibbled. One student even tried to use this as a bargaining tool. “You might not have liked my paper, but Winston sure did,” the student said. I told him that maybe Winston saw promise in the writing and that perhaps he should revise the paper. Winston didn’t like it as much the second time, but I did--it was definitely a better effort. Who knew that a fifteen-year old goth kid would be motivated by bunny nibblings on paper?

Soon it was spring again, Mike was graduating and we went on that trip to Hawaii I mentioned earlier. A few weeks later, we were engaged. It was a happy summer. One day on a trip to the pet store for hay and treats, I purchased a little harness and retractable leash for Winston. See, there used to be this old lady down the street from me who would walk her orange smooshed-nose cat past my house every day. Although I had no intention of walking a rabbit, I thought that it may be a way to take my little friend outside safely. Winston hated the process of putting on the harness, but he loved going outside. We would go on picnics at MSU’s campus—a sub from Jimmy John’s for me, and a small iceberg lettuce salad for Winston. I would read and Winston would nap or investigate bushes and flowers.

It was in preparation for one of these outings that I found my friend Derek in a bit of a funk. He was still taking summer classes and had a final project due the following day. A final project that had not even been started. It was supposed to be some kind of a public service announcement. “Sorry, dude.” I said. “I don’t know how I can help. All I have is a bunny.” Something about this statement clicked, and before I knew it, Derek had acquired a gray stuffed toy lop-eared rabbit, a baseball bat, and a half-charged video camera. The satirical public service announcement warning the perils of Bunny Baseball (starting Winston F. Bunny and his plush stunt double as the "baseball") was completed in one night. Derek got an “A”. Winston got a grape. Everyone was happy. Yes, it was a good summer.

By August, Winston and I moved to Novi with friend and her cat, Charlie. Charlie and Winston soon became friends and were allowed supervised playtime and were often found napping together. Mike got a job down in Ohio and moved to Columbus to get our new house settled. When my lease ran up, Winston moved with him while I waited for my job transfer to go through. Shortly after I moved to join them, the three of us celebrated our first Thanksgiving together (Winston does not like sweet potatoes) and Christmas (Winston does like dried cranberries). Wedding preparations, the wedding itself, and our honeymoon took up most of the following spring. But there was Winston, in the middle of all the preparations, toppling my pile of bridal magazines and repositioning them about the room.

Not long after we were married, Mike splurged and bought himself a new 65-inch television. That meant the entire entertainment center had to go. It was old, but I hated to throw it out. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could make a cage for Winston out of this?” I mused. Mike looked up with a gleam in his eye I knew meant trouble. There was a flurry of measuring tape and pencil markings and muttering about needing a staple gun and chicken wire, a trip to Home Depot, and two bottles of Coke. In a few hours, the Palatial Estate of Winston F. Bunny was constructed—complete with castors so it could be rolled out onto the patio in the summer. There were separate compartments for litter, a 'tunnel' made of the lower shelves, a food station, and a shelf high enough so Winston could see the whole room, even over the back of the couch.

I never realized how much I didn't know about rabbits until finding the Columbus House Rabbit Society online while looking for a vet and emergency clinic information in case we needed it. I met the head of CHRS and took a tour of her house which doubled as a rescue facility. I became involved in the "Make Mine Chocolate" campaign that encourages parents to not purchase rabbits for their children at Easter. Winston was one of the lucky ones purchased from pet stores, but many bunnies end up abandoned (or worse, "set free") after the novelty of the holiday is worn off and families realize they don't know anything about the animal or how to care for it. Winston became the 'spokesbunny' for my crusade and the "author" of letters that have gone out every spring.

Two years passed and Winston was transitioning to 'geriatric' status. Worried about the "ergonomics" of the Palatial Estate, Winston moved to what my friend Amy called the “retirement community garden apartment”—a smaller, one-story rabbit hutch. He also had to adjust to a new addition to the family: Orange Cat. There were some bumps in their early introductions. Upon observing Orange Cat sniffing at a bowl of rabbit pellets, Winston ran full force across the living room to defend his food and head-butted the cat in the stomach. Orange Cat was terrified. From then on if the rabbit was playing outside his hutch, the cat would stay on the couch. The addition of Oliver B. Superbiscuit, a rescued Rhodesian Ridgeback pup who had been abandoned and abused, also proved to defy stereotypes. When Ollie and Winston were first introduced, a loud bunny-thump was all Winston needed to assert his dominance. It was amazing to watch as Ollie’s body language showed he—a dog bred to hunt lions who would grow to be close to eighty pounds—would grow up being submissive to a six-pound prey animal.

We moved back to Michigan to a house down the street from Mike's parents. Winston quickly adapted to his new home and new living room playground, but shortly after the holiday season, I could tell something was wrong. The diagnosis of molar malocclusion and explanation of lengthy and routine treatments involving anesthesia were bleak. The blood work results indicating the beginning stages of renal failure made the prognosis even less favorable. The vet wanted me to be prepared: he had less that a month left.

It was three weeks of hiding pain medication in frozen peeled grapes, long snuggles and naps together on the couch, and a lot of bunny reiki. I was a nurse at a bunny hospice, Ollie was my assistant and slept by the hutch during the days to watch over his friend. Against all odds, he started to get better. He became more interested in his surroundings, playing with his toys, grooming himself again. By summertime he was back to his old self. "He's like the Energizer bunny," joked a friend. And he was, back to afternoons sitting outside enjoying the sun and naps and playing with his toys. No more free reign of the living room, though. The only lasting effect of that episode was incontinence.

Winston met more friends and their children, ate new foods and treats, discovered new uses for his toys. On suggestion from one of these new young friends, he had his blackberry. He looked like a little kid who had shoved his face in a blackberry pie--his lips and surrounding fur were dyed deep purple for a day. He found a new game, taking his multi-colored plastic toy chain and putting it in the water dish, pulling it out link by link. He especially enjoyed doing this when I was trying to rest on the couch. When his cage door was open, he would let Ollie wash his face, and when the newest member of our furry family joined us last December, bunny and puppy sniffed noses. They continued to "touch base" that way once the puppy was tall enough to stick his nose up to the bunny hutch.

I have had more time with him than I had ever imagined. Almost eight years. The last seventeen months were an extra blessing. A visit to the vet Friday morning confirmed he was in full renal failure now. He was lethargic and unaware at times, extra snuggly when he wakes up and wanting to be held. Fastidious to the end, he continued to re-arrange the towels underneath him in moments of clarity, occasionally 'churring' or making a happy grunt when he was comfortable. I’ve spent the past eight years doing everything I can to protect him, keep him safe. It is hard to let go of that, to remember that 'keeping safe' really means 'keep him from getting hurt'. So we had a morphine-like medication to keep him pain free. No more hurting. Just love and snuggles.

The last night, he curled up on my shoulder, nestling his head under my chin. I cradled him the same way I did when he was first that little ball of fluff that fit in my hand. He was ready to go, return his energy to it's source. And what a beautiful energy it is. While his physical self is gone, I know Mike and I are surrounded with his love and happy 'churring' noises. As we placed him next to Bailey in the pet cemetery at the edge of the property, the three horses next door came to attend the memorial. They stood there, stoic and silent and watching. I like knowing he is with friends and has these beautiful chestnut guardians to watch over him. He is an awesome bunny. And an amazing little friend.

I love you, Bun.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dog Safety Garden Tips

When we first moved into this house, I was most concerned with making the interior the way I wanted it to look and feel. I like home to be soft, plush, comfy fabrics in grounded and warm earthy colors. A "come on in and make yourself at home" kind of place. Last summer, I finally started thinking about what message I wanted the outside of my house to send. I decided that friendly and inviting to me meant bright and cheerful happy flowers and smells.

I know very little about gardens and plants and tend to keep stuff around that can survive my neglect. I don't know the names of most plants and tend to pick things because they are pretty. I plant them and they promptly die because of too much or to little water, sun, or nutrients. You know, all the things plants need to survive. Last fall I actually did some research and realized everything I had planted in the back yard could have been mildly toxic to Ollie, Marshall, and their friends. Thankfully, my dogs are not grazers for the most part. Occasionally they will munch on some grass, but mostly they leave my plants alone. Planning my backyard gardens meant making a list of plants and products not to buy in the back yard.

I am working outside prepping my gardens this week and designing what I want them to look like. The dogs are happy to be outside with me when I'm in the back yard and Orange Cat happily supervises my gardening in the front yard from a sunny spot on the porch. (He also sings along with me. I'm on a mission to capture this on video.)

Here is my list of plants to avoid in areas your dog will be unsupervised:

Tulips, Daffodils, Crocus and other plants with bulbs: For a digging dog, the bulb is a sweet reward for a hole well dug. Bulbs are crunchy, ball-shaped and highly toxic. This is a bad combination for a pooch.

Some fern varieties: Asparagus, Emerald, Lace, and Plumosa ferns: all cause dermatitis and have toxic berries.

Perennials: Ivy, Morning Glory, Oleander, Rhododendron, Phlox, Roses, Catnip, Bee Balm, Columbine, Hosta, Queen of the Meadow, Lily of the Valley, Trumpet vine
Annuals: Zinnia, Snapdragons, Cosmos, Petunias, Butterfly flowers, Primrose, Impatiens, Begonia

Vegetables: onion, chives, garlic. The plant part of tomato and potato plants are toxic.
Fruit: grape skins are highly toxic as are the cyanide-containing seeds/pits in apples, peaches, plums, and cherries.

Products: There was some concern awhile back about cocoa mulch and dogs. Cocoa mulch contains high levels of theobromine which is very toxic to dogs. In fact, there is more theobromine in unfiltered cocoa mulch than there is in baker's chocolate, so small amounts could be dangerous. There is record of one dog has ever died from eating this type of mulch. Because of this, most cocoa mulch companies have started cleansing programs that remove most of the theobromine. Think about your dog's natural desire to taste, graze, or ingest plants in your yard and do use caution and read the bag. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Green Dogs... with rules

It's taken me awhile with all the Earth Day stuff to read articles and process information in them. You'd think it would be easy to just make a list of awesome articles about raising a "green" dog. But as Stephanie Feldstein discusses in her blog, there are some dangers in reduce-reuse-recycling with your dog.

Hand-me-down toys like old socks and towels can make good use of old things, but you have to think about what you're teaching your dog. Dogs are bad at generalizing and differentiation. If a hole-y sock is a toy, all socks are a toy. If an old slipper that is falling apart becomes a toy, all slippers are toys.

Old toys your kids no longer want to play with and are too beaten up to donate create another issue. Besides choking hazards, you are teaching your dog that the kids' toys are his toys, too.

Composting dog waste is tricky and requires an entire set of chemicals to make sure the ground does not get contaminated with parasites or become a breeding ground for them.

There are tons of great tips and products in the following links, but please remember to keep your house rules in mind when reduce-reuse-recycling.

Olive Green Dog -- Hip, modern and eco-friendly dog supplies.
Rekindled Pride -- Two firefighters from Idaho make a difference with dog apparel. Typically, fire departments discard old equipment as waste, but at Rekindled Pride they make all their products with materials worn by the men and women of the fire service.
Mountain Dog Products-- Repurposing old climbing rope as cool eco-friendly leashes. I haven't used one yet, but they will be the next leash I buy!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hark, Hark! The Dogs Do Bark!

Barking is by far the biggest issue in our house.

There's a lot of stuff out there about vocalizations and what they do and don't mean from dogs. Before talking about what barking IS, I want to be sure to talk about what barking IS NOT.

Barking is not abnormal for a dog. Most problem barking has very little to do with dominance. Dogs are genetically predisposed to bark and have been rewarded for over 14000 years for barking. Dogs are not wolves and do tend to use more vocalizations including barking, whining, howling, and growling.

Barking is first and foremost a way to communicate. It only becomes a problem when it goes against what we think of as polite and civilized dog behavior. Dogs use different barks, in succession or singularly, to express different messages. Higher pitched, rapid barks usually signal excitement. Lower barks usually signal unease and uncertainty.

Dogs are social creatures, some more than others. For a dog cooped up in a yard or house without mental stimulus and opportunities to burn off energy, barking can become a response to being bored. A bark can be a lonely, "Does anybody hear me?" or an expectant "Come play!" or basically something akin to talking to hear themselves talk. Dogs dealing with separation anxiety, aggression issues, or dogs that startle easily are also prone to stress barking.

Certain breeds are more prone to barking. )Ask anyone who has ever had a terrier like Gus. Oy, the yapping.... ) Some breeds were chosen for their vermin chasing skills, some even being selectively bred so their barks could be heard underground. Left without proper outlets for their excitable energy, many of these breeds become serial yappers.

For some dogs, improper correction and timing of reward (or punishment) can leave dogs thinking they are doing a valuable thing. This can be something they've learned from you or something they think they've figured out themselves. Dogs are very bad at cause and effect. Take a dog barking at the lady who is walking past your house, for example. Dog barks. Lady walks away. Bark = stranger leaves. Never mind she was already headed in that direction, the dog thinks he's caused the threat to his house and people to abandon her mission.

If barking is a problem for you and your dog, remember that it is a communication. Your dog is trying to communicate something to you and it is your job as his friend to try to listen to what he's saying.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Barks and backhoes

I have three very sleepy dogs today.

Last night they ran themselves silly at a bonfire with us and their best friends, Sergeant (a husky) and Shasta (a weimaraner mix) . I've always said, "A tired dog is a good dog." There is quite a lot of truth to that. Ollie, Marshall, and Gus have been wonderfully well-behaved all afternoon. They've listened. But it's a different type of listening.

Normally around 5 or 6 in the evening, there is a lot of barking in our neighborhood. Eight of the eleven houses in my neighborhood have one or more dogs. One family dog sits for their adult children. Another family has fosters in regularly from a small breed rescue. People are coming home and their dogs are excitedly announcing the arrival of their owners. The rest of the dogs join in. The weekends are usually quieter.

One particular arrival that always gets my dogs overly excited is the daily return of the backhoe to salvage yard that abuts our north fence (thankfully behind our tree line). The dogs seem very offended by its return, and very content with its leaving. When it leaves in the morning, there is hardly a woof to be heard, but the whole group runs to defend our property against the evil backhoe seven days a week.

Today, when they began to jump up to run outside, it barely took a quiet 'nuh-uh' from me to get all three dogs to lay back down and leave the backhoe to it's own business. This is a good thing.

The not good thing is that the play with Sergeant and Shasta was largely unsupervised by the rest of us at the bonfire. We left the dogs to be dogs with limited rules. There has been a lot of unsupervised play lately and I've noticed mild behavioral changes with Ollie. He is getting more forceful in our play, using his body more, jumping up when he never has before. I thought it might have just been too much unstructured play, but then as I examined the behavior, I realized it was a result of play itself.

This article from explains some of the differences between physical exercise and mental stimulation and striking a balance between the two, especially for active breeds like Ollie.

an excerpt:

"With our dogs, we frequently engage in high stress activities with extended periods of rushing around, and the stress period is unnaturally prolonged. Conversely, we infrequently create rest periods or give the dogs a chance to calm themselves down. Accordingly, with unnaturally long stress periods and no cooling off periods, some dogs go on “stress overload.” They can’t process all the stress, and their bodies physiologically signal that a Fight or Flight response is warranted. Add that to a dog that may not handle relatively low grade stressors very well, and you are much more likely to have a dog that reacts to that physiologic build-up and does what his body demands; that is, the dog chooses to fight or flee.

Even if the dog doesn’t progress to the point of taking “fight or flight” action, the dog may shut down or give other external indicia of stress. For animals that don’t handle stress well, those stress chemicals and physiological changes can stay in the body and brain for up to two weeks. If you continually train activities such as fetch, the dog never (or rarely) returns to a baseline stress level and the stress keeps building on itself.

It’s not the running or fetching itself which is overly stressful. Running, fetching, flyball or agility can be great. But, as with so many things, we tend to overdo it. It is the prolonged rushing about with little or no cooling down or relaxation period where we are artificially creating the drive that can cause difficulty."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Update on Gus

It's baby season here in Southeast Michigan. I have a number of friends that are pregnant and there have been three new babies in as many weeks. One of those friends is Heather, the owner of puppy mill rescue Gus. They shared our home for a few months, so Gus is well acquainted with my house and my dogs. This means her first 'child' (Gus) is visiting for a couple days.

Heather is doing great as a new mom and staying at her sister's for a week while she gets her bearings as a mother of a newborn son. He's vaguely aware he and Heather are going through some transitions. Heather was very diligent in preparing him for the changes she could. She set up the furniture for the baby gradually, letting Gus sniff but not climb in or on the swing, rocker, Pack N' Play, or bassinet. She let him sit on the bed and sniff at the newly laundered little clothes as she folded them and put them away. She practiced holding a pillow in her lap so Gus had new limits on where he could cuddle and how he could share his space. She's also been practicing at adjusting her "coming home" routine to reflect new demands of being a mom. No more coming home and adoring Gus, chattering at him while she got his dinner ready. Instead she began coming in the door and going in the baby's room, talking to herself and doing a few tasks before going to greet Gus.

Puppy mill rescued dogs tend to bond to one or two people and be aloof to other family members or friends and scared of strangers. The hormones that are emitted after birth that aid in mom-baby bonding also activate the same behaviors in dogs. That bond building can quickly turn to dysfunctional guarding as Gus feels a threat to his most valued resource. When Gus first started bonding with Heather and me, he would nip at Ollie or Marshall when they wanted to share the attention. We've worked on 'sharing' and Heather's changes in her interactions with Gus will help prepare him for the amount of sharing that will be happening.

A brief visit with new mom and baby was relatively short and went very well. High-level rewards (Beggin' Strips-- gross from a nutritional perspective but effective) for appropriate sniffing and interested, engaged, positive body language. Gus and I left on a happy note and he slept the whole way home.

So far, so good.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Teddy Gets a Home

An Update on Teddy The Junkyard Dog

Teddy, the emergency foster dog that was "supposed" to stay only overnight and ended up sharing our home for almost six weeks has found a forever home.


It really is a wonderful match, a snarffy, snuggly, rough 'n tumble Rottie-mix and a twenty-something dude who loves the outdoors, jogging, hiking, and driving with the windows down. The dude is a friend's brother, so that means Teddy and I get to stay connected.

Teddy has learned his basic commands and how to socialize with other dogs. I saw him last week and was greeted with his signature snarfing as he tried to shove his big head under my hand for a pat. It took a lot of control on my part not to give in until he sat down. Being able to run around with other dogs during socialization means less nervous energy. Because of that, Teddy has started to relax more. He is getting stronger with 'sit', 'leave it', and 'wait'. Teddy also has a trusted stuffed 'baby' that he carries around and sleeps with.

He is already a good dog.

But now I know he's going to be a great dog.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Doggone it...

It's been about two months since my last regular post here. I'm back now. Won't happen again without warning, promise.

In the meanwhile, I found some neat blogs, websites, etsy shops, and other goodies to share with you, along with more dog experiences, tips, and stories.

For now:

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Since we brought Teddy into our home (garage?), I've gotten a lot of questions about shelters, the surrender process, why people give up their dogs, and animal abuse. I though I'd answer a few questions about shelters first.

What was wrong with the dog?

There can be quite a few reasons why dogs end up in a shelter. I divide them into 'understandable' reasons and 'questionable' reasons.

Some understandable reasons I've heard are:

  • An elderly owner had to move to a nursing home or needs assisted care and has nobody else to take their dog.
  • The owner dies and the rest of his family aren't in a position to keep or care for the dog.
  • The owner has to go on military duty or make a sudden move to a place that does not accept pets.
  • A family experiences severe financial hardship and can no longer adequately care for the dog.
Some questionable reasons I've heard are:

  • Starting a family/having children.
  • Claims of not having time for the dog or not being able to "give him the love he needs".
  • Allergies. I've only heard one allergy-related rescue I believe where the husband developed breathing problems and his mild allergies became more severe. In this case, the family re-homed their dog and she did not end up at a shelter.
  • Landlord threatening eviction due to excessive barking, jumping, marking.
  • The dog had an aggressive episode and the owners are afraid.
(Notice that almost all of these are predicated on a behavioral problem the owner does not know how to fix.)

Then there are a whole collection of completely ridiculous excuses. I won't go into them other than to say that I wish people would just be honest and accountable and say, "I wasn't ready for the responsibility of a dog." Or, "I didn't want to take on the commitment of finding an acceptable home myself."

What happens when a dog is surrendered to a rescue or shelter?

When a dog is surrendered to a rescue or shelter there is at least a 15-minute intake session. The owner should be prepared to provide as much information as possible regarding the animal including vaccinations, spay/neuter status, behavior, training, food, and other information that might help the rescue re-home the dog appropriately.

The owner usually signs a document covering the information given and a release form that states the shelter will make every effort to place healthy, friendly animals in new, loving homes. This is not a guarantee rehoming. The placement of an individual dog for adoption is based on an evaluation of his or her health and temperament

Once an animal is up for adoption, the time limit in which he or she can remain up for adoption depends on facility. Some have a fourteen day adoption period, some have no time limit, others are based on ongoing temperament testing as may dogs develop shelter shock and accompanying neuroses that can effect aggression response.

New owner-surrender dogs go through a pretty rough transition. Unlike strays that are usually happy to be inside, clean, warm, and feed (at least for the first few days), owner-surrender dogs often bark themselves hoarse out of stress. Most adoption wards have about 25 other animals in cages in close quarters who are barking, whining, sleeping, or banging about in their cages.

If they are at an average shelter, they may get taken out in the morning and then again at night. The volunteers have to make the choice between keeping kennels clean or getting dogs outside. Cleaning kennels always takes priority. One shelter I volunteered at had so few volunteers and so many animals that the dogs were often in their cages for days at a time. (One day I spent eight hours there and tried to walk as many dogs as I could outside for five minutes each. I got through less than half the dogs.) For an owner-surrender dog, this can be the most distressing aspect of shelter life. They've learned not to go potty inside and they certainly don't want to go in the place where they sleep and eat. Breaking their housetraining is one of the most difficult challenges for the dog and they know they broke a rule. Once they realize their family isn't coming to get them and they have soiled themselves, they begin to exhibit what animal care workers call "shelter shock".

When a dog has shelter shock, he is often overly quiet, depressed, and sometimes unresponsive. Many pace restlessly in their cages. Some dogs deteriorate dramatically in a kennel situation and it can take a period of normal home life to gradually undo the damage. Many shelter dogs begin to "fence-fight" or show other signs of barrier-aggression.

It is sad to see this happen, but it is the reality of a dog turned over to a shelter. If you or someone you know can no longer keep a dog or no longer handle the responsibility of dog ownership, please take as much time as you can to re-home your dog yourself. Advertising on websites like and local papers can be helpful, reaching out over social networking sites can help reach a wider area than just your hometown. Be honest with yourself about how much time it takes to re-home a dog. Give yourself at least six to eight weeks of active effort to re-home your dog.

Some trainers (like me) recognize the pressing need to keep dogs out of shelters and will volunteer a few sessions or references to other training programs to the new family as a bonus.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Teddy Stays

The Junkyard Dog is still in my garage.

Without an appropriate foster home to bring him to, the rescue coordinator began to scrounge for a place to keep him. She found a place for Teddy The Junkyard Dog at a boarding kennel.

Meanwhile, my friend Amber and I were working with Teddy.

Amber has worked with dogs (and cats, birds, goats, chicks, baby ducks, rabbits, and ponies) her whole life. She just has a natural connection with all animals. Her methods are all based on her instincts and her experiences. I've learned invaluable practical techniques and timing from her. She is always open to hearing new research, comparing it to what she knows, and deciding if she thinks it will work. While we may differ on some of our approaches and philosophies regarding dog training, we complement each other.

We preformed a series of temperament tests and challenges for Teddy. Like his first night here, we listened to what Teddy had to say.

He's a fast learner. He is a resource guarder. He wants to be friends with other dogs but doesn't know how. He has been hit and kicked. He is still about 18 months old. He loves belly rubs. He has never been on a walk. He was attacked by another dog at least a year ago. He has not been to a vet before yesterday. He has not had rules. He has been poked with a stick or rod or something in that shape. His collar has been at the same size for at least three months. He hasn't had a bath in at least six months, if ever. He is a people pleaser and wicked smart. He's confused, but happy here.

When I got the call that the only place to take him was to a kennel, I was torn. Teddy does not know how to live with other dogs, so this isn't the best place for him. But it is better than a kennel. In my experience, Teddy doesn't have too much time left before some of these negative learned behaviors become compulsions that will be very difficult to fix. What is the point of saving a dog's life if his life is going to be limited to a cage, shelter shock, and developing neurosis?

Teddy is staying here.

This makes things a little difficult. I have to rotate shifts between Ollie and Marshall's outside time and Teddy's. Teddy is crated in the heated garage any time he isn't outside. (Amber joked that maybe that is a good thing. Perhaps the smells of motor oil and returnable beer cans make him feel more 'at home'.) In the garage we work on resource guarding, "leave it", and crate training basics like getting in and sitting nicely while the door is being opened or shut, and snuggling and pets to help make the crate his happy place.

Sit, Teddy. Stay. At least for a little while.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Chance

Well, at least the dog in my garage has a chance.

Sunday night after the Super Bowl, I checked my email and found an urgent foster request. A dog on Death Row at a local Animal Control was slated for "The Long Walk" at 2 pm on Monday. They have a limited hold policy that doesn't give a lot of time before euthanizing.

I wasn't sure what we were getting ourselves into, I didn't know much about the dog. I volunteered to take him as a temporary emergency foster while they looked for a full-time placement.


Throughout the day I had a few conversations with a rescue volunteer named Susan* and bit by bit found out more parts of his story through her questions.

9:00 am His name is Teddy because he reminds me of a huge teddy bear. I'm not sure how he is around other dogs. Is that ok?

Sure. We'll figure it out. Just get him out of there.

2:00 pm We're at the vet and he tested positive for heartworm. Can you give him medication?

Of course. Not a problem.

2:30 pm He's filthy. I'm pretty sure Animal Control didn't give him a bath. Are you comfortable bathing a big dog?

Yeah. I am. How big? 65 pounds? That's not too big.

3:00 pm If he gets along with your dogs, I don't know about bringing him in the house. He's not neutered so he marks like crazy.

Fine. We'll plan on crate training until he's neutered. Or use belly bands.


Susan got here around 6:00. Teddy was overly excited and launched out of the car, dragging her down the driveway, finally lurching to a stop to mark my mailbox and the telephone pole.

We tried to introduce Ollie. That didn't go so well. It started out with two happy dogs, but Ollie's warning growl triggered Teddy's fight response and they were separated. Both dogs by this point were too stimulated, so I brought Ollie inside and then stood in the backyard with Susan while we watched Teddy explore the yard.

That's when I found out more of Teddy's story.

On a mission to rescue a pair of emaciated pit bulls someone had reported, Susan saw Teddy chained to an abandoned building. He was in an exceptionally bad area of Detroit. The lot next to the building appeared to be a junkyard of sorts and the "Beware of Dog" signs seemed to indicate Teddy was guarding the area. She approached the dog and his little nub of a tail wagged so hard it turned into a full body wiggle. He licked her hand and leaned his whole body against her leg, looking up at her with his big brown eyes. There was no water, no shelter, no hay for the dog to bed down in. It was 19 degrees with a wind chill of -11, all the houses were burned out and abandoned. Susan couldn't leave him there to freeze to death, so she went to the truck and got the bolt cutters. That was three weeks ago.

This is all we will ever know about Teddy for fact. Anything after this is deduced through reasoning and listening to what he tells us. In the last 18 hours, Teddy has told me someone once loved him enough to teach him to sit for a treat or meal. He also said that he's never been inside a house and going through the door is breaking a rule. (Probably because of the continuous marking.) Last night, he showed me how he is easily entertained, likes comfy things and will keep his bed clean overnight. He told me he wishes he didn't feel like he had to mark everything all the time and that it is exhausting. Oh, and his tail would like to add that Teddy really wants to do the right thing.

He has so much to say.

So sad no one listened to him before this.

*not her real name

Monday, February 8, 2010

Little Leash Work

A friend of mine recently took a very brave step. Or maybe was very brave after a bit of a shove.

My friend is married with three teenage boys. The boys have been begging for a dog for a long time. Actually, as long as I've known her. Unfortunately, she had a pretty big fear of dogs. Fortunately for her boys, she was willing to confront the fear with cuteness. Cuteness in the form of a little mutt pup named Lenny.

She's surprised me, I have to say. I thought that the boys would be the primary caretakers of the pup. When she told me they were adopting, I imagined her making a kaper chart connecting each boy's name with dog duties on a certain day. I imagined her holding a coffee mug in her hands, watching the boys play with the puppy in the living room, smiling at her family bonding over the dog from a position of observer rather than participant. Instead, she is the primary caretaker, intensely bonded complete with silly nicknames and dog voices narrating his thoughts.

Not. What. I. Expected.

With my friend in mind, I wanted to post a few additions to my Leash Work post. That post is focused mainly on young adult to adult dog leash work.

Here are some tips for littles and puppies.

Try a harness rather than collar

Some puppies like Marshall learn quickly that pulling means an icky feeling around the neck. The Marshalls of the world are the easiest to work with because they naturally want to be next to you rather than pull. They are rare. Most pups will flop around at the end of the leash, pull and yank, and seem oblivious to the fact that they are tethered to you. A harness will protect the pup from a hurt throat and neck while you have leash time. It also protects you from accidentally hurting your pup as you train yourself to resist jerking the leash as a correction. Only use a harness for leash work and walking-- don't let the dog wear it all the time.

Keep a loose leash

When we want to control something or keep it safe, we tend to instinctively hold it tighter and closer. This is a problem for leash work. Keeping a short, taut leash keeps the puppy feeling constant tension on the lead and he won't realize when he's pulling. In some working dog breeds-- breeds like huskies, mastiffs, and Bernese Mountain dogs designed to pull carts or sleds-- the tension activates the instinct to pull and will encourage pulling. If the puppy is at your left, the leash should be long enough for you to hold the loop in your right hand, hold the leash about 12 inches from the loop in your left hand, and fall loosely to puppy with enough lead for the pup to go about two feet in front of you.

Gentle Crazy Lady

The Crazy Lady method works well, but remember to be gentle. As pup passes you, turn and walk the other direction. If the pup rushes to the end of the leash, call him back to you and start walking the other way rather than turning on your heel and jerking the leash. Remember not to use the 'come' command for this. Whistle, click your tongue, or snap your fingers to get pup's attention so he sees you are changing direction.

Timing, Timing, Timing

Leash pops and corrections (tightening the leash and then releasing) should last less than half a second. They should not be hard enough to move the dog along the sidewalk or take the puppy's feet off the ground. Corrections should be within two seconds of unwanted behavior. To put this in perspective, that is four to six steps at a moderate pace. Try to use 'uh-uhn' instead of 'No!' so that 'No!' is always a command.

Make it Fun

Practice walking around the house and yard. Practice dropping the leash and then running in the opposite direction, calling the puppy in a happy voice. Give puppy a treat when he follows you and comes. Use a squeaky toy to get puppy's attention when he starts to get ahead of you. Use calm praise when puppy is following the rules and 'You Won The Lottery!' praise when you're done with your session.

Know When to Stop

Keep leash work less than ten minutes at a time if there is a lot of pulling. If puppy is overexcited and not listening after a few minutes, it's time to stop for him. Go do something fun and wear him out a little before trying again. If you feel yourself getting frustrated and find yourself losing your timing on corrections or wanting to shout or yell at the puppy, it's time to stop for you. Go do something without the pup to give yourself some time to remember why you are training in the first place: to be able to spend more time with your dog.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Oooh. Scary.

This summer, I was working with a client whose dog has some fear and angry/scary issues. The owner isn't quite sure what had happened or why it had started. She left for a week and returned to her house-sitter telling her that her dog was a monster and nearly attacked another dog while they walked through the park.

Before she called me, she talked to three other trainers and breeder. The first trainer told her to use a choke chain (ew!). The second one suggested purchasing a prong collar (ew! ew!). The third trainer wanted her to sign a document stating she would only train with the trainer around and not to take the dog for a walk until the "problem was fixed" (what?). Finally, the breeder told her she may have no choice but to put the dog down.

All of this not-so-great advice based on a telephone interview with a woman who didn't know a lot about dogs other than she loved them. (No offense to my client, of course.)

Most dog trainers constantly reiterate that it is important not to ascribe human ways of understanding fear to dogs. Dogs don't develop fear and learned responses the same way we do. And when it comes to uncovering what is wrong, we can't ask probing questions and get insightful responses in the way we are accustomed to doing with our friends. Dogs don't get to sit around and talk and decompress with their friends by shopping. Or over a couple of beers and a game of pool. Or coffee. Or shopping. (Did I say that already?)

The sometimes frustrating thing is that the dog's body language that shows fear to their own species often causes fear in humans. Behaviors like lowering heads, growling, hackles raised and backs arched, or close fake-out snaps are warning signs to dogs and other animals. Dogs are saying, "Dude, I'm serious about this. Back off." We read, "I'm going to attack you any minute."

In animal minds, this message is received, processed, and the decision is made to either fight or leave. Most of the time, territory or food isn't worth the hassle. Other dog walks away. This is neither cause for alarm or remembering. It is a communication.

Female dogs with puppies have a very low tolerance for crowding and tend to skip the first few signs and go straight to snapping. In dog's experiences, this is no worse than your parent smacking you upside the back of the head for saying something rude to your cousin at the dinner table.

For humans, especially children, just seeing a dog in what we perceive as an aggressive state can be traumatizing. If I child misreads the subtler signs like shifty eyes and a very low murmur, a bite can appear to come out of no where. Dog bites, lunges, even nips that draw blood or cause bruises can cause a child to grow up to be an adult with an irrational fear of dogs.

For some reason, some trainers want to correct aggression with more aggressive response. Dominance. The dog equivalent of, "If you don't stop smacking your brother, I'm going to smack you." It may stop the behavior at the time, but it doesn't stop the cause of the behavior. I wasn't necessarily surprised by those trainers jumping to choke chains and prong collars. I was just offended by the lack of professionalism and wondered if my client had managed to find three people in a row who had an unrealized fear of dogs.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Leash Work

We all have cabin fever. Either it's been too cold to be outside because of the windchill, snowy, rainy. Quite frankly, when there is sun or gray days with temperatures in the mid-20s, I lack the motivation to bundle up and get out there.

This is not good.

It is not good for them. They are bored. Bored dogs whine and chew and bark, three activities on the rise in this house. It is not good for me. I'm spiritually stagnant, unconnected.

I throw the ball around for Ollie in the back yard. It is cold, really cold. I'm going to need gloves. Ollie and Marshall get excited and start wrestling. This is a good time for me to get ready. Gloves, earmuffs, scarf, walking shoes, yoga pants, tank top, long-sleeved t-shirt, and winter jacket. Ollie and Marshall sprint to the house and bolt through the dog door the minute they hear the leashes. They know they have to sit to have their leashes put on and Ollie plants his hindquarters on the ground. Poor Marshall's tail is so excited that he can't sit properly, so he slouches in a sloppy puppy-sit. I'll take it.

Leashes clipped and door locked, and we are ready to go. I give them the cue 'let's go' to tell them they are released from their sit. We walk down our street and cross the main road into the neighborhood with the park and plowed streets. This is when it all goes down hill.

Marshall is the poster pup for perfect leash behavior. Part of that is because he hates pressure around his neck. Ollie is too excited and his long legs make him walk fast. I imagine walking next to me for him is like me walking next to someone with a cane or walker. You understand why the other person needs more time, but your steps become unnaturally shortened to keep in step with them.

No walking meditation today. It's leash work time.

I started out with the right things.

Let the dog burn off excitement energy. This is especially important if the dog has been home alone all day and you've just gotten in for the evening. They are glad to see you.

I was able to get Ollie in the right 'following rules' mindset by doing a few drills with him. Sit for leashes, lay down and wait to go outside, sit and wait while I shut the door.

Ollie was just too excited for this walk. This means reinforcing the rules, the biggest of which is You Follow Me.

When training this, I use two methods: Crazy Lady and Treat In Hand

Training the Crazy Lady way means turning on your heel the second your dog starts to get a head of you. This doesn't mean wait until the dog is pulling and whip around, jerking the leash and yanking on the dog's neck. The purpose of this is to not let the dog think it knows where you are going and to always defer to you for directions.

Training with the Treat In Hand method is basically as simple as it sounds. Walk with a loose lead holding kibble in your hand. The dog will walk next to you, sniffing your hand. Treat him occasionally, saying 'good dog' or other verbal praise (keep it consistent). Do this for short walks at first, then slowly lengthen the walks and the time in between alternating praise and treats.

The important thing is to stay calm and patient. If you feel angry at any time, pack it in. Yanking, pulling, whipping, jerking, is not only painful to your dog, but also hurtful to your relationship. Punishment, if not timed correctly, becomes arbitrary and unpredictable to a dog. You look less like a mentor and more like a dictator.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Walking Meditation Tips (and tip-tips)

As I re-read yesterday's post, I heard Marshall's little prance across the kitchen floor. Marshall's tip-tip toes reminded me that others might need some tips on how to pull off this whole 'walking meditation thing' with a dog. (It also reminded me how much I need to trim Marshall's nails.)

A lot of people confuse meditation or presence with the stereotypical sit-on-the-floor-all-pretzel-like-and-say-ohm-till-you're-zoned-out characters on TV shows. There is nothing zoned-out about mindful walking or walking meditation, especially with a furry friend. It is a little more complicated than just walking by yourself in a secluded setting. You have to be aware of cars, crossing streets, the message you are sending down the leash, communicating turns or commands if you have certain rules about other dogs, distractions, pedestrians, or cars. (Ollie has to sit on the shoulder for cars coming from behind him. He used to be so afraid of things he couldn't see, he'd run without thinking -- a very dangerous habit that had to be corrected.)

There are so many great websites on walking meditation, but here are a few of my tips:

  • The key is to be kind to yourself. Wear comfortable clothing, drink water before you go, don't worry about how far you are going to walk. This is not training for a 20K charity walk. It is training for being mindful and aware. Listen to your body. If in the spring and summer you are too hot or feel winded, dizzy, or otherwise woozy while walking, sit down for a minute or stand and lean against a tree or building in the shade. If on a cold day you find your hands and feet are losing feeling, maybe it is time to go inside and warm up.

  • You aren't going to be able to connect with your breathing if your dog is over-excited and pulling you everywhere. You're going to be fighting him the whole way. Let your dog run around outside before you go, throw a ball, tire him out a little. Let him have a good drink of water. Dogs really don't need sweaters and coats until it is well below 30 degrees. Unless the dog is small and has fur with no undercoat (Italian Greyhound, Min-Pins, etc) or is almost naked (Chinese Crested, Chihuahuas, groomed Poodles, etc.) they probably don't need any people clothes on a walk. If your pooch does need outerwear, check periodically to make sure there is no rubbing or chafing.

  • When just out walking your dog, practice good leash habits. It doesn't really matter if the dog is in front of you a little or behind you. What matters is there is no leash-pulling.

  • When you and your pooch start off, begin walking a little faster than normal. The increased heart rate forces your body to start breathing correctly and really accepting your breath. You may naturally begin breathing in your nose and out your mouth. Plus, a little feel-good endorphins never hurt anyone, right?

  • After about four or five minutes, slow down a bit and let your breath fall into a natural rhythm. Don't expend the energy trying to force yourself to breathe in or out on a certain step, just notice when you do breathe. Lengthen your stride to fit the rhythm of your breath.

  • This is about the time where one of two things will happen with your walking partner. Either he will sense your changing mental state and join you in it, falling into step beside you, or he will feel you starting to relax and take it as an opportunity for free-for-all leash time. If you experience the second response, you and pooch need more leash time and more training walks. (Tomorrow's post)

  • Soft-focus your eyes, relaxing the muscles in your face, forehead, and around your eyes. Be aware of your step, hear your breath. As thoughts or feelings surface, don't try to ignore them, rather acknowledge them and let them go as if they were the trees or houses you are passing. To help you remember to praise your dog for good leash behavior, choose an object ahead of you. Do not focus on that object, just use it as a guide. When you pass it, give soft and calm verbal praise.

  • Smile at people you pass. Smiling is important. "Sometimes the source of your smile is joy. Your smile can also be the source of your joy." --Thich Nhat Hahn