Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Overweight Dog

Houston, we have a problem! I called the mobile groomer in on Sunday to get Ruth clipped down for the coming spring and summer months. All that Husky undercoat really makes her hot. Come to find out that all what I thought was just a winter coat was 5 lbs of weight Ruth had gained over the winter. She is now a "fluffly" dog - no pun intended.

So what do I do? I have a weight problem myself, one caused by hypothyroidism, exhausted adrenals and just plain over-indulging. I never dieted until I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism 11 years ago and had gained an enormous amount of weight over a short period of time (a few months, almost 100 lbs.). Before that, whereas I was 10 to 15 percent overweight depending on how active I was, I never worried about it.

11 years and numerous different diets later, my gallbladder had to be removed and according to my doc was the result of the dieting. I've not been strictly dieting since and I haven't gained a pound. Now, I think if I went on one of those diets, I'd actually lose weight! Not that there weren't a couple of diets that I did lose weight on - 1) 750 calories a day lost 50 lbs in 4 months and got really sick and 2) total vegetarian with no grains at all and lost 30 lbs in 6 months. Getting my gall bladder caused another 15 lb weight loss for a total so far of 45 lbs. The rest didn't do a thing and some caused weight gain. I even joined three different gyms hoping for the calories in / calories out thing to work - waste of money.

There is no way I'd put Ruth through what I've gone through in trying to lose weight. I will not experiement on my dog. So I started my research. I knew that most people think calories in / calories out, but after my own experiences, I don't believe that for a minute, especially not when there are other health problems involved.

Most of the web sites I visited and the vets I talked to think calories in / calories out and their reccommendations are more exercise and less calories. Ok, even though I don't particularly believe in that philosophy for myself, I thought I'd try it on Ruth. I can't increase her exercise - she gets plenty now. Half hour run on the bicycle in the morning, 45 minute walk in the afternoon most days (or vice versa). So it's cut her food which I've started doing.

Now comes the wait for the weight loss. Stay tuned.

Pack Life

Many people have more than one dog in their household. They may be able to control and get by with two dogs in a family situation, but the minute they add a third dog they have a dog pack. When a dog pack is established in a home the balance of nature changes and it is only a matter of time before these animals begin to test their new relationships within the pack. Sometimes this is done without a fight but more often than not a fight takes place. This fight takes place because there is no confirmed leader of this pack - not human or canine.

The fact is these problems are a result of mistakes that you made and not mistakes the dog made. The dog is just acting like a dog. Dogs are extremely observant. It does not take them long to determine that you, or your spouse, or other family members are not consistent in how you expect them to mind. Once a dog figures out that it only has to mind under certain circumstances it is a short step for the same dog to start to think that it only has to mind when it wants to and then thinking it doesn't need to mind at all and trying to get the owners (and the other pack members) to mind him.

This is the reason so many dogs seem to live happily with the family up to 12 to 18 months of age and then suddenly change into Cujo. It's when the flowing hormones and lack of proper obedience training takes over the family pet. Even if your dog is neutered/spayed, there is a hormonal change that starts at around 9 months and continues to maturity between 18 and 24 months. Most people seek help at this point and retain an obedience trainer. Unfortunately, all too often normal obedience training does not solve the aggression problem. This is because who is in charge has not been settled with the dog. When aggression issues continue after or during obedience training the dog does not look to the owner as the leader.

You are supposed to be the pack leader. In many pet homes this is not the case. Too often the dog does not see the owner as the one in charger. These dogs can love their owner but do not respect them. The solution to the Cujo problem starts with changing the pack leader issue. To a great extent dogs live in the present and not the past. This means if you change the way you live with this dog today you can fix this problem. You are the pack leader - you are the one who is supposed to determine who and when to fight someone - not the dog. Dogs instinctually know this. Dogs shouldn’t have to worry. they’re dogs. they need to just be cute and good and fun! You should be the one who protects the pack.

I often get emails from people who have gone to positive reinforcement only type trainers that have tried to modify the behavior of the dog through halties and other positive methods. With most dogs these methods fail because the trainer simply doesn’t or refuses to understand dominance, pack behavior and pack drive. These methods also fail because the trainer is confusing compliance with control and respect. The haltie type collar might allow for more control when the owner either can't because of physcial problems or won't because "the dog is just too cute and fragile", but that cute and fragile dog doesn't understand that and will eventually figure out how to get around these strange tools. If you aren't in control and have the respect of your dog, no tool in the world is going to fix aggression.

The concept is simple - the dog must respect the handler and the potential for a correction more than it has the urge to fight. Just as importantly the handler must praise the dog (with a happy voice) when the dog minds or when it stops becoming aggressive after a correction. This concept must become very black and white to the dog. Aggression means getting my head taken off with a properly administered correction and not being aggressive means getting praised. The dog must understand that if a strange dog comes near, my pack leader will kick it’s butt and deal with the situation.

The ultimate training goal for the handler is to make the dog understand that it must do what the pack leader wants no matter what and that not minding is not an option. There is no magic training method that is going to make the owner into a pack leader. Every single act of unwarranted aggression must be met with a stiff correction. No exceptions.

Always remember that once your dog relinquishes pack order to you he will be a much happier dog. It’s like a great burden is lifted off his shoulders.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Leadership and Intention

”Our intention creates our reality.” --Wayne Dyer

"Leadership is the wise use of power. Power is the capacity to translate intention into reality and sustain it." --Warren Bennis

Purpose and intention are very nearly two sides of the same coin. Simply stated, you could say that intention was the goal, and purpose the reason for the goal. It is difficult to split them apart for each depends on the other. There can be either without the other, but in any dynamic activity, they coexist. A being can have an intention to do something, but have no purpose for it. As well one can have a purpose to do this or that, and yet be lacking sufficient intention to bring it about.

Intention is not exactly a passive thing. One definition is "that upon which the mind is set, purpose." Purpose: "an end of effort or action". In most dictionaries, these two words are nearly interdependent.

Intention is seeing a thing as done, and then setting in motion the actions that will bring about the visualized thing. It is realization of purpose. Or actualization of intended purpose. It is motion toward a postulated effect. Awareness is a necessary step in leading with intenti

When you set an intention to lead, you can have profound effects on your ability to support the achievement of extraordinary goals. With proper leadership planning, assessing, and development, being intentional will help your leadership to be…

A leader must be focused. If you do not focus your leadership on the goal you are trying to attain, you run the risk of creating something that is only remotely similar to what you envisioned.

A leader must be consistent – Without intention, your leadership could be described as "hit-or-miss." Planning your leadership activities will help your leadership to be a constant part of your job.

A leader must be skillful - It is unlikely that you, as a dog owner without formal authority or position, will be able to model your leadership after the trainer. In fact, your leadership cannot be performed in the same way as how the trainer does things. Being an intentional leader will help you to consider the complexities of what it means to be a leader. Learn to think out of the box and use the tools you have available.

A leader must be patient. “Patience” is really the difference between our expectations and the dog’s current understanding. When those two things are aligned, there is no “patience” involved. It’s just learning and having the pleasure of helping another being figure something out. It feels alive and connected, not “patient” at all. Not that patience is a bad thing, certainly not, we all need it at times. But when you are in the moment with an animal you’re working with, “patience” isn’t even present, you’re someplace beyond it.

It is the same whenever we are involved with what we love. If you’re a musician, artist, writer or athlete lost in the love of your craft or sport, you aren’t “patient,” you are simply doing and being at the same moment. Being lost in the process feels so profoundly good, so deeply nourishing that you are not outside of it, judging it or tapping your toes for it to hurry up. You’re just in it and happy to be there.

Our intentions—our attitude going in—has a profound affect on the results we get and the stress we experience along the way. Our intentions affect what we do, what we say and how we say it and how we come across in the process.

When we don’t assertively set our Intentions, we passively or unconsciously choose something else. Our outcomes are haphazard, and we become hostage to people and events that lead us astray. Intention adds directionality and power to human endeavor.

What if we actually lived our lives with the intention of making every day be worth the investment that it truly is? What would be possible for us, for our communities, for our companies? If you do this already, then good for you. But most of us don’t. We spend our time, we use our time, but we don’t usually relate to our time as an investment of our life. I believe if we did, we would be leading – speaking up, stepping up and standing up – a lot more often.

By crafting a clear mission statement and vision statement, you can powerfully communicate your intentions and motivate your team or organization to realize an attractive and inspiring common vision of the future.

We all operate by intention but for most it is unconscious and has never been examined or consciously chosen. Your intention is closely connected to your values and the values that are important to you will powerfully influence the nature of your intention.

So what is intention?

Intention is a quality of the heart and is much deeper to the truth of your being than the goals that may fill your mind. Intention is an expression of your very nature as the one who is acting. It speaks of what you want to give to life.

Intention is the energy that carries everything towards fulfillment, whether that is the grand sweep of evolution, starting a business, or training your dog.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Thinking Dog Trainer

Somewhere around 1963, the kick involved in breaststroke was changed from the frog kick to the whip kick. I am reminded of this event nearly every day. As a result of the hours and hours of practice with this new kick, I developed a trick knee that will go out of place at the drop of a hat. Because of those hours and hours of practice with this new kick, however, I came very close to going to the Olympics in breaststroke five years later.

Another result of the hours of practice was that butterfly became easier for me. I had always thought that I couldn't "fly" because I was heavier than water and would sink like a rock even when I had a lung full of air. But this new kick actually taught me how to keep my rear up, which was my major problem in butterfly. This caused me to assess all four strokes and improve them based on what I'd learned.

This was great stuff for me in the 60's – but what’s it got to do with dog training?

Dog training isn’t a rote task that you can pick up in a few days or even weeks – it’s a thinking process because no two dogs are alike, just like humans. And like classical guitar or swimming in the Olympics, it takes years to master it. Unless you are content to just teach dogs to sit, down, stay, come and heel (or lazy enough), and don't care that the dog still chews on the couch, barks at strangers and knocks the kids off the stairs in a race to go down them, the prospective dog trainer will never stop learning.

No matter what the nice sales brochure tells you, a six-week course will not magically turn you into a real dog trainer. Most of these 4 to 8 week courses advertised on the Internet also include marketing techniques, how to pay your taxes, and what to do when someone wants a refund. None of them include a years worth of apprenticeship to a real trainer, a years worth of volunteering in a shelter or the pound or a lifetime's worth of continuing education. You have to go elsewhere for that. I've also read through some of the brochures to find that in that 4 to 8 weeks, not only do you learn to have your dog sit, down, stay, coma and heel, but you also learn to teach a dog to become a guard dog, a tracking dog, a therapy or service dog and how to raise a puppy. I'm sorry, but it took me 5 years to learn all that and BE ABLE TO ACTUALLY APPLY IT in all situations and I'm still learning new techniques and new theories and having to apply it all to dogs who respond differently.

As a prospective dog trainer you should attain both "book knowledge" and hands-on experience before offering your services to the public. Read books, attend seminars, watch DVDs. Get hands-on experience by mentoring under another trainer if possible, and volunteer to work at your local shelter or with rescue groups. Shelter/rescue work is a great way to get hands-on experience with dogs of various breeds and temperaments. This process should take at least a year, more like two years. In this time you should have experience with at least 100 different breeds of dogs and nearly every behavior problem a dog can muster up. In this time you should have experience in creating lesson plans for humans to follow as well as the dogs and those lesson plans need to be tailored to the human and dog team, not a cookie cutter be all end all plan.

Dogs are thinking beings, they have emotions, needs and wants just like we do. Each dog is different in how it responds to stimuli. I've recently had experience with this difference in my weekly Group Behavior Training class. Two dogs who both lunge and bark ferociously at strange dogs; one responds to a quick touch and will then refocus on his human; the other cannot stand being touched and will bite his human but will stop mid growl for a scrumptious treat.

To keep a dog a thinking being and not a robot that does everything the trainer says but has no joy in it, become a thinking trainer !!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

When Is It Actually Aggression

Yesterday I did an evaluation for a family with 5 dogs. On the phone they had informed me that their problem was aggression with one, maybe two, of the dogs. (all names have been changed - even the dogs, the breeds of the dogs are however the real breed mixes).

The story is that they have a 10 year old Pit/Boxer mix female (Lucy) they have had for many years and a 7 year old Retriever/Pit mix (Zed) they've had for nearly as long. Two years ago these two dogs started fighting at the drop of a hat for what seemed to the humans to be for no reason and with little to no warning. There are three other dogs in this household as well, two are Scotties, one of which Lucy doesn't like at all and wants to eat. That's the story at least.

Here is what I saw. I arrived to find all the dogs in separate rooms (Lucy, Zed and the 1 year old pit/lab Boone all in separate rooms with the Scotties in a room together). Lucy greeted me at a babygate to the living room. She was waggling all over and really wanted to meet this new person. I came in amidst Mom telling Lucy over and over and over to calm down, come, sit, lay down - all while holding on to her collar. I told Mom to just let her go, she wasn't bothering me.

Then we talked.

The answers to my questions were:

  • that there was never blood drawn in these fights except an accidental ear slash occassionally. Sometimes Boone would get in the middle of one of these altercations and get slashed somewhere, but there was little to no bloodshed even when it took the humans several minutes to manage to break up the fight.

  • occassionally they noticed that Lucy would growl and lunge at Zed almost simultaneously or a hard stare and then the lunge.

  • they only got the occassional walk as they couldn't be walked together, and only Lucy, Zed and Boone, never the Scotties

  • all three were reactive on the leash with strange dogs but otherwise walked well

  • the fights started shortly after the Scotties came into the home

Is this aggression? If not, what is it?

As we continued to talk, I took Lucy's lead and asked that the daughter (Peggy) bring Zed into the room on lead also. Lucy immediately went to Zed and started sniffing him all over.Peggy freaked out and pulled Zed as far from Lucy as she could. Peggy is actually responsible for the three pit mixes and the Scotties are Mom's responsibility. Dad just seems to hang back and comment on what's going on, he never did get up off the couch the whole time I was there.

I moved close to Zed and calmed him down and then just stayed there with Lucy next to me for at least 15 minutes with nothing happening. So I asked Mom to bring Boone into the mix. Boone arrived in a flurry of pent up energy wanting to do everything at once. It took about 10 minutes for Mom to relax enough for Boone to start to relax. Eventually Boone layed down and just watched what was happening. Lucy and Zed in the meantime are just being perfect puppies and doing everything they are asked (sit, down, move here, move there) despite the fact that they wanted to go for a walk since they had the leashes on.

Finally, I just let Lucy loose. She visited everyone, especially Mom. She wanted nothing to do with Peggy however other then that Zed was near Peggy. Neither dog really listened to Peggy unless she had a treat in her hand. While we were talking, Lucy decided to get up on the ottoman and Zed decided he would join here. This is a large ottoman, but not really big enough for the two dogs. Lucy growled at Zed and he started with some pretty aggressive submissive licking and groveling. So I stopped this before it escalated. But it showed me enough that I knew exactly what the problem was in this home.

I still haven't seen the interaction with the Scotties, but I really didn't need to at this point. The Scotties were in the room next to the living room the entire time barking, whining, scratching at the door and generally being obnoxious.

The problem in a nutshell is

  • lack of mental and physical stimulation of all the dogs, not just Lucy and Zed - they are bored stiff and have so much pent up energy they look for ways to get rid of it even if that means a fight

  • the Scotties have been separated from the rest of the dogs since the first month they were in the home - they are not considered part of the pack by the two older dogs and Lucy in particular tells them to stay away

  • lack of firm leadership and direction for all the dogs, despite Peggy being the defacto owner of the pits, she is more like a younger sibling and Mom is the only one who has any control over them.

  • Lucy thinks she runs the show and looks at the humans as just part of her pack.

This is not aggression, despite the fights and how Lucy feels about the Scotties. It could become aggression in the future if nothing is done about it, but for now, it's just misplaced energy and easily handled so long as the humans in this pack are willing to step up and do their part.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Which behavior issue is easiest to resolve?

There are five main behavior issues that I'm repeatedly called in to help resolve.

  • The most common is the Aggressive Dog who bites people and other dogs, growls at, lunges at and generally scares the pants off humans and other dogs. He is unpredictable and does things seemingly without warning. He is the dog that drags his owner down the street when he sees another dog - intent only on killing that dog. He is also the dog that will attack the other dogs in the household when he is frustrated and releases that frustrated energy on the nearest target.

  • Next is the Fearful, Timid or Shy Dog, the dog who is so fearful that she urinates every time a new thing comes in contact with her, especially new humans, but also new sights and sounds.

  • Third is the Anxious Dog who can't seem to live without her owner being within reach at all times. This dog will destory your house when you are gone and jump all over you without stop, whining the whole time when you come home. This dog gets so excited about doing things with you - even something as simple as being allowed to be in your lap, that she shakes uncontrollably.

  • Next is the Unfocused/Uncontrolled Dog, the dog who lies down when called or put on a leash, forcing you to drag him when he does not wish to listen . . . or even worse, he simply walks the other way and ignores you. He jumps on every one and probably counter surfs even while you are in the kitchen cooking.

  • Last, but certainly not least, is the Hyperactive Dog who is so scatterbrained that she cannot focus at all. This dog is so hyper that she leaps from object to object trying to take it all in at once. This dog pulls so intensely on a walk that she has sores on her neck. Her owners are so embarrassed by her that she is no longer walked and is not able to be in the house when guests come over.

So which of these would be easiest to change?

Keep in mind, there are obstacles and a great deal of rehabilitation needed for each of them, but the easiest to resolve by far is the Aggressive Dog. You probably think I'm nuts! Most obedience professionals (and even some behavior consultants) believe aggressive dogs should be euthanized without a chance.

They believe that even one bite and the dog will never learn to co-exist with other dogs or humans. Most of my clients with aggressive dogs are totally flabergasted when in less then 3 hours they have a compliant, happy dog who does everything you tell him to.

If you hadn't guessed, most of the dogs people think are aggressive aren't even close. They bite a human by accident in play or manage to tear the ear of a playmate because they miscalculated, or they growled at the toddler because of a pulled tail. Just last night I visited three Great Pyranees who reportedly were at each others throats and one had actually gotten hurt. In less then an hour, they were all walking together and ignoring each other.

A truly aggressive dog is rare, despite what you see on TV, and even a truly aggressive dog resolves much faster then the other types of behavior issues. Most aggressive dogs have gotten aggressive because of fear. They learned that to chase the scary thing/person/dog away you can bite, growl really loud and show teeth.

The second easiest to change in my experience would be the Unfocused Uncontrolled Dog. The main problem with this type of behavior issue is total boredom, no physical or mental challenge and a store of pent up energy that one good exhausting workout would release. Rules, boundaries and limitations are missing in this dog's relationship with his owner. If the owner stepped up to the plate and actually said "NO!" this dog would stop dead in it's tracks and start thinking about what he's doing.

Third in this circus of behavior issues in the Anxious Dog. Like the Fearful, Timid or Shy Dog, it takes a lot of repetitive work from the owners to create a calm, relaxed and focused dog who understands that you leaving the house or a new thing entering the house is nothing to get upset about. The only reason that the Anxious Dog is easier to resolve then the Fearful, Timid or Shy Dog is because of the intensity of fear. Anxiety is fear but it's a mild fear and doesn't interfere with the dog being a dog most of the time. The anxiety this dog feels is generally not caused by abuse, neglect or having lived without humans.

Next in order of difficulty to change is the Fearful, Timid or Shy Dog. You dare not approach her frontally, for as with all fearful dogs, eye contact represents a challenge. In some cases, especially with abuse cases, you can't help this dog even by taking it for a walk. The leash is one of the most terrifying things in the universe to some abused dogs. But if the owner works hard at building trust, desensitizing all the things that truly frighten the dog and build up her confidence, it only takes a few weeks to rehabilitate a fearful dog.

The most difficult to behavior issue to change is the Hyperactive Dog.

A dog like this is the most difficult to change because this dog is going to push your patience right to the limit. You must avoid like the plague getting frustrated when handling a hyperactive dog - particularly if you have been the causative force behind the dog becoming this way. Being frustrated will achieve the opposite result, increasing her hyperactivity.

Under most circumstances, the truly hyperactive dog was taught to be this way. A hyperactive dog is generally the result of coddling your dog every moment, touching it constantly, giving in to it's every wish and on the other hand never giving it any rules, boundaries, limitations or exercise. This way of handling the dog would have had to start when it was a puppy who's attention span was short. The dog never learns to focus and is constantly seeking your attention as that is the only way it has to release energy.

No matter what type of behavior issue you have with your dog, to truly help your dog, YOU have to change what you're doing and learn how to communicate with your dog. You need to understand that no amount of obedience training is ever going to fix the cause of any behavior issue. It might keep the dog from doing something nasty if intensively trained never to move without your approval - but that takes years of hard work. Behavior modification takes much less time and it actually treats the source of the problem, it doesn't just put a bandaid on it.