Wednesday, August 17, 2016

It's My Choice!

"The work involved to reach this level of competition is not work for me or Kris, it's a passion, it's a passion for oneness in a sport that requires so much from the both of us. It's my choice to do this game, it's my duty to make this worth doing for Bratska and all the others in our family."
- Chris Tucci

I saw this facebook post a week ago and it contained a lengthy recap by Chris Tucci about his experience competing with his amazing agility dog Bratska at the European Open.  These two lines really struck me.  They struck me hard! Obviously dog stuff is a passion for me, I love the sense of connection you get from training anything with a dog.  Agility takes that to another level, flyball less so but also more so.  Daily life, tricks, basic house manners, well they are all about making a connection with your dog.  Enough about passionate oneness.  What about that choice part?

The way I see it, most everything related to dogs is about the human's choice.  You chose the dog (for the most part), you chose what you will allow the dog to do, what it eats, how much it eats, where it sleeps, hell I even teach mine where to potty & where on the tug they can bite.  It's a lot of choices to make...and almost none are made by the dog!  

Over the years I've really striven to accept dogs for who they are and not try to mold them into something of my choosing.  So Nikki, my wild child, is embraced for her wild...but molded to be obedient and make the most of that.  Betty, fearful and shy, is embraced for her weirdness...but molded to be able to function in the world.  Nikki is an obvious dog to channel into dog sports.  Betty far less so, and I've had many internal debates, frustration, and big doubt about choosing to make her go to classes, to compete etc.  How do you make those choices for a dog whose happy place is under my bed?  It seems to be a complex balancing act.  I've done my best to make leaving the bowels of my bedroom a worthwhile choice for Betty.  I pledged never to leave Betty alone at the startline, I promised not let Nikki's barking anger me if she's doing everything else I've asked of her.  I tried to honor their choice to play with me by making sure I don't forget their individuality.  They have needs damn it!

Lately I've been struck by the number of people who make a choice and do not consider the dog in the equation. The more choices I give my dogs, the more they chose to do what I want.  That sounds contrary but I've also endeavored to make working with me such AN ENJOYABLE choice for them, that they just about glue themselves to me when it's training or work time.  The rest of the time they can "go do dog stuff".  Aka, stand down dog, you are off duty!  (Thanks to Ron @ for that term!)

So how do we balance our choice and the dog's choice and frankly, our human desire to make those choices their choices?  Overall, I want every part of training with me to be clear, concise and rewarding.  I'm not trying to be their leader, I'm trying to be a coach, who brings out the best in you and teaches you how to continually advance.  I also understand that there will be communication break downs and frustration on both our parts.  I'm not going to punish the dog who is trying very hard to figure out what the human wants them to do, especially when the human is clearly an idiot!  If I was your math teacher and kept tell you to solve this quadratic equation.  Now.  Do it now.  Now, no don't look over there, solve it!  Now.  What would you do?  I'm betting you'd clam up, cry, run out of the room, yell at your teacher, or maybe just nod & smile while pretending to write down an answer?  Well a lot of dogs do that.  They sniff, look elsewhere, get up and walk away, do something else, or just freeze up entirely.  Hum.  But a good teacher would explain each step of the way how to solve that problem, and how to apply that solution to future problems.  So when faced with the same situation you know how to solve for X!  I want my dogs to feel smart & in control.  If you felt smart and in control, what would that translate as?  I'm betting you would be mighty CONFIDENT in your abilities!  

Dogs pose a special problem though, they don't speak our language and just like us humans, they can all learn differently.  So an extra challenge is learning how they think.  Setting aside their emotional issues (um, Betty), just learning how they learn requires patience.  For Betty, I had to calm her fears so that she could learn.  For Nikki, I had to help her learn to control her enormously explosive energy level so she could learn.  For Sway, I just had to make sure she understood what I wanted, the first time!  She is easily frustrated by repetition.  For Ping...oh Ping.  Let's just say he'd be riding the short bus.  So things had to be even simpler and not change quickly for him to get it.  All this requires patience on the human's part.  Most humans have no patience.  So how about we just get some compassion?  

1. sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it

Remembering that our dogs have no choice but to live with us...let's keep some compassion in how we train them.  Let's make it worthwhile for the dog to choose to work with us.  Then let's be patient so they can build confidence and attack any problem we throw at them!

PS - I don't know why this is highlighted.  Sorry!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

One Door Closes

Today was the end of a very important chapter in my life.  I have been involved with rescue groups since I was 22 years old.  18 years later, I'm closing that door.  I worked 8 years with big national rescue groups, and 10 years with the rescue that I started.  Protege Canine Rescue.  I have never been paid, never had a salary, never wanted one.  I wanted rescue to be about the dogs, not endless fundraising.  I was able to do that thanks to the incredible dedication of volunteers who were similarly committed to that mission...DOGS!  Of course I'm not really done, we promised to be a safety net for our dogs for the rest of their lives.  So maybe in another 13 years I can consider Protege really done.

This was not a rash decision, it was over a year in the making.  I've had some big guilt trips, some self-induced and some from well meaning people.  Trust me, you can't top my own guilt trips. So, I am sorry, sorry to disappoint, sorry I just can't keep it going. I can't just take a break and deal with my burn out.   

So why have I heartlessly closed down Protege?  Well, I've always firmly believed that if you weren't fully committed to something you would do a crappy job.  As the president of Protege, many things were ultimately my responsibility, and I was starting not to care about doing a good job.  I didn't want the quality of our work to suffer because of my attitude.  You see, there are many behind the scenes things happening, and since the buck stops's pretty vital that I be 100% committed.  Running Protege was essentially a unpaid, part time job.  It got to the point where Protege was becoming really intrusive in my family life, which I greatly resented.  The most intrusive things were dealing with a never ending revolving door of problems to solve.  I was essentially always on call.  If you traveled with me, it became a running joke that if I was doing something for myself, sure enough, something major would happen.  I was never, ever not on duty.  I'd call it compassion fatigue, but it's more than that, I still have lots of compassion, but I have little patience or tolerance for the continual problem solving required. The joys of rescue, the happy stories, they amazing transformations, they just weren't enough to get me through the grinding obligations.  Maybe I will feel differently after some time has passed, but if so, there are plenty of shelters, groups etc I can work with, without such heavy responsibility.  And yes, I've tried very hard to farm out that responsibility over the years, but ultimately, I have to make sure things get done, make tough decisions, figure out other options etc.  I debated handing over the reins, but I wanted someone as committed as I had been, and in the end I felt that I couldn't ever rest if Protege existed.  

My regrets:

I regret that in 18 years, I got exactly the same behavioral calls over & over & over.  There will be a blog post about this, it really deserves it's own attention and I want something to refer future callers/rescuers.  

I regret that I haven't developed a better Crazy Radar.  Crazy people seem highly attracted to animal rescue work.  Oh the stories I could tell you...

I regret any dog we have placed that developed serious health or behavioral issues.  We try so hard, and while health is always a crap shoot, I wish we could better determine which dogs would be truly problematic.  All I can say is we TRIED & if we had known, we would not have placed the dog. 

I regret that some people never got the idea of rescue, of carefully placing a dog.  They just saw a commodity to purchase and they wanted it now, now, now!   

I regret that I didn't tell off more people.  Calm, cool and steady is the reasonable way to react, but ohhhhh, it would have been nice to smack some people upside the head!

My delights:

I delight in every update we get from adopters.  I know how much my own adopted dogs mean to me and I'm glad that we were able to provide you with family member.  Many times over the years, those updates kept me going.  

I delight in all the amazing volunteers, rescuers, shelter workers and veterinary staff we have worked with. There are so many smart, reasonable animal lovers out there, it gives me hope.

I delight in the fact that Steve Branin has supported me every step of the way.  He is the best husband and a true animal lover.  He has been a great sounding board and coped with many, many rescue related interruptions in our lives!

I delight in Jo Pearson, who I met through the adoption of one of my earliest rescue dogs, who led me into flyball (my obsession).  She has been a steadfast rescue supporter who devoted as much time as I did to keeping Protege's T's crossed, I's dotted, websites running etc etc!  She did more for Protege than any other volunteer, and did it really, really well!  Jo's efforts kept this rescue working from a regulatory & a functional sense!  

I delight in knowing that something will come from this.  Doors shut, windows open, maybe you just tunnel a hole thru the wall.  It might be good or bad or who knows.  I'm okay with that and when I made the decision, I knew it was right, and the time was right, and I knew a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders.    

I delight in this dog, Zoe.  My first, terrible dog of my own.  Because of her, I developed an interest in dog training, in rescue work, and is why all of this happened.  She was the smartest, most loyal, most devoted dog I've ever met.  She wasn't an aussie, she wasn't a rescue, but she was the catalyst in my life that turned just a dog owner into a dog rescue person.  I hope that everyone has something in their life, like Zoe, that makes them more than they ever knew was possible.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Pee of 3 - AKA Teaching Potty on Command

The Pee of 3 is a catchy title, the three applies more to boy dogs than girl dogs, BUT it can hold true for girls too.  I have housebroken a LOT of foster dogs, a lot of my own dogs & even a friend's dog who had lived in a kennel run & just didn't give a $#&% where he went.  None of this is rocket science, it just requires some time, patience and persistence.  

If the dog is peeing super frequently or in their sleep, go to a VET first!  Make sure the dog doesn't have a urinary tract infection or incontinence issues, both issues need medication!   

1. Limit freedom - if you can't watch them, crate or barricade them.  ALL THE TIME.  Until they are reliably going outside.  Yes this is a pain, but it's temporary, and it's for a good reason.  The dogs typically learn that if they are caught going potty, they get in big trouble.  So they will get sneakier and sneakier about doing it out of your sight.  Some have been punished so much they won't go around a human at all!  Do NOT scold, punish, rub face in their accident etc.  This will make them MORE intent on doing it away from people.  If you catch them in the act pick them up or  interrupt them and get them IMMEDIATELY outside saying "Let's go outside" and then proceed with the steps below.  Some dogs may have an accident inside, get caught and not have finished the job.  Some may hear you coming & stop going, so you find 1 turd and then while you freak out about that turd, they aren't done & go again.  So leave the mess & rush them out make sure you give them an additional opportunity outside.  DO NOT SCOLD, PUNISH ETC when this happens, just calmly get them outside, then crate them again before you clean up.
2. Monitor intake - If you free feed, you are doomed.  I recommend feeding twice a day, at fairly consistent times.  Knowing that will create about 2 poops a day, and usually shortly after they eat.  If they are peeing inside, make sure that if they are doing things like tanking up on water after a play session that they get to go out again w/ no option to play.  This is a bigger problem with dogs who love to fetch, they play & play, then drink a ton inside and a few minutes later...PEE!  After you've gone back in & are convinced that the hour outside right before should have given them plenty of time to get the job done! 
3. Don't be lazy - go outside to potty with them EVERY TIME.  I say, "Let's go outside" and off we go.  Try to go to the same door each time.  The first thing they need to do is their business, not play, not run around, not goof around with housemates.  You may need to have them on leash, and stand a long time being super, super boring.  If you can't keep them from running around/outta your immediate observable area, leash them.  EVERY TIME.  If the dog is cautious about doing their biz with a human around, you might want a longer leash and to turn your back (pretend to ignore, watch outta the corner of your eye).  Couple this watching with a simple training exercise, grab a couple small cookies, and right when you see them squat or lift a leg to go, I say "go potty" (once), they finish and I immediately give a cookie & start praising them up like crazy, lots of "good potty" and give them a cookie.  Then I will go back to ignoring them and tell them "Go potty" again.  Yes, this means when it's snowing, cold, raining, hotter than hot, you go with them!
4. Pee of 3 - mostly for boys, but girls can do little pees/poops too.  So wait, wait, wait, again being BORING!  Boys - I make sure they pee 3 times before we are done.  Yes 3, they seem to have infinite reserves!  For girls I monitor based on the length of the pee, if they are do a short squat, then I'm going to wait for another one.  If the poop was a little turdlet, WAIT!  Once I feel they have REALLY emptied out, then we can commence play/take off the leash/go back inside etc.  I do not then let them run free, they will be again, monitored inside or crated.
5. Still don't be lazy - For dogs who are habitual inside pee/poopers & this indeed means every time, all weather, middle of the night, YOU go out there with them.  I will take them out every two hours at a minimum, puppies, it may even be more.  If they are with me and start losing interest, looking around, looking a bit frantic, then I'm going to take them outside immediately.  Typically I see results in a 1-2 weeks.  What I'm doing is putting potty on command, rewarding it OUTSIDE and only when they have JUST completed it, not when we go back in the house.  
6. Busy Dogs - I continue to monitor and gradually allow more freedoms once dogs GET the command and start immediately pottying outside when I give the command.  Busy dogs & puppies especially can forget, so make sure when it's potty time, it's the first thing they do.  It's easier once it is on command, to give the command, make sure they go sufficently, then commence play.  
7. Side Effect - This will create a dog who goes on command & keeps going.  I've trained countless, countless rescue dogs this way, two boys that were supposedly just "IMPOSSIBLE", one had lived in a kennel run for 6 months, then peed inside for another 6 months!  Both would pee multiple times, and even FAKE a leg lift if they had nothing left in the tank.  It also means who you have to stop along the road, in a rainstorm, at a creepy looking gas station, at 11pm, those dogs potty immediately!  Yeah.  I train ALL my personal dogs to do this from day one & it makes life soo much easier.  
8. Consistency - The more strictly you do this at the beginning the faster you will see progress.  I know it's a pain, but so is stepping in dog shit at 3 AM or frantically cleaning carpets right before your judgmental, dog hating, relative comes over.
9.  Why Not - Reward inside?  Because then the dog will be motivated to get back inside and many dogs will skip the potty part to get on it, or do a cursory potty attempt and rush back in, then piddle after.  You also loose the immediacy of the reward to the actual potty.  You wouldn't teach a dog to sit from 20 ft away or tell them sit & then jog 20 feet away to give them a'd give it in close proximity to when & wherever they were sitting!  
10. Kennel Run Raised/Pet Store/Piddle Pad trained dogs - They have no concerns about keeping their area clean.  So, you may need to take some of their poop/pee outside and create an area where they "do their biz".  Then leash them & take them there.  If they are always going on a piddle pad, you may need to take that outside at first, then take them to the area & eventually you can stop that.  Yes, I have literally taken a pee soaked paper towel outside and rubbed it on the ground or carried a poop outside and planted it in the "potty area".  C'mon where do dogs go...where everyone else goes!  I will also not allow any material in their crate, no pads, newspapers, no towels, nothing, so they can't piddle and wad it up away from themselves.  Yes, this sucks, but it tends to be temporary. So suck it up buttercup & give lots of baths, keep that crate spotless.  Puppymill dogs...yeah, I'm sorry, that can be another issue entirely.

Submissive Peeing
This is not about potty training.  Submissive peeing is just that.  If your dog submissive pees, they are trying to appease the great and mighty human or just overjoyed to see you or both.  If you were another dog you would appreciate that a whole lot more!  Shy/soft dogs tend to do this more than bold/pushy ones.  The best thing to do is to be very calm when greeting them, don't fuss over them, don't loom over them, don't gush effusively.  If you want to greet them crouch, turn sideways, and let them come up to you, don't go to them.  Speak quietly to them.  Most dogs will grow out of it if they are doing it as puppies, but they may still do it if they think they are in trouble as adults.  The best course is to ignore the dog when they are super excited and pay attention to them when they are calmed down.  Don't make a big deal about the piddle, just ignore the dogs's wiggling and appeasing gestures, clean it up & move on with your life.  If you yell at the dog or punish it, they will very likely pee more!  You can try to have greetings or exciting wiggle times on hard surfaces or outside.  Or if they do it coming out of a crate, quietly release them & walk away or quickly leash them and take them outside before greeting them.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The worst blog ever...

Lame, lame, lame.  I guess I've had nothing noteworthy to say in the last 2 or so years. 

Oh, I had a baby.  Caroline.  She's freaking adorable.  The baby gods gave me a super laid back baby.  Phew.  She's much bigger now.  I'm enjoying all the similiarities between training dogs & training a baby.  I'm also putting the large chunk of child development stuff I studied in college to better use.  I'm also trying not to panic, freak out & scar her for life (I'm sure I'll do that later).
Hum, I started writing about the dogs, but it was very sad.  Not in the mood for sad.  So I will leave off with just a serene baby photo. 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Hi, Remember Me?

After a lengthy break from blogging I'm back. Sort of, we'll see how long I maintain my good intentions! So first I'm going to brag. Nikki, is awesome, we have worked very hard for a long time and things are coming together. Can I say I love this dog. She's so fun to work with even though not perfect and we still have a lot of behavior tweaks to work on. I'm glad we haven't pushed. But now it's time to be pushing, we hit our first agility trial for the year next weekend. Should be interesting, but I try to keep low expectations & remember that we are looking for our training weaknesses. Namely that I'm not probably training enough agility with her, as I have been really lazy this winter. But when we work, I know I have a teammate, we try to read each other, she's in tune, for the most part. It's a great feeling. I've worked so hard making sure she never knows that when I screw up she's doing something wrong. As a result she just keeps trying & having fun even if I'm working something out on the handling side. Love that!

For flyball, she has really made some amazing improvements in the last few months. Some of our issues, well they aren't issues any more. I made a tough decision to hand her over to Steve, his other flyball dog, Jester, turned 10 on 2/13 & is likely to retire soon. I keep saying that but he will have to eventually and Bridget runs best for me & Betty NEEDS me. Sigh. So I hand over my rocking awesome flyball dog to Steve. Steve has done a good job handling her and listening to me on how to handle her. I'm sure the knowledge that I will be VERY angry if he screws her up is a lot of pressure to deal with! Sorry Steve. I have high hopes that she will run under 4 seconds this year, we are just gearing up for our 1st tourney of the year. It is on turf, so I'm not sure if that will make a difference. Given her agility performance on the same surface, I suspect not so much! She ran a 4.02 in practice w/ no opposing dog to provide competition, first time we've timed her since November. She also performed at a UI basketball half time show, her first and usually a nerve racking experience for a new dog. Not her, she was flawless, even with Herky running along side of her...idiot! On the bright side, Steve now gets to deal with the intense tugging, slobber producing Naughty Nikki in the lane. It's a bit exhausting!

Betty continues to plod along. I think it's important to have an exceptional dog to show you that you need to make exceptions. Fellow classmates seem to enjoy watching me run Betty & Nikki back to back. Some say oh I see you have Nikki because of Betty, others say, I see you have Betty because of Nikki. I have Betty because she's still the most entertaining dog we own. I should not say plod b/c Betty does have sa lot of fire in her. We have a lot of amazing moments when she is running fast & happy. She really likes agility but it can be frustrating when her fear issues pop up in the middle of a splendid run. When she is ON I'm RUNNING hard to keep up with her, when she's OFF I'm walking & encouraging. Luckily I've got experience running multiple dogs so at least when Betty decides to be slow I can cope with it. On the other hand, she challenges my abilities in a totally different way than Nikki and it's kind of a nice change of pace. I hope to start trialing in NADAC so I can train in the ring for several trials & see how she does. And I'm going to take a leap of faith and really push her in flyball. C'mon Betty, you been doing this for almost 2 little doglet, fly!

Jester & Bridget continue to be steady and products of earlier training methods. Jester is retired from agility. Bridget is not & sometimes it's just so, so, so pleasant to run a trained dog. Even though her training has big gaps in it, I know where they are and accomodate. With Nikki & Betty, it's always a big ?

Zoe, hum, Zoe continues a slow decline in health but overall is happy. So it is with a almost 15 yr old dog. I love her so much, but hate to see her slowly drifting away.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I have a bag of frozen shrimp in my freezer. I bought them last year to give to my Dad on Father's Day, and he came several times to visit over the summer & fall and I kept forgetting to actually give him the bag of shrimp. Such are my good intentions, I bought them in time, just never followed thru. In case you can't guess, he LOVED shrimp. So since he died I keep seeing those shrimp in my freezer and thinking about how sad it was that I didn't get that bag to him when he could have enjoyed them. And I haven't been able to do more than move them around the freezer, they certainly have freezer burn (they aren't in my deep freeze). I debated giving them to my dogs to eat but I could do it. I kept thinking of my Dad and imagining him saying it was a horrible waste to feed good shrimp to the dogs, even if they probably aren't that good anymore. Not logical, but the shrimp remain, frozen indefinitely. Steve has offered to dispose of them and I said no. I don't know what I will do with the shrimp. I think I will know when the time is right, what to do with them, I mean besides the obvious.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Zen & the Art of Flyball Training

*Warning, this is about flyball, a weird dog sport, ignore if you are not a dog person!

I like flyball, I love training for flyball. So simple, yet sooo complex a sport. However I get a little too invested in things I can't control. So in an effort to stop bitching and achieve more balance in my life, I've adopted a Zen approach to flyball practice. I will not yell, except for my dog or emergencies. I will attempt to stop being bossy. I can not control things, so I must let go of my desire to manage & push practice forward. Ohhmmm. Ohhmmm. Repeat after me, patience is a virtue. It's not one I particular espouse though, so I'm trying to embrace patience!

This goes along with my general philosophy of flyball training, slower is better, at least as far as training goes. I think it's important to train the dog, not the just take the dog to the training. Looking at each dog's differences & making the training fit the dog's needs is important, and I'm not sure how to convey that importance to others. I love the tiny details that go into getting the most out of the dog, I love that I've been patient with Nikki & Betty. The clicker has worked phenomenally with both of them. Even when Betty was flaking out I figured if I just parsed down enough of the training & was patient she would come along nicely. With Nikki, the clicker helped shape a nice crisp turn & helped her know exactly what I wanted her to do. I'm really looking forward to the next tournament & hope I can actually get her running in the lineup. We'll see how her passing practice goes. And if not well she'll just keep improving and becoming more enlightened! I'm also anxiously patient to see if Betty's big advancements means we can start adding in more distractions for her.