Wednesday, December 27, 2017

When all else fails - be kind.

I was writing a guest post this morning for a blog in Germany (how cool is that?) about 10 traits of happy trainers. You can be sure I'll share it when it goes up. But it got me thinking.

We, those of us who profess to be, or aspire to be, positive dog trainers sometimes miss one of the most important tenants of positive training. Be kind. As the Dalai Lama said,  "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."  He wasn't talking about dog training, nor am I really (though my point applies to dog training too). People who want to be seen as positive dog trainers need to get their act together when it involves dealing with humans as much as when it involves a dog (or horse).

For real. In classes, at shows, at the grocery store. There are ways to be constructive that are not hateful or judgmental or nasty. There are ways to build people up, open up discussions and help without tearing people down. Those ways aren't easy nor are they intuitive for many of us but they are possible. Ask for help if you  really can't think of a positive way to work with people.  Stop chasing them and let them live their lives unless you are asked or invited to offer your opinion. Especially when it's about something already done. Honestly. How would it now be helpful to tell me that the dogs should never have met the coyote back in 2011? Or that dogs will climb shelves to get gum? I'll be blunt. It isn't and wouldn't be kind. If you want to have a discussion about how I balance agency and freedom and keeping my dogs as safe as I can? Well that's cool and a conversation I have pretty regularly.

On social media.  The keyboard warriors who look to attack people for transgressions, or differences need to get a grip.  The European proverb comes to mind "those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones". I  do things my way,  you do things your way. Sometimes we work  similarly and sometimes very differently.   Kibble? Raw? Home cooked?  Collar types?  Vaccination protocols?  Just because I thought long and hard about my choices for the dogs doesn't mean I won't respect your often different, choices. Don't presume that because Sampson had some complications from his double lumpectomy we weren't compliant with the vet. We were - but even if we hadn't been it would have been thoughtfully done and had cause.  Maybe ask instead of judge.

Leaping to assumptions makes an "ass of you and me" and is both frustrating and pointless.

Over the last few months I have watched a couple of FB sagas play out where instead of being supportive and compassionate some people jumped to presumptions that were at best unfair and thoughtless, and at worst cruel and malicious.

We all carry guilt and grief and sadness and concern. Dogs are dogs, and, in my world, have the right to be their doggy selves. We try to protect them and watch them and keep them from harm but the reality is there may be a tragedy lurking again in our lives. Would I love to wrap the dogs in bubble wrap? Sure. Is that fair to them? Sigh, Probably not.

So if you are about to preach, or judge, stop yourself. If you have a personal relationship with the person that is appropriate,  ask them if they'd like to hear feedback. (To be totally honest they have probably beaten themselves up and are feeling sad and guilty without any feedback from you AT ALL  but you can ask). If you don't know them personally but feel you must say your piece say it to a friend, privately in a message.  Start a thread asking a question on your own wall if you must to see what feelings are out there - but leave the person who is suffering ALONE if you can't be supportive and kind. Seriously.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Reasons to Record Keep

Letterman might be off air but his top ten lists provide a framework for me to highlight information I want to share with you and keep in my own brain.  Today I was reflecting on the importance of record keeping  and this top ten list took shape (This blog began over 10 years ago as a way for me to record keep along with the course maps I annotate to this day!)

Record keeping provides

10.  Accomplishment: Record keeping gives you a sense of further accomplishment - there is a pride in the act of record keeping that is worth internalizing! Yay you!

9.  Proactivity (yes I made the word up!) : Record keeping  identifies gaps and holes that you can fill in  - if you miss 4 contacts 5 sessions in a row you can see that and remedy it rather than worrying about contacts with no real sense of why you worry.

8. Connection:  Good records let you match beliefs to facts - is your front really straighter than two months ago? Check! This connection can also be a reminder that the path in dog training is not always strictly linear - it can be circuitous and wobbly.  Good records are a little like training wheels on a bike  - they can keep you moving forward and reaching outwards even when you get off kilter!

7. Efficiency: When you record keep it reduces your thinking and wondering time - should you work on weaves again? How long ago did you last train them? How did it go?  Planning is easier in the face of good record keeping.

6. Autonomy: You get to pick how, when and what you record keep. No judgement, no peanut gallery.  There are lots of different ways - and all work just fine!

5. Creative outlet who doesn't appreciate pretty systems, whiteboards and new pens?  Again though - make it work for you - no need for fancy if a + on training days is as much as you can manage right now -  the full working process that is best for you can be built gradually!

4.  Motivation: Especially if persistence is your downfall keeping records can help There are three elements of motivation that have particular application to dog training -  records can help with each one.  (Sam needs no record of his stick management program but it amuses me so I keep them occasionally!)

3.  Goal Setting help: Determining the right process or outcome goals can be tricky -  good records for training and showing will help you decide when a goal is met, or needs adjustment 

2. Time Management: for both extremes - the 3 minute trainers and hour and half trainers can see how time gets used which improves planning

1. Memories: You can treasure  your trials, triumphs and successes as long as you want  Looking back on Brody's trial note or Wyn's training records can always put a smile on my face or fill my heart a little.

So many great reasons to figure out a record keeping system that works for you. But right there is a KEY piece many people forget- your system has to work for you - if it's video, paper, audio notes, a system of symbols - whatever - it's great as long as it works for you!

If you aren't sure about your record keeping and motivation skills my No More Excuses course runs this term at FDSA   -   click HERE to register (a bronze spot is only $65 which works out to a heck of deal  when you know there are over 20 lectures already loaded!!)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Teacher, Coach, Mentor Haiku ...


Your knowledge fills me
Like water in a clear pond
Giving life to me


Push me to EXCEL
No more flutters in the wind
Force my brain to work

My Mentor

I look up to you
Eyes wide open, finally
Thank you from my heart.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Teaching or coaching - how do you lay your bricks?

So - how do foundations get laid?  one brick at a time, one stone, one board. One little piece at a time is added until a whole is built.

A whole what? A whole anything- a house, a garage, a book, or blog post, a trained behaviour chain, an in ring performance  if you can name it - we can build it!. If you build it piece by piece with attention to the foundation your structure will last a long long time. and that's the goal really isn't it?

It might be information (positive training is effective because - SCIENCE or a  dog walk is  three long planks connected to each other) it might be a skill (a fold back down or a sticking the end of the teeter) or it might be mechanical (in pocket hand  let the dog come to the palm of your hand  or this is front cross foot work).

People lay their foundation of information, skill and mechanics in different ways. Some people teach themselves, others only work under tutelage. For many a mix of self directed learning (including the evaluation piece!) facilitation (getting help in the learning process and ideas about what to learn), coaching (constructive feedback from experienced eyes) and teaching (often a laid out framework of topics, feedback and information)  is the way to build foundation - which leads to success (however you define that piece!)

As a dog trainer you might realize you slide between roles as you play with train your dogs.  In a shaping session you might facilitate the correct choices  while in loose leash walking you might teach the skill. In  retrieves you might coach the dog "that's it" "get it" or what have you. As a student of anything you will likely realize that different people "teach" differently. One reason for this is that many  are actually moving between the various roles as they bring you along. Other instructors tend to work from one domain more. And that's OK too, particularly if you can identify what is happening and test filling gaps you may feel you have in different ways.

As a trainer and an educator I move fairly fluidly between the approaches. I tend to coach if I can because for me personally the conclusions I come to myself are the ones I will remember longest but there are always elements and lessons that need more formal teaching.  Some people prefer more instruction and I am happy to do that when I realize it as well.

Getting a good foundation matters. Learning what you need to create that and maintain it matters. If you use one person who moves fluidly between the formats for you; or use four people and lots of videoing as well, it doesn't matter as long as  it works for you! Don't overwhelm yourself running from flavour of the month to flavour of the month - make  plan  and be methodical but if you find yourself at odds consider coaching and learning as approaches in light of your needs and see what will contribute the most to building or maintaining your foundation,

(I need to thank both Melissa Breau for the nudge and Amy Cook for the topic! This idea may pop up in other blogs you read - let me know if you see it anywhere!) 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sometimes No needs to turn into Yes ...

I say No about 5 times a day on average

"No, I can't take that dog", "No there is no room for a kitten", "no I am sorry I am not going that way next weekend". I don't always frame it in a no ... "I'm sorry I don't know anybody willing to take your problem animal and make it theirs right now"  " I am sorry I don't know anybody with room for that animal right now".   Being me I offer what help I can - "sure post it on my FB page", "Have you looked up  (insert agency that is funded and staffed to help)", " would a list of trainers help you?" (and then the investment of time to find local good people  when the response is "yes")

I also (kind of obviously if you've followed this blog  or my FB stuff at all)  said yes a few times ...  looking around right now at least 8 times  (and it's honestly quite a lot higher than that)
Often animals come here to join our forever family and that's super - but sometimes the animal comes to find safety - and we are a  weigh station rather than a stopping point.

I'm trying very hard to find a way to say yes to a horse in need.  Not forever yes as Team Valiant is full and we are personally tapped out (a summer of specialist trips for Sally, losing Brody and Frannie, doing 4 equine dentistries (while Team Val had 3 done)  - Sam has a booked surgery in two weeks, Thea has had some blips -  the vet bills are running higher than mortgage payments have ever been!) But trying to figure out how to get him safe, assess him and see what we can do for him. He's skinny and losing weight, his farm is closing this week and he is at risk of being sent to auction - high risk actually and he lives very close to the Quebec slaughter plants so kill buyers will certainly be hanging out at the auction. Sigh

So my heart says YES and my wallet says  wish I could help but NO.
There are two component costs to horses - free horses can be very expensive - always look a free horse over very carefully - mouth and all!  Wanna know more? Read on ... if not, skip to the bottom

Let's call the first stage set up costs:

Shipping  - this dude is over 400 km away one way so is $800-$900 to get here
Vet costs - vary - but $200 for blood work deworming and vaccines is not unreasonable and may spiral up quickly if sa he needs his teeth done - not uncommon in thin horses
Stuff - grooming, blankets etc - very luckily for this fella we have stuff .. and people are generous about passing along brushes, and things that they no longer need.

so - $1100 - $1500 gets him safe

Ongoing costs actually are scarier long term   feed (hay and hard feed)  farrier, vetting   etc -  $250 - $400 per month without any labour type of cost in there ... sigh

Where we are at ... we have stuff he can use, we have pledges of  $210 in monthly sponsorship for 6-10 months set up for him  and we have $200 towards his set up  costs - generous, thoughtful wonderful people.

What's the gap?  $60 more a month would make me comfortable and $800 upfront would make it possible. It doesn't sound like much if you think of community but the reality is, right now, today, it's the difference between no and yes.

But to know me is to know I don't like asking for things ...   if you can give anything to help this chap with no name (how sad is that!) I'd love to welcome you to Love The One You Are's Gratitude Project - many of you have likely already given - we raised over a thousand dollars for Team Valiant's big fall fundraiser with it already.  If you want to make a donation to help this guy paypal agility.addict @ without spaces ...  and tell me to add that email to the project

If you don't know what to give I averaged the donations awhile ago and it came to $60   so the sign up direct link became that amount ... you can find it here  the link to course for $60 

 Thanks for thinking about it, joining the project - sharing the blog or the post over on Love the One You Are .

Friday, October 13, 2017

Webinar wonder

I don't know if you have been inundated of late with webinar invitations but I have - if I wanted to learn about expensive programs to organize retreats, use funnels, use Pinterest, get in touch with my spiritual self, self publish a book or about a million other things there's a webinar for that! I've signed up for a couple that caught my interest - course building ones mostly (because - um educator here - you know) and have picked up a tip or two in the process. Many of them are VERY formulaic and  a couple of presenters pretty obviously have a lot less experience than me at  applying pedagogical principles. Le. Sigh.

Some have been pretty good. If I walk away with two or three applicable things I am thrilled, if I get a solid reminder of things I already practice and feel validated that's great. Always in these webinars I end up feeling a little badly because the whole point of the webinar is to SELL some lovely sounding, very pretty program for a lot more money than I have for discretionary things right now(anybody want to trade vet bills?). So while I might covet the program and appreciate the pitch I have to be satisfied with the pearls.

Then what do you know? I get invited to present a webinar for FDSA. Not to sell anything but to teach stuff - right up my alley eh?

How cool.   You can sign up right here! But you have to promise to both say hi if you attend and to let me know either what you liked best or how make it better after you watch it. Deal?

How terrifying. But wait, I love workshops and doing keynote addresses. Media is one of my things. As long as the internet cooperates I've got this. So I say YES. Firmly and clearly and get given a date (October 19, 2017)  and we ask the FDSA students to choose between 3 topics - all get lots of votes so I decide to start with number one on the list. R+ for humans  - so MUCH FUN!

(and so important)

I've got the slide deck ready to go. It's a pretty wide ranging webinar - think of it as a keynote address rather than an intense workshop which looks at dreams, planning, goal setting, motivation, record keeping and ends with working together  on tools to help you!  It isn't the same as any class I've taught but it's true to my take on all this head stuff. Don't expect a cure all ills magic wand waving by self help guru tirade. You are way more likely to hear my self help rant and yet come away feeling empowered with a strategy to help you move forward.

I am probably most excited to introduce my way of considering and using process, learning, performance and outcome in a way that's clear and understandable (or you can ask questions RIGHT THERE  - LIVE ... OMG what have I agreed to?) I'm not talking much at all about some of the things people probably expect me too - brain research, gratitude, personality types - they might come up - in fact I hope they do-  but it'll be because of questions not because of inclusion in the webinar slides. I've worked in question time at different stages and will be asking questions for people who show up to think about (because - um - ME) One of the things I like most about my presentation is it's relevant to everyone - at home trainers, instructors,  scent, agility, barn hunt, coursing, conformation ...  no matter what role dogs play in your life and what role you want them to play it's got something for you. It just occurred to me the framework could easily be applied to horse sports too..  It's not just for nervous people or world class competitors - whatever your jam there's a pearl or six in there just for you!

So, being me, and a life long learner and all I've been attending the FDSA webinars as I  am able. They have been great. informative, interesting, enriching and engaging.  The price point is right ($19.95 USD) and the access to them is for a full year and extended from the time of the last webinar you sign up for. You have to sign up  before the webinar no matter when you intend to watch it but you don't have to watch it live to get access.  There are some great ones coming up (dare I say including mine? ohh that little Imposter Syndrome Gnome raises his head - I'll stare him down this time) .

October 19th - 9 pm EST  I really do hope you can join me live, but even if you can't I''d love to share my info with you, Sign up, Invest in yourself just this once!

Monday, September 04, 2017

Dog Training Task Cards - Updated!!

Does motivation get you down?
Just run out of steam part way through a training session?
Not sure how to start a session? 
Stuck for new ideas?

Well well - help is at hand!

Not sure what to do with  the classes you teach?  Trying to figure out how to help students do better?
Need to take better care of yourself/ 

Dog training task cards to the rescue!

Five editions are ready to roll out: Play (pictured above) Foundations,  Scent/Nose work,  Barn hunt and Self Care for you! There's a deal for buying three or all five too!

Put the fun and spontaneity back in training -- get some help getting off the couch and playing with your dog or being kind to yourself  - the more decks you get the less expensive they are - and if you've already bought the early releases please go ahead and email me to sort out your rate for any additional decks you want!  They are electronic - when you buy you'll get an email with your deck(s) attached - you can print them out and laminate them if you want. 

Deck Choices

Motivation has three key components and dog training task cards can help you with each step 

Direction - use task cards to get you up and taking action - you can set your goal in terms of doing "at least 2 random cards' and see where it takes you 

Intensity -- use the cards to build a warm up or cool down component to your training ... or to give you a fun mid week routine to play with 

Persistence - you've run out of steam and can't think of what to do? Grab your deck of cards and take action! Use your deck once or twice a week to keep yourself moving  forward. 

Break free of training ruts ...  put together a  custom plan that suits your needs and training level - there is flexibility built right into the cards so you can take a step back or challenge yourself with ease

The cards are in an electronic book -  4 cards per page and black and white to make printing easy - print them, out - laminate them or print them on card stock  and put them on a ring if it suits you! 

Each deck has at least 28 cards  most of which will lend themselves to adaptions and tweaks - so it's well over 50 activities per deck!  Three decks are ready now   More (rally,  sports foundation and agility) are in the works already and there have been some inquiries about more advanced decks too ...  

Foundation Training 
32 activities that will tighten up your training and let you focus on performance not planning.

Scent Work 
32 activities that take the thinking out of setting hides and challenges to make nosework training easier on your own (or with a non dog helper who can set some hides for you!) 

a Barn Hunt Deck 
28 cards to help you focus on a sport you and your dog love!

a Self Care Deck 
36 cards to you on draw when you are tired and need to be kind to yourself .

and a Play Book! 
32 cards to help to choose a way to play or a play activity to add to your training plan. Food, personal and toy suggestions are all covered. Up your play game having fun with the deck.

You should get one. Maybe you should get all three ... did I say there's a deal on three ;)

Deck Choices

Friday, August 11, 2017

Old Dogs

This Old Dog

Heart ache entered on soft paws  
Cold nose, kisses, wagging tail,
Ever so worth it 

A, Harrison

Measuring Up 

A third of my life, 
A moment in time.
Seventeen years 
A heartbeat at my feet. 

Fame, and glory
Car rides and trials
Walks in fields

My rockstar

is gone

Nothing is left to measure. 

A, Harrison

"It's just a dog" they said 
"He lived a good life" they said/ 
"Good thing you have other dogs" they said. 
"He was really old" they said. 
"You were lucky" they said. 

They can't begin to know.

A, Harrison

and the Auden poem comes to mind as well 

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How will you know ....

One of the questions I am often asked is in regards to euthanasia, and that is "how will I know the time is right?"  and honestly, even with years of experience and many many euthanasias under my belt, my most honest answer would be "you won't".

That's not to say you won't have some pretty key indicators that will work for you and your animal partner ...  things like

degree of pain,
awareness of surroundings,
pleasure in the environment,
your ability to cope with increasing needs.. all of those things will contribute  to your decision of course but there is no piece of paper that suddenly appears to say TODAY. is IT.

Ideally our animals, and human, companions will pass away peacefully at home with no assistance beyond pain relief but I have to be honest and tell you that I only have that experience once with Dumont, I  wish it every time but it's not the way the cookie crumbles around here, and it's really not a reasonable expectation either. We can be kinder and more compassionate to our animal family than our human family in most parts of the world and while that is a heavy burden to bear it's an important one to stare in the face occasionally.

What do I mean by that? I mean think it through. Where are your lines? Knowing ahead of time helps. (Only a little but any bit of help is a good thing).

  • If a dog can't get to bed or out to the garden what accommodations can you make?
  • If a dog spends long hours with their head pressed on a wall is that acceptable?
  • What can you afford? Both financially and emotionally? You absolutely need to identify these things. 
  • If your dog falls over occasionally are you ok with righting them, steadying them and repeating again and again through the day?
  • If kibble no longer is tasty is there quality of life with tempting daily and possibly force feeding or doing fluid therapy?

Only you know your own answers  and to be completely frank what is acceptable for one dog may impinge greatly on quality of life for another even in the same home. Brody was a goer and doer, if he fell over he stared at me til I righted him and then trucked on again. I can't imagine Thea thinking that was at all acceptable. But she has needed to be tempted to eat off and on her whole life. Brody never once turned down a good meal.

I always thought Brody would tell me he was ready by not eating but he ate, and ate, and ate right up to his last hour here. Instead he told me very clearly he had had enough of hurting. His pain meds weren't enough and his mobility was decreasing by the minute. He started to lose feeling or strength in one front leg as well as his back end and I knew. I heard myself sharing a piece of wisdom I heard long ago "it's better three days too early than one hour too late" and I knew - deeply and viscerally.

I called my most amazing vet clinic who found me an appointment 3 hours later and I said. Um. Stephanie heard my um and said "come now'. I will be forever grateful.  Everything was ready - I walked in holding him close and he, the dog who hated grooming allowed his leg to be shaved, we made no effort to insert a catheter, no effort to tranq him ... he was ready and he was gone as the euthanol hit his system. My best vet, My best tech, Me. Brody. Tom and the amazing staff on standby and close at hand. I've had lots of experience with death and this was truly a "good death" it was quick, it brought comfort.

I am bereft. My heartbeat at my feet is missing. Tom and I have lived with Brody more than half our life together. Life will never be the same.

Yet, still, somehow even today,  I would choose this pain over not having loved and known and cherished our little devil dog. The doors he opened for me, the things he taught me, I will be forever grateful.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Make it So ... living a positive life with dogs

Dogs here live a life of  agency  but sometimes being their doggy selves has to be put on hold and they NEED to conform to expectations.

There are plenty of instances you might think compliance was critical but it isn't  ...

Sam leaping through a guest's open car window to look for a wrapper? Not a big deal.  We tell people to roll up windows and give them the reason.  If they don't believe us and a large golden leaps through their truck window - so be it.

Thea insisting on lying on a big dog bed so a big dog has to find another spot? Big whoop.

but then there are those other times ....

Like the  times enumerated in this blog that Brody has been unhappy to be groomed or when Sally slinks away from a painful eye treatment  or won't  take a pill no matter the  inducement. (you might know how much I dislike the word try  - yet here it fits!)  If Dora has to suffer a nail trim (we are still working on confident nail trims - never have I had a dog so slow to accept this!)  Maybe it's  when Sam is offended and barking at the horses because they might steal his stick ... Or, or, or .....  you get the drift .. the  perfect dogs aren't always perfect as shocking as that is.

These moments happen in life, no matter who your dog is, what your bar is (some people could  live with some of the things I feel are essential to work through - and others probably have a much longer list of problematic behaviours)  and no matter how you train.

But I take comfort from being a positive force-free trainer... so my thinking has to be adaptive, and flexible. The same answer will not work on a soft scared dog as on a dog determined to have agency over whatever. Yelling and screaming are out ... as are striking the dog - I'd like to say obviously ... but there are days  that my old nemesis of a hot temper flares deep in my core and I need to stop and breathe for a second or twenty. Then I think and problem solve.

The solution varies and sadly is not always immediately offering the behaviour I want in the way I want.

Brody sometimes simply needs to be held fairly firmly to get groomed. He gets treats and short sessions and all the "right" things but sometimes I have to hold him pretty firmly to trim around his eyes.  Sally sometimes is forced to take a pill - I smear peanut butter on the roof of her mouth let her work it for a second then pop the pill in her mouth  hold her jaw shut and smooth her throat. Dora gets kid  glove treatment .. dogs are cleared (she will redirect frustration on occasion) and I trim nails ... not all of them but more than one ... big meanie that I am. When Sam is leaping around  the horses and yelling I walk up to him, ask him to stop and if he can't I  snap a leash on him and lead him away. I don't reward him by luring him with a toy or food, nor do I get angry. But I certainly don't allow this unsafe behaviour (for both horse and dog) continue.

None of these things happen often. But they do happen.

Finding the balance point between positive and permissive is not easy, It's personal. But it's important.  I am a positive trainer. I work hard to stay a positive trainer. With foresight and planning there are times I will make a management choice that gets something essential accomplished. I think about it hard, plan it carefully and then implement it - along with a training plan to remedy what I can.

(and in the midst of a dog fight, animal attack or any other such thing  all bets are off the table - control the anger if you can - but do what you must to end the situation and keep yourself and the animals safe!)

Monday, July 17, 2017

the Mad Hatter Podcasts

yep -  I did TWO podcast interviews in relatively short order ...

and then started this post - and left it sitting in draft form way too long ...

the first podcast was Hannah Branigan's:  Drinking from the Toilet  (yes THAT Hannah Branigan!). Probably the best name ever for a podcast about dog stuff eh? It was a riot - Hannah wants a sitting around the dining room table tone for the conversations so she didn't share the questions ahead of time although we did bounce around some different topics to discuss. We covered a whole lot of stuff - and we laughed and talked over each other some. Whoops!  But there is a wide range of material in it - and I really appreciated the opportunity to talk to Hannah (we had NEVER spoken to each other before the podcast - which truth be told made us both a little nervous to start.)

Podcast link - HERE ... but I had to share the cover too - Hannah picked that lovely Len Sylvester Photo with no prompting from me at all <3 nbsp="" p="">

Give it a listen and tell me what you think!

Then the lovely Melissa Breau  interviewed me for the FDSA podcast. More fun was had, by me anyhow, and Melissa didn't have to work too too hard on the editing board.

We talked a lot about the human half of the team. In any sport - not just agility.
You can listen to that podcast HERE ... or read the transcript if you prefer - warning - I say "right" a LOT!

I have no idea of the reach of either podcast - and to be honest I don't much care - if I was able to give one person an idea to test that will help them be the best partner they can be for their dogs I am happy.  I suspect I might have given a few more than two people some ideas though!

Give em a listen ... tell me what you think - help me do a better job if I get another invite ever!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Does your dog lie? What to do if they do!

What a tangled web we weave ourselves sometimes ...  becoming the best partnership possible involves a whole lot of flexibility,  thinking, learning and planning ... as well as the recognition that  things aren't always going to go perfectly. Sigh.

photo credit Len Sylvester 

Do dogs lie?
Dogs  may ignore what we KNOW they know ... ("I can't hear you"   at the dog park comes to mind)  but they don't , maliciously or  hatefully set out to lie to humans. That said, there is some pretty good evidence dogs can be deceptive. On purpose.  This flies in the face of my beliefs generally and strikes me as pretty anthropomorphic but  some evidence suggests I am wrong about canine honesty. There was a study that determined that dogs could protect their own interest by choice (they got to choose which food to take a human partner to  - that partner then (predictably to the dog) either kept the food, shared the food or with their own companion gave the dog all the food). The dogs choose which box to take which partner to carefully,  suggesting they can be deceptive to protect their own interests.. Anecdotally I  know am not the only person to live in a multi dog house where one dog is very good at distracting another away from a chew or bone. " Woof Woof - who is at the door??"  and then a sucker grab of a coveted item. Many of us may realize that our dogs will only take "forbidden" objects when we can't see them do so.  There was another study about  this which further illustrated that dogs understand humans can't see well in the dark.

The very definition of "lie" in the context we are discussing is to purposefully deceive. So if one is to believe the studies, and come on, SCIENCE ... why yes, in certain circumstances and for specific reasons (to get that awesome primary reinforcement of  FOOD) it appears dogs can, and do choose to deceive  us.

BUT .... when you *think* your dog has lied to you about a training or trialing (or filming as illustrated here!) problem  evaluate your position on this thought. The word lie has negative associations for humans and connotes a deliberation in intention that  may not be true to training or competing. The pejorative feelings the term evokes may also be unhelpful for problem solving. Anger is rarely  never a constructive solution (and to know me is to know how rarely I am that absolute)   What other words might fit the situation you are characterizing as deliberate obfuscation (fancy word eh?)?

This is an instance that applying some, or all, of the W's of journalism to process events will keep your thinking moving forward instead of spinning down a rabbit hole. Applying this framework and working through these reflective  questions will help you decide why your canine made the choices they did and determine what your part in the issue was as well as give yourself some answers to apply to a plan to move forward in the future.

Obviously we aren't story telling to ourselves , or anyone else applying this technique but it can be a helpful (and easy to remember way) to hunt for information. Often to reduce our stress and anxiety when things go wrong it can be helpful to have an easy framework to process the events. This framework is useful for instances of communication breakdown between dog and human - including "lies".

Let's look at each of the Ws and that final  H to determine how to best use them in this context.

Who matters in this situation? (free pass to working on this answer - you, your dog - you as a team - those are the answers to this one!). It's important to start here though as that reflection will ground you and remind you why you are taking the time to do this even if all you want to do is cry in your car.

What happened?  (Who misread who? What factors influenced the events of the "lie"?)  If you have video watch it carefully. If you have a friend or coach who saw it ask them what they saw. Brody once ran under an aframe instead of doing a tunnel. I was shocked, and pretty confused. I left the ring and thought hard about what part of the course he did that on and exactly what had happened. I walked back onto the course and felt the sand with my hand. It was burning hot.  I had asked him to run on  boiling sand surface and not realized. By looking hard at what happened I was able to understand why is happened. (not to get ahead of our list here) 

Brody  literally made so few mistakes on course I remember them to this day. 

Where did you first get confused? By delving into this W some unexpected answers about what caused the miscommunication to occur.may become apparent.

When did you believe the 'lie"? This matters more than you may think. I was watching a friends Nosework  trial video and  with hindsight being 20/20 her dog stopped and really was interested in the hide but then moved on and spent much the same amount of time with a similar indication on a drooly spot on a different car. Sigh. The handler believed the misinformation over the right answer  perhaps because  time was ticking? They'd moved around the whole site? The dog's style was similar to the alert? She felt badly and was wondering if she'd already missed it? I haven't asked  how committed to believing the last indication she was ... but it might make a big difference to choices she'll make going forward.

Why did it happen? What has happened in the past? Does false information end the potentially stressful search? Were you stressed and anxious?  Was your dog hot and unable to perform normally? Were environmental conditions confusing in some way? Spend awhile working on this question because it's where a plan for addressing moments like this will come from in the future.

which segues very nicely into

How are you going to use this information to become a better team?  The learning in a "lie" matters. Your canine partner is not doing anything other than sharing information. Stress (for either or both or you) , a gap in training, an off day or a simple error can all create results we don't want. This framework will assist you in your quest to be the best team you can be - even in the face of adversity.

Use the framework to decide what to test to reduce the "lies". A plan for stress reduction? More training in a skill? More generalizing and proofing? Application of these questions and reflection on the answers  will help you decide what to test and change first. This technique is easy to test, and can lead to greater clarity (and therefore results!)