Post by On 01 December 2014 In Blog 29515 comments

When veterinary behaviorists and well schooled trainers are attempting to understand a behavioral issue, they will always be thinking "medical before behavioral". Why, you ask? Well, because our dogs are just like us. When we are uncomfortable or in pain, we tend to behave less appropriately then we might otherwise. Same for our pups. Add in the fact that all other species, being more predator and prey oriented, know that when they are at less than optimal physical performance, they are vulnerable. Being vulnerable leads to being on edge, being hyper vigilant to their environment, other animals, people and anything they perceive as a possible threat. That means the dog is now fearful, fearful for its own existence, desiring only to be safe while trying to be comfortable from the pain. Cases in point:

#1. I received a call from a long time client whose dog, a registered therapy dog, was suddenly becoming very dog reactive on lead. Now this is not only a therapy dog, but a dog that loves daycare, has incredible communicative skills with other animals and loves dogs, people, cats, squirrels and life. In discussing this with her, I asked if he had shown any signs of not feeling well. At first, she couldn't remember seeing any difference in him but as I asked more questions, it came out that he had been having some sporadic tremors of his hind leg and some stiffness in his front legs. I asked her to get him checked out and viola!, the vet did some blood work and his case of Lymes had come roaring back like a runaway freight train. Well, he's back on meds and after two weeks, this pup is back to his normal, joyful, loving life self.

#2. I was asked by a rescue group I do assessments for if I'd take a look at a 2 year old dog that had been recently rescued from the mid-west, was now in one of their foster homes (for about 4 weeks) and had started to be both dog and human reactive, to the point where the foster mom couldn't allow him around her two frequent family members. (Note: She lives in a second story condo with a lot of outdoor stairs to climb and the weather had turned frigid.) I went to her home to do the assessment, along with a member of the rescue group, and while observing the dog, noticed that every time he tried to sit down, he stutter stepped, couldn't sit and then slid into a down position. I asked the foster mom if she had ever seen this and she said that he had never sat in the 4 weeks she had him. She also said that it was 'normal' for him to slide into a down position. I stopped the assessment and asked the rescue to get him examined, which they did. Two days later I got a call and the rescue told me the vet who examined him and did x-rays actually cried when she showed them to the rescue and described his hips as possibly the worst she had ever seen in 20+ years. This rescue group is really amazing- they're taking care of whatever surgeries he will need, finding a more comfortable foster home for his recovery and will wait to make any judgments about his behavior until after his medical issues are cleared up.

These cases are not unusual. As a matter of fact, they're pretty common.The point of all of this is, whenever you see a change in behavior or, if in your gut you just think something is off with your dog, get it checked. Medical issues of any kind can affect behavior. The sooner your pup gets checked and can be given a clean bill of health, the sooner he can be back to his normal self or, if there is a behavior problem, the sooner we can work on it using force free, science based, positive reinforcement methods to effect the changes we want. 

Building Trust, Teaching Skills, Changing the Behavior and then Enjoying the Partnership, 



Post by On 02 September 2014 In Blog 899 comments

There is a lot being written about the need to save more shelter animal's lives and a lot of what is being written seems to extol the idea that getting animals adopted by any means justifies the end. This can mean no home checks, no background checks, no adoption fees or, the one that hits home to me is when dogs are subjected to aversive training or behavior modification that shuts them down enough to get them out the door.

I read, hear and see many local, state, regional and national organizations shouting from the rooftops the fact that they have saved X number of lives through their adoption methods, but it's not enough. They want to save more lives but, when you dig into the details, you see that it's not necessarily done with kindness, compassion or with a thought to quality of life. Somehow these numbers matter more than the quality of life many of these dogs experienced while sheltered or fostered or the true quality of life they'll experience once in a new home. Somehow the idea of kindness and compassion has been lost in this human-centric race to achieve higher numbers. Somehow the people and organizations behind these numbers feel that their efforts, no matter the means, makes them better, more caring, that they're winning some kind of race.

These groups have resorted to any training method, any behavior modification method, any philosophy, no matter the cost, as long as dogs get adopted. It's interesting that most, if not all, of these organizations DO NOT conduct follow-ups to see if their dogs have remained in those homes. How many dogs are poorly matched, then returned and have their names changed or are euthanized? How many of these dogs are dumped at other shelters or rescues because their true behavioral issues surfaced once adopted? How many of these dogs were euthanized by a vet or abandoned when their new owners couldn't handle or did not have the resources to resolve behavioral problems? No one knows because these organizations don't really care: after all, it would skew the numbers.

I don't believe in the no-kill movement simply because it's not realistic. The concept is noble but the real world is not. Basic human behavior dictates that a lot of people who want a dog will not go to a shelter or rescue and adopt. There are not now, and will probably never be, enough good rescues and shelters with the necessary resources to provide the medical and behavioral help that every dog needs prior to adoption. And yes, there are some dogs whose behavioral issues make them unsafe in the human world. Keeping them in most shelters or with rescues who can only kennel and not foster for untold years is not a great quality of life. This is an issue fraught with emotion because we want to do the best we can for every dog, but we must do the best we can without killing kindness and compassion.

Post by On 25 September 2013 In Blog 36 comments

We all have fears. Every single person has them, even the toughest of the tough and the baddest of the bad. We’re supposed to have fears, it’s what allows us as a species to survive. The problem is that many of us are mocked, or worse, for our fears, which only begets a higher level of fear or creates new ones. However, if we had the opportunity to work with someone we TRUST, who could TEACH us how to CHANGE our perception of what we fear, we could lessen or overcome that fear, thereby ENJOYING life even more.

So what does that have to do with dog training (or Canine Coaching as I call it)? EVERYTHING!! It seems that on top of the most ridiculous expectations we have for our companion dogs, like being perfectly polite, meeting and greeting every living thing with grace and diplomacy, being a friend to everyone no matter how poorly mannered or scary that person or animal is, reading our minds so they know what we mean and what we want whether we have said it or taught it or not, understanding perfectly what we say no matter the language or tone we have spoken to them in, basically expecting them to be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (practically perfect in every way), we also demand that they NEVER be fearful of anything and if for some God forsaken reason they are, then they damn well better get over it and right now! (enter Dominance theory, calm-submission, aversive methods, physical abuse, prong, choke and electric collars, hollering, screaming, growling, throwing bean bags, hanging, “helicoptering”, hitting, punching, flooding, etc.) And we expect all of this from, and do all of this to, our dogs who have the thinking acuity of 18-30 month old children. If they were actually children, we'd be locked up for child abuse and rightfully so.

So tell me, how’s that workin’ out for you, huh? Not too much for your dog either, I imagine. No kiddin’ Sherlock, can’t imagine why. Actually, why is the simple question: because we’re humans and we have a really hard time admitting to and dealing with our own fears let alone having a dog (or child) that shows fear. Dammit, having a scaredy dog (or child) makes us look bad! And with that, we’ve gotten right to the root of the problem: we have never learned how to RESPECT our own fears, have never TRUSTED anyone enough to allow them to TEACH us how to CHANGE our perceptions of what scares us so there’s always something holding us back from ENJOYING our lives even more. 

Whether an adult, child, dog, cat or any other living species, fear is natural. We are all born with a baseline of fear (survival), are predisposed to others (nature) and accrue others through life experiences (nurture). There is only one way to learn from them and then deal with them: RESPECT the fear, CHANGE the perception. That means finding someone you can TRUST to help TEACH you how to CHANGE your fear and then ENJOY life. Do this for yourself, for those you love, for your dogs, cats or whatever other animals you enjoy having as a part of your life. Y’all will be better for it, believe you me. Amen.

Post by On 01 July 2013 In Blog 131 comments

Thank the good Lord for my wife and my pups. I'm over-the-hill, rough around the edges, not politically correct, pretty cynical about people, have a tendency towards sarcasm, more of a who the (beep) drank the water from my glass (none of that half empty/half full garbage) type of guy. My wife should be elevated to sainthood and Mr. Satan won't want me any more than Mr. God will. So what's my point?

Like I said, thank the good Lord for my wife (why she's kept me is anyone's guess) and my pups. I've had a lot of dogs over the years, each very different and special. Topping the list is my deceased K9 partner Sanders who was my partner, my best friend, my boy. Next up are my current pups Joey and Rufus. Both are 'special needs' behavioral dogs, each with a complex set of fear issues but each who teach me so much every minute of every day about enjoying who they are and the world they live in.

Joey's big brother was Sanders. Sanders taught Joey everything from house-training to socializing with other dogs, good manners and that streams can be so much fun. Sander's sudden passing in 2010 left him devastated and changed certain aspects of his personality forever. Rufus was born and raised in 3 shelters before finding safety at the Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary at Dogtown. When we adopted him at 6 years of age, ours was the first human home he'd ever been in. Though he continues to have occasional heartbreaking events he now takes more steps forward than back.

The reason for the short history was to give you a quick look inside who my pups are, as I see them, an admitted failing on my part.  As far as they're concerned, they don't let many obstacles get in the way of enjoying every waking, and sleeping, moment, which is what makes our dogs so very, very special. They love to sleep; Joey on his back, Rufus on his side, snoring loud enough to wake the dead. Play hard, sleep hard:) They wake up looking at me with the childlike wonderment of what each new day will bring. They find the simplest pleasure in venturing outside each morning, understanding that the night brought lots of other mammals through our yard and new smells from the skies just for them to sniff. Noses and tails high, they drink in the air, whether sun, rain, snow; hot or cold, but always with delight. For two years we watched Joey muzzle punch Rufus' flanks and pull his tail trying to get him to play and then one day, voila!, Rufus 'bootybumped' Joey, chased him and rolled onto his back so Joey could climb on- I don't know who was happiest, them or us! It was unbelievably exhilarating because Rufus finally found within himself the freedom to be a puppy.

Whether it's trail walking with them off lead, looking deep into their eyes as I rub their muzzles, Joey rooting through toys in the toy box, Rufus chasing deer, Joey jumping through my newspaper as I try to read it, both of them sleeping on the couch while my wife and I watch TV or Joey dancing on hind legs when he gets excited (which he does about anything and everything), I get to see them being dogs in their way, the way enjoyable to them, telling me in such simple terms what the truth about life is as they see it, not understanding why I don't see it like they do: rewarding, fascinating and fun.

When you look at your pups, forget what you see, see what they see and LIVE in the moment, SHARE in the moment and ENJOY the moment, for that moment will never come your way again. Don't miss out on the fun.


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