Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bella, Jabba & Ozzy December Daycare

Bella's favorite spot, watching me in the office, or just watching the other pups as if to say, "Why are you wandering around like that?  Conserve some energy.  Come and relax."

Jabba was pretty hilarious, getting so excited the first time we went out into the yard and he could "fly" through the powder... that is, until he got stuck.  Bella thought he was silly, too, and started chasing around the "tunnels" when he looked back at her with that sheepish, snowy grin.

Even Ozzy got in on the action.  Our fence in the yard is a bit over 4 ft high, and the powder covers that height today!  Whew.  Can we just get one day without a foot of snow... please?  :)

The trees at our front porch.  Beautiful.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Après Pooch E-Newsletter (December 16, 2010)

In this "E-Newsletter"

* Holiday Calendar
* Cancellation Policy

* We are BUSY BUSY BUSY and booking up fast!
* But we're working on expanding to a new commercial facility in Mammoth, which should allow us to take more than our current 4-dog maximum for daycare.

* We're also hiring for Independent Contractors to work with us to provide dog walks.  I'd love to do them all myself, but I only have two arms and two legs, and your pups deserve more than I can do myself in one day!

* How to confirm service (Google Checkout)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Holiday Calendar & Cancellation Policy

First of all, I want to thank everyone for your support in the past two years.  And for trusting us with the care of your petsWe've got an email list of 250+ clients and growingI'm so proud to be able to do this work, and I'm amazed with the growth we've experienced in 2010.  The recession continues to sting, but for many the bite would be worse if they had to leave their pups at home when going on vacation to Mammoth.  Locals, I haven't forgotten you, either.  You help me make this work during the off-seasons!

Growing Pains

We're going through several changes, and this email is one of many to come to to let you know what's happening.

Last year, I loved how flexible my schedule could be.  I enjoyed being able to take last-minute reservations and to "pencil in" clients who were going to "see how they felt in the morning."  Unfortunately, with my current 4-dog max at my in-home daycare, and with the explosion of requests from new clients (I received six just this morning!), I simply cannot provide the flexibility of last year.

Because of the high demand this year, there's simply no way for me to guarantee a space for the pups without confirmation.  If we continue to work off the system of "I'll pencil you in on the 23rd and see what happens," for any clients who request daycare for the 23rd afterwards, I'd have to say "Nope, sorry" to them.  Since we're full already. 

And if you cancel last-minute, I could have helped out that other client!

I'm meeting with multiple potential Sitters and Walkers this Sunday to hire a few great people to help me.  More details to follow in a later "e-Newsletter".

What about the weather?

We all love Mammoth for this crazy snow we get ... and yet ... it can really disrupt our plans, too!  It's the nature of the beast, I suppose.  I understand the hesitancy to book specific days in advance.  What if the weather is horrible and we decide to leave town early, or just to stay indoors and keep our pets with us?

Below you'll find our cancellation policy.  We feel that it's fair, as we've tried to take into consideration circumstances such as weather that are out of your control. 

Standard Cancellation Refund: 10+ day notice: 100% / 2-9 day notice: 75% / 24-48 hour notice: 50%
Holiday Cancellation Refund: 25+ day notice: 100% / 10-24 day notice: 75% / 2-9 day notice: 50% / 24-48 hour notice: 30%

* I just added the holiday 24-hour notice refund.  So that's a change to your existing service contract.  :) 

Please check out the Holiday Calendar to the right!  Our holiday dates are pretty similar to the mountain's "blackout" dates.  You can click on any holiday to add it to your google calendar so that you're prepared.

OK, so how do I confirm service?

Remember having to pay cash last year?  :)  Yeah, it wasn't just a hassle for my clients.  Keeping accurate accounting records was quite a struggle for me.

So, this year, I've signed up with Google Checkout to process credit card payments online.  The procedure will be:

* You contact me and make a request.
* I check my calendar & letcha know if I'm available.
* If available, I email you with the total.
* Then I send a second email from Google Checkout with a link to take care of payment.
* Make sure to double-check the dates/times/services!
* Click on the link (if you're not signed up with google, you just have to do it once; they'll even save your info so you don't have to enter it in every time!)
* I'll send that wonderful Confirmation Email.  You're all set.

6 to 10 feet of snow this week.  Are You Ready?  Are You Coming?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oliver Cowboy

Just a few walks for Oliver, and I have to say, I'm impressed!  We hadn't met before yesterday (which I would otherwise never do, but this booking was for a friend, so I took the rules and bended them a bit).  As I entered, O did his best to act the guard dog, but gave up within a few barks.  Fantastic.  I appreciate a pup who knows to alert of impending danger, and then wait to see if the situation is actually dangerous!

He did just as his owners suggested; give him a little food to go in, and he'd need something to go "out."  He pulls a bit on the leash, but I think that was mostly my fault, as with this head cold I've got, I had no energy to establish walk boundaries.  I had a few hints that O was a good walker in that when I did warn him with a "hey, Oliver?" he happily ran right back to me and performed a few turns for me.

Pups with short legs like pugs are great about getting untangled from the leash.  O just lifted his arm & shook a bit; Free!  :)

Today I decided to bring Bella along for the walk, and O practically peed his pants with excitement!  He couldn't resist her "perfume" and jumped all over her.  B loved it!  Sometimes she gets annoyed with hyper pups, but I think yesterday's 8-hr drive (to Reno & back) left her craving some time with a peppy friend. 

I admit, we didn't do much boundary-setting on the leash today, either.  But why would I squash the fun the those two were having?  Thanks for letting me take care of little O Cowboy for a few days!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bieken & Bieser (& Pee-Soaked Socks)

The first few walks with new pups are always chaotic.  Even more so with puppies!  Bieken really doesn't mean to piddle indoors, but he just can't help how excited he gets.

I'm pretty sure that I made it worse by letting him out of his crated area before putting on the leash.  Better plan for next weekend:  Put myself in that crate and leash him up there, then be ready with coat and boots on to rush out the door.

We've got to set these puppies up for success.  All dogs, really, at any age!

Pee-Soaked Socks

True story about Bella when she was four months old:

Some people have their pups bark when they need to go out to potty.  Others have them ring a bell or paw at the door (Hunter does that without any training!)

I personally didn't want B doing any of those.  We just tried to be good about taking her out on a regular basis.  But we weren't always on top of things.  One evening, when B was about four months old, as Doug was standing at the sink doing dishes and I was working on the computer in the living room, Bella walked calmly over to Doug and stared up at him.  She needed to tell him something, but just didn't have the "words."

Doug paid no mind to B, as she didn't give any indication that she was stressed.  Standing on the cold, hard tile in his socks, a strange, warm sensation suddenly enveloped his feet.

"Argh!  What is th--?  Belle!"  He jumped away from the growing puddle as I looked up from my work just in time to see B stand up from her squat, confused.  "What's the problem, dad?  I'm just letting you know I had to go..."


Thank you, Bella, for teaching us a lesson that day, and for making me smile every time I think about it!

Oh, Sasha

Poor Sasha definitely does not love the snow.  But she's been a trooper.  I think she'll be happier later this season when the snow isn't blowing so much.  After all, who doesn't love a "bluebird" day?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why "Après Pooch"?

What's In A Name? 

Leave it to the experts to gorgeously explain what's been rolling around in my head, and what I'd tried to say but couldn't get it out right.  Dog trainer and author Patricia McConnell wrote a wonderful blog entry recently on the "umwelt" of dogs that was, in a way, a spiritual (or "Aha") moment for me.  I discovered a parallel of my reaction while reading an article on Ron Paul in this month's Atlantic magazine, specifically on how Paul wrote of "his enlightenment [of Misean economics] in the language of a religious testimonial: "Although the works were magnificent, and clarified many issues for me, it was more of a revelation to find intellectuals who could confirm what I 'already knew.'" 

Yeah, people, I did just quote the unofficial leader of the tea party movement.  But he totally hit the nail on the head when it comes to an "Aha" moment, right!?

Hiking with a few pups (Chester & Kim) last month

Why "Après Pooch?"

If you visit and click on About Us, you'll find that my reason for the name is its "Connection With Ski Resort Culture".  This is true.  This is the most obvious reason, since we are located in a ski resort town.  But it's not the primary one, and in fact, I think the name is a bit cheesy if that's all it means.  I had a client tell me over the summer, "You must be college-educated."  "How's that?" I asked.  "The name of your business.  You obviously put a lot of thought into it."  I was beaming for days over that comment.

Literally translated, the name means "after dog".  I've been told that makes sense, too, as I'm technically "looking after" my clients' pups.  Okay, I get that.  But that's not the primary reason for the name, either.

The "Après Pooch," to me, is the next dog, the new way of raising and caring for dogs.  It's progressive and it's proactive.  It's a state of dog ownership in which I'm not comfortable with the status quo.  I do not accept that black and white theories answer the question of what our role is as the owner -- or guardian -- of our pets.  While traditional (and, in my opinion, worn out) dominance methods are certainly abhorrent to me as a general rule, positive (clicker) methods do me very little good as a pet sitter who interacts with her clients' pups on a short-term basis.  Even for pups that I walk regularly, if the owner and I aren't consistent with our training techniques (or we disagree on them altogether), positive methods won't make our relationship better or the walks any easier.

The Name Is My Inspiration ...

... to be the best pet care provider for my clients' pups, as well as being a spectacular "mom" to my golden retrievers, Bella and Hunter. 

I want to give all of my "kids" the best experience possible.  My goal is to piece together the bits of common training methods that result (for my company) in a satisfied, fully realized, dog.  That to me means experiencing the world for themselves.  To have a break from humans demanding that their dogs see the world as they do; to appreciate the world as we do.  I find it silly that dog owners demand (and even glorify) absolute obedience.  That the ideal dog is one whom the AKC (or other such group) has given its seal of approval.  I find it ridiculous that some pups rarely get to put their four paws on the ground.  I am saddened that some pups never get the chance to take in its surroundings without the strain of the leash at its neck.

Is the "life purpose" of a dog to satisfy the demands and commands of humans? 

From my business name, to my daily role as my golden's mom, to the way in which I think of and handle my "kids" on a daily basis, I am shouting a resounding "No"!

On a mini-hike a few miles south of Mammoth

This Doesn't Mean Letting Every Pup Run Free

A leash-free experience is not necessarily what every dog needs.  Obviously, for safety reasons, I do not let every dog in my charge off-leash.  In fact, I only do this when the owner requests it and I feel that we are in a safe area.  Rather, it is my goal to try and understand the umwelt of each dog I work with.  It is part of my every-day work to ask myself how this or that pup experiences the world, and then challenge myself:
  • Why is he reacting this way?  Is it a funny smell, or a strange noise?  What might he be feeling about that smell or noise?
  • How can I make him more comfortable in this space?
  • How does he react to today's group of dogs?  
  • Can I help him see this situation in a new way?  Can I find a way to provide him with the chance to react differently next time?
And, ultimately:
  • Can I get him to express his feelings to me, rather than towards that external "enemy"?  This is a Natural Dog Training method that works fascinatingly well, even with dogs I only encounter for a few hours on a single Daycare booking.

Yes, Cali, feel free to smell Lebowski!  Ama is fascinated by him, too.  Notice the tail levels, the shoulders (forward or back, relaxed or tense?), the curve of L's body.  All three pups are similarly "pushy" in their play style, however, they all agreed that was okay, so we had no trouble.  But gentle, submissive Bella avoided them for the most part during play!      

In McConnell's Own Words

Pulled right from her blog entry:

“'Umwelt' is a term coined by Uexkull to mean the world of an organism, as it is sensed, perceived and interpreted. The point, which was well explained by Alexandra [Horowitz], is that each species sees the world differently, based on their perceptual abilities (ie, bees see colors we don’t, dogs smell things we don’t) and the parts of their environment that are relative to them...

Given what we know about dogs, as listed by Horowitz: The world, to them, is:  Incredibly smelly ... Full of our Knees ... Running at a Different Rate ... [the concept that] scents come and go at different rates than visual signals, disappearing, moving around, full of information about the past in a sensory world that make look the same to us but is constantly changing to a dog. She also reminded us that dogs see at a faster “flicker-fusion” rate than humans, such that their brains divide visual signals into smaller units than do ours ... Full of Details — that may be irrelevant to us ... Evaluated based on how a dog can relate to it: Can it fit in my mouth? Do I chew it or chase it?"

 This is NOT what I mean ...

... by allowing your dogs to be dogs.  Am I horrible for dressing up my B?  Oh, come on, I'm allowed to be silly with her every now and then, right?  She looks completely dejected in that pumpkin costume, though, doesn't she?

This is NOT what I mean ...

... by putting all four paws on the ground!  This is my sister with her husky mix, Mika.  My first Mammoth "baby."


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Attack of the Killer Cricket!

Okay, this is just a silly post.

I wanted to share our experience earlier this fall with the Radioactive Cricket who came to visit one day.  Toby the kitty was entertained for hours, chasing the poor insect around the yard.  Then Bella joined in on the fun.

I don't know if you can tell, but this thing was over 1/2" high and 1 1/2" long!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Outlaw Pooches

No, those aren't the Outlaws.  That's just Kim, Max and Bella (left to right).  How adorable are they, and how cute that B was holding onto her stuffed panda toy that matches Max's "style" so perfectly?

And SNOW!  Yep, that's right.  Our first mini-snowstorm of the season.  Of course, it was all gone by that afternoon, but hey.  Winter is coming!  Uh, ahem, tell that to our 60-degree weather today...

Dogs On The Run

Interesting editorial in the link above from one of our local papers, The Sheet, regarding leash laws. On the one hand, responsible dog ownership means keeping your pup - as well as others' pups - safe. On the other, how sad would it be if our pups were never given the freedom to experience the world without being tethered to their owner (and that owner's perspective). Am I the only one who thinks our pups need to feel complete independence every now and then to live a truly satisfied life? What are your thoughts on this touchy subject?

I was informed by the owner of one of my current daycare pups that he was attacked last week by an off-leash pup right on her street! That had to be so scary for her (and him, poor guy). He's healing well, but the frustrating part is that this owner still continues to allow his dog to go for walks off-leash...

Visit us on Facebook and go to the "Discussions" page to comment.  Sorry, we don't have comments up on this blog, but I really want to hear your thoughts on this one, so please comment there (and "Like" us while you're at it - well, if you do like us!)

What will it take for people to take responsibility?

Social pressure? Stricter laws? Perhaps mandated education programs for anyone who wants to adopt a dog? What do you think? What's the answer here - or, more likely, what are the answers?

The one thing that the article (Dogs On The Run) didn't address is poo-pickup. Especially in the winter, if your pup is off-leash, how in the world are you going to make sure that you're picking up their waste? I've been guilty of the "If it's more than 5 feet off the trail, it's fine if I don't go get it" rule in the winter. The problem with this is that

1) Dog waste is horrible for the environment, especially plant life. Contrary to popular belief (according to my own unscientific survey), dog poo is NOT just like that of wildlife, or the cows we have roaming around places like Crowley Lake & the Upper Owens river. The high percentage of protein content makes for a toxic "result".

2) Even though that hot poo may sink into the fresh powder in the winter - surprise, surprise - it doesn't actually disappear! And just because your dog prefers "privacy" and chooses a potty spot that's 15 feet from the trail, it doesn't mean that some future hiker won't wander off the trail and ... ahem ... stumble upon your pup's little gift. Come on, you've never gone off-trail? If you do, I highly suggest watching your step!

3) Letting our pups experience the world off-leash is a privilege, not a right. We've already been punished in the Shady Rest area in the winter because of our lax attitude on waste pickup. Dog walkers lost the unofficial privilege to let their pups frolic off-leash in Winter 2008-09. Tickets are now being handed out by the snowmobile-bound DFG. I believe it's something like $50 to pay the fine.

I personally stopped taking my pups there a few years ago because of the disgusting state of the trail. No wonder the cross-country crowd complained! This is another case of "If I ignore it, it didn't happen", laziness and a lack of facilities available for walkers to do a good job of cleanup. Sure, your pup's little pile is small, but just think about what happens to that pile when it's run over by the visiting snowmobile-rs!

Who's The Poo Sheriff In This Town?

It's one of my goals to be a leader here in the community on this issue. After all, our 2-Hour Adventure Hike service is dependent upon access to safe, off-leash areas near town. We really want to figure out the best way to address this issue. It's not as simple as it first sounds:

If we designate a fenced "off-leash dog park" here in town, who will be responsible for cleanup? Who will plow the snow around or in the park, as well as in the parking lot? As the snow piles up, will we need an adjustable fence to compensate for snow height? How will this work and who will take care of it? How will we fund the facility? Will we attempt to ask for funds from the MLTPA (basically from the town budget), or is this something we can run with the help of volunteer efforts and donations? Insurance for facilities of this sort is quite expensive! Do we enact rules to keep the pups safe? Will we only allow social, friendly pups inside? What is the evaluation process for those who'd like to join? Will we rent the materials needed (fencing, snow equipment, trash barrels), or will they be permanent fixtures? How will we go about getting a permit to open the facility (who will do the research & write up the application... okay that'll probably be myself...)? Where will it be located?

Lots to think about, lots to figure out. I would love the input of the community, which includes both local clients as well as visitors to town, since you are most certainly also impacted by off-leash dogs.

Visit us on Facebook and go to the "Discussions" page to comment.

* Note: Try and keep the discussion to experiences in and around Mammoth Lakes, since there is a different sort of "vibe" here than in most urban communities. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Oh, How I Do Love A Good "Bahloo"

How is that spelled?

I've had a bloodhound over for a few days of Daycare, and I was smitten within minutes.  He blended so well into our little family pack within a half hour of being picked up, and his personality has been shining ever since!  My goal with all of my clients' pups is to get them to a place where they're relaxed and happy.  Where they're comfortable with these strange new arrangements.  After all, who is this weird lady and why are we in this place?  And most importantly, why did my owner not come with? 

Owners always ask me how their pup did, especially on their first day.  Although everyone is different, there is definitely a trend.  So in case you're wondering what your dog did at first, let me describe:

  • When we started up the car, he looked around, wondering why we were taking off, and why you're just standing there.  You fool, we're leaving!
  • A few minutes into the drive, I glanced back and noticed that he's ... pouting.  
  • When we unloaded the car and walked to the front door, he was either a) super excited, since he knew you were behind this new door! or b) a little worried... he doesn't like surprises
  • As we walk inside towards the play area (outside or in my office), he's looking around with hesitation.  He takes in the smells, walking tenatively.  Hmm...

Social Etiquette Teachers

Then we've got a break in the type of experience your pup may have had.  Very few (we'll say 5%) of the pups remain in this hesitant, concerned state.  Those days are sad for me, since there's just nothing I can do to help them relax.  As much as I hate to lose a client, those are the pups that might benefit from another care option. 

But let's talk about the positive!  Most pups start to let loose within the first few hours.  They play hard, then nap hard.  They slurp up some water in between.  Their bodies; their breathing; their eyes are generally relaxed, and they share their time equally between the other pups and myself.  Oh, and they settle themselves down for some private time (usually a nap or looking around calmly). 

They try hard to let the other dogs know what they like and what they don't like.  This is the most fascinating thing that I get to see during my day.  It's the amazing talent that dogs have to encounter a new friend, to assess their personality, to determine how that pup likes to play, and then work so hard to get that pup to play in a way that's more compatible with their style.

I'd love to use this blog to share more about that idea.  I mean, talk about "Positive Punishment"!  For those that don't know, positive punishment is the idea in training that if you add something to the dog's experience when he's doing something unfavorable, he'll be less likely to do that naughty thing in the future.  Bella is great at this (I'll try to find a video to share).  If another dog is playing too rough with her - let's say that the pup loves to chase, but takes it too far by pushing or biting at B - she stops the chase and flops on the ground.  If he wants to play, he has to play nice.  Game over.  Sorry.

Have you ever seen your own dog do this when another pup is getting to be too much?   

All this is good, but the amazing! part is how dogs are tenacious about trying to teach the other dog how to behave with them.  They are really tolerant.  Over and over, the other pup tries to slip in a bit of naughty, and your dog has to correct them again and again, or flop over, or whatever else they do.  Sometimes things escalate, where your dog may need to give a little "lip," or even a lunge-bark ("Stop it!  I mean it!"), but think about this:  They keep at it.

Do you keep at it?

For those who are working at training your dog, put yourself in Bella's "shoes".  If you've got one of those pups who throws in a bit of naughty every now and then and keeps testing your limits, are you tenacious, too?

It's rare that a dog uses dominance to put another in check, to teach the other pup how it must behave in order to be friends. 

But whether you use dominance, positive, or natural dog training methods, you as the human have a choice when teaching your own pup how to be friends with you:  you can be tenacious, or you can give up, saying, "It's no use, he'll never learn."

Think about Bella.  She can't give up.  This other dog is in her world and unless I separate them, she's stuck with him.  It's like that annoying co-worker at your office.  He just doesn't get it that you don't like him to stand so creepily close to you as he asks how your weekend was.  So how do you deal with this situation?  Do you keep at it?  Do you try all different sorts of tactics to get him to give you more space?  First you use body language, but he doesn't get the hint, so maybe you try avoidance, but that still doesn't work (he just finds you wherever you go!), so you have two choices: be tenacious and try something else (perhaps running away screaming like a crazy person?), or give up.  After all, his breath isn't that bad.

"My dog's digging in the trash - barking - peeing in submission when meeting other dogs - toy possession - food aggression - whatever - isn't that bad." 

Is that you?  Come on, now.  Let Bella be your inspiration towards tenacity.

Back to the Bloodhound!

Here's a little video of Daycare today.  Watch at the end for a little doggie-collision!  I don't think you can hear it, but there was a seriously loud "Thud!"  I was cracking up for some time after that happened.  Dogs are funny.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Big Move...

So here's the story.  

Don't worry, I'm not closing my doors.  What's going on is that I'm having to relocate by December, put together a revised business plan, apply for a minor Use Permit with the Town of Mammoth (no small feat), and get some investments lined up in order to open Après Pooch in a commercial space.  And if I can't do all that in the next two months, well then I need to arrange for temporary in-home daycare space until after the busy season.  Then I'll have more time to pick up this big-move project in the spring.

Attention! Winter 2010 vacationers

I just thought of this.  If you are considering a trip to Mammoth this winter, please be sure to call me as soon as you know your dates.  I'm already getting bookings for this winter!  Omigoodness, I am excited.  Repeat clients!  I cannot wait to get my annual "dose" of puppy love.  So far I've got Ra, Ti, Hu & Bi, Ja, Ze, Mu, Mo, Ch & Su booked; you know who you are.

Here's the problem: I don't want to let anyone down

Yes, I'm a dog lover, and I get the most satisfaction out of my day when I see that I've really helped someone's pup become comfortable here, or in letting my client know something hilarious that their pup did that day.

But I'm also trying to be a smart business owner, and one of my marketing goals is for clients to trust that I will be here for them year after year.  That (as long as they give me at least a few weeks' heads-up that they're coming into town) I will have a space for their pup.

The reason I didn't want to post this is that I don't want to let my clients down.  After all, what if I can't open up this facility?  I'm super-excited about the potential expansion, but the What-Ifs make sharing this new step pretty scary.  My clients are great, though, so I don't expect anyone to get mad at me over the uncertain location for this winter.  Whether it's at a nice, new fancy facility or just another in-home spot, I'm still going to provide the same attention and love to the dogs, they'll still be with me and the other pups.  That's what essentially defines a "good day" for the Daycare (or Boarding or Sleepover) pups.  But it's still frustrating not knowing where we're going to get to have that good day.  

What happened?  Why do you have to move?

I've been pondering this one for some time.  How much to share.  On the one hand, the point of this blog is to be honest and let everyone know what's happening, and on the other, I am still emotional over having to make the choice to move.  I think the best way to handle this is to leave out the history of why this is happening until a later date; until I can be a bit more objective in telling the story.  Hopefully within a few months it won't be such a touchy subject. 

So I'm going to leave it with the following answer: A non-life-threatening, not-too-life-changing personal event occurred, and I chose to move the facility to Mammoth.

In the end, it's pretty cool

This was my original plan when I decided to go into pet care.  I'm just ahead of schedule.

My original goal was to start seriously planning for a "real-life" facility in Mammoth or the surrounding area in April or May 2011.  In fact, on the customer surveys I've sent out, I'm sure you've seen the little note about opening a Daycare the winter of 2011/12.  I've been dabbling in those plans (in my "free" time) since 2007.  Planning has simply intensified, and rather than having 9 months to put things together, I have three months.  Yikes!

I gotta say, thank goodness for a slow-ish October, because I don't think I could get this done if I was as busy as this past summer.  Whew!  I've got one pup at my feet under my desk right now (Bella's sister, "Krissy"!!!), absolutely loving my "belly rub breaks" every twenty minutes or so as I type-type-type away.  Talk about personalized care.  She's got it pretty good this week.  I tell ya.

She's one of those pups that would much rather stay glued to my hip than play with the other pups.  Well, that's not true.  As long as I'm out there playing with her, she's more than happy to play games.  But if I move away from the group at all, look out.  Here she comes, wondering, "Where are you going?  What are we going to go do now?"  The only thing that she's more fascinated in than me is Toby (our 6-month old kitty), who is having fun with Krissy by hiding behind the closet door and poking his paws out at her, then slipping back into the darkness.  Krissy is absolutely thrilled by this game.  Puts a smile on my face to watch.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Start, Stop! Start, Stop!

I'm an Aries, what can I say?

I love coming up with new projects and figuring out how to implement them.  I'm just not great at the "finishing" part.  I get distracted easily.  Hey, I'm also on the cusp of Pisces, the dreamer, so who can blame me?  I'm not sure how other bloggers do this, but my "technique" is to create a draft every time I have an idea for a post.  Perhaps this isn't the right method, since right now I have over 12 drafts just sitting there.  Waiting to be brought to life.  Taunting me with their incompleteness.  Oh, I'm overwhelmed looking at them.

Inhale, exhale.  Okay good.

So what happened with this blog?  I find myself feeling guilty for allowing these drafts to fester away; to shrivel up and get shoved behind the couch.  Also, this blog is supposed to be about dogs, not my attempts at blogging!  What am I doing?  I'm so off-track!

Inhale, exhale.

  • I promise that I'll share with you the news on Bella and our attempts at utilizing Natural Dog Training.
  • I have a good one on something I learned in regards to Harriette (and it happened just a day later... hint: Neil Sattin contacted me - oooh!  I have goosebumps, and I feel like I just got a celebrity's signature).
  • I really want to share my own version of NDT basics.

Yes, there's all that.  I will get around to it, I promise.  I have a feeling that I've had writer's block because I've been keeping a secret.  So in my next post, I wanted to explain why I've been neglecting this poor little blog.  It's no fun to write about, so this little post is just a "teaser" for the explanation to come. 

Here's a hint:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Rubber Band / Snap!

Rubber Bands & Harriette's Barking

Harriette's energy is bound up like the bands of the World's Biggest Rubber Band Ball.

Sure, energy definitely isn't stationary, but bear with me a moment while I work through this.  For a little background picture, Harriette is a two and a half year old Bichon mix, I've known her for four days, and she's got a few nervous tics.  She's on more than four medications for itching, but overall she's a happy pup, and doesn't mind the treatments, or the neck cone she wears if that scratching gets to be too much and she could hurt herself.

I observed her sunbathing on the window seat this afternoon, looking quite comfortable, when all of a sudden she noticed some offensive object outside and she... SNAPPED!  Okay, she barked.  You know the kind:  explosive, screeching and blaming the world.  "Snap" was the first word that came to mind, but as soon as it arrived, I loved the idea.

The Dirty Word(s): Red Zone

I'm sure you've heard of a few concepts describing our dogs going nuts.  One I especially dislike is "red zone," since the words connote the type of thinking that keeps you from being able to help your dog.  "Red" is bloody, scary, hot, stoplight.  Halt, freeze, do not touch.  Careful.  "Zone" is indicative of space or time.  From here to there; then to "When?"  It's mysterious.  You have to guess when it'll end.  A literal space separates you from your pup while he's in that "zone," since you don't want to get too close or you may get hurt.

The worst part?  "Zone" describes a single event.  According to dominance theories, even if your pup goes from a Level 9 to a Level 8, it's not good enough.  You can't let up on alpha-rolling her or (warning: sarcasm) sending calm energy through your body, down your arm with which you're restraining her on the ground.  You need to wait until she's at least down to a 4.  Okay, now she's out of the "zone".

No.  By lumping it all together, it becomes impossible to sort out the tiny moments during which you could have seized the opportunity to redirect, or to find some other way to help.  If you can - if you would like - a new way of thinking about your pup's breakdowns, I'd love to share a different view of what may be going on, and explain how you might use this Rubber Band / Snap! idea to help your dog, both at the moment and long term.  Keep in mind that I'm no expert, so take from this post what you will.

The Energy Bound Within

Since I don't know Harriette well enough to say for sure what she's going through when she lost it for a second there, I'm going to come up with a hypothetical pup, Casey the "Every Dog," and run a little scenario by you.  Imagine Casey as two months old.  He's got a ton of energy; instinctual energy, just bursting to be utilized.  He needs to chew, needs to bark, needs to run, needs to cuddle, needs to be taught what's safe to encounter, and needs to learn a few techniques for how to get rid of that energy.  The first rubber bands are tied together, and his little ball has started.

Now let's say he's 9 months old, an adolescent.  Bands are added with each experience that creates a well of emotion inside him, and now the ball is about the size of your fist.  They're layered on nice and easy, without much stretching.  If one day Casey is startled by the doorbell and no one's home to help him get rid of the emotion (fear, perhaps?) that's enveloped his body -- not to worry.  It'll hold.  These are new, freshly manufactured rubber bands.

And now Casey is two, and the ball has grown to the size of a cantaloupe.  The new bands are stretched to their limit.  You can see cracks in some of them.  A few of those original bands are really getting old, and are beginning to break inside.  And now every time the doorbell rings, Casey feels that intense rush of energy and a new band is placed on the ball.  But it's too much tension.  The band snaps.

The Replacement Word:  SNAP!

Say it a few times.  Snap!  It lasts for half a second when you say it.  The word elicits a powerful, fleeting moment.  Sure, there might be momentary pain, but it's soon forgotten.  May have been annoying to deal with, but now that you're over the shock, you can figure out how to deal with it.

When Casey reacts to something in way you don't like, try to think of his response as a result of a sudden surge of emotional energy.  Too much for him to handle, so he snapped.  But that reaction is done.  Over with.  Snap.  Sure, he may still be barking, this is simply a rebound effect.  The rubber band has broken, but now it's whipping about before it settles.

Don't get mad if your pup isn't listening to you.  He's not asserting his dominance by ignoring you.  He simply doesn't feel as attracted to you as he does to whatever brought about that energy and caused the huge SNAP in the first place! 

How About Poor Harriette?

I'm not sure if I initially made the right move to help the tension of the "Something-Walking-By-The-House-Bothers-Me" snap.  Her barking startled me, so I gasped and in knee-jerk fashion, gave a curt, "Hey!" for her to stop.  She did, for a millisecond, and then went right back to it, as wildly as before.  Gasp and "hey" probably added tension to the band.  Darn.

So I took a moment and decided to try redirecting Harriette.  As counter-intuitive as it sounds -- since the "reinforcement experts" say you're not supposed to praise bad behavior -- I would wait for the slightest indication that her attention wasn't 100% on the offender, and then redirect that attention towards me.  So I took a breath, tried to forget about what the neighbors must be thinking, and watched.  It took about 25 seconds, but finally Harriette relaxed her shoulders back a bit.  The tiniest movement.  I called to her a sort of direct, happy and certain voice, "Come check this out!" and leaned over towards the ground.  And guess what?  She was thrilled to leave her post as Guardian-Of-The-Window-Seat and come on over to me.  As she did, I saw the woman walking past my house pushing a stroller and walking a lab.  Hmm.

Harriette wasn't completely satisfied, however.  She ran back over to the window and gave another few barks, but within seconds she dropped her focus on the lady, a tiny moment, and tilted her head towards me.  There was another chance to stop that rubber band from whipping about!  So I called to her again, and this time she didn't return to the window.

Did I actually teach her that she can come to me with stress, rather than directing it at the outside world?  Did I help her learn how best to release that energy?  I don't know.  Probably not.  She was only with us for a few days.  But I do know that as the days went on, she did bark at the neighbors less often.  Thanks to Harriette for teaching me this lesson, because it'll help me with all my future Snappers!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kevin Behan's New Book!

I have a list of about 12 dog blogs that I follow, and I love the yellow brick road of links within links that I find myself investigating.  If I hadn't clicked, I wouldn't have known that Kevin Behan, the creator of Natural Dog Training, is coming out with a new book in January 2011 entitled Your Dog Is Your Mirror.  I'm so excited! 

I feel as if I'm about to enter a marathon and I need to do some serious training to get in shape before I dive into this book.  What a great way to motivate myself to focus again on practicing NDT.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What Am I Trying to Teach?

Today I had a couple of free hours, so I decided to take Bella for a ride and run on over to my sister's house to pick up her pups, Mika and Gordy. Unfortunately we couldn't go right away, since the two had already been on an adventure earlier in the day and had rolled in something that would sell like gangbusters if dogs were the consumers and had their choice of perfume.

Gross. After the two got a good hose-down out in the street and they'd dried off a bit, we headed out of town and the four of us set out for a little forest adventure. At one point Bella heard a ground squirrel, and took off in a flash.

I thought, "Here's a great practice moment for us," so I yelled, "B, Sit!" ...

And she kept running.


Here's a little background on Bella and the "Stop/Sit!" command. For me, "Stop!" means stop moving, and "Sit!" means stop moving and get-yer butt on the ground. She's pretty much got it down. I'd say that 90% of the time she does come to a screeching halt, which makes me so proud. No, wait. We're both proud, since she has such an intense stare as she watches me for the "release/come" command, and then there's that look of ecstatic glee as she rushes back to me. Ooh, it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it!

We started working on this last summer. Not sure what prompted learning the command. Maybe it's because we'd moved into a new home with a big ol' yard and I wanted to be able to trust that if she was hanging out, I could stop her from chasing something before she got to the street (another dog, critter or an errant ball). Just for fun, one day I decided to see what she'd do, so we started with a basic off-leash walk, where I'd let her go out further and further each time. At 10, 20, 50, 100 feet in front of me, she understood the game pretty quickly. I think the burst of noise when I said "Stop!" or "Sit!" made her freeze, and for some reason her auto-response when waiting for me to do something is to sit, perk her ears up and look at me as if to say, "Huh? What. What's going on here?" And the best part was the recall, since she knew that tons of praise, pat-downs and an ear scritch were waiting when she got to me. She just loves being the "Good Girl!"

To up the ante, we then worked on "Stop!" while she was running to fetch a toy. "Fetch" for us is having her "sit/wait", watch me toss the toy into the sagebrush, I let the intensity build for a few seconds, and then... "Find It!" or "Okay!" Ooh, she lives for the anticipation of the recall command. To test her on "Stop!" I would try it every 3-5 times I threw the toy.

Okay, that's not true. I had to learn to test her every 3-5 times... At first, I thought it best to work on it with every toss, until I realized that she was anticipating the command, and even when I wouldn't ask for it, she'd slow down half-way to the toy, ears perked back, wait for it... wait for it...

Well that's not what I wanted! I wanted Bella to go for a full-out sprint as she chased down the toy. It was as if she thought the command was, "Go find it, but make sure you slow down in the middle of the run, then speed back up to grab the toy!" That's not what I wanted to teach.

Fast-forward to today.

After reading some Natural Dog Training (NDT) articles on squirrel-chasing, I thought that would be a fantastic way to test Bella even further. I'd never considered using her fascination with the little things as a way to get a training session in. We've been working on it, with about 80% "perfect" results (slowing down and moving another 5-10 steps before the sit doesn't count), so I thought, "Let's try it. B, Sit!"

Then I messed up, too. Rather than ignoring her "failure" and reinforcing the command with lower-level practice, which would have been helpful and happy for both of us, I let my emotions get in the way. As soon as she came out of the bushes onto the trail, I blurted out, "That was so bad, naughty Bella," with that tone that means business. And poor B. She cowered and tried to apologize, but I doubt she knew what for. After all, when I'd yelled out the command, she slowed, turned a corner, but happily kept going along her merry way.

I know better. Intellectually, I know that she wasn't rebelling against my authority or something silly like that. But that horrible inner Voice came up, saying, "How dare you? I commanded something of you and you ignore me? Who do you think you are?" Wow, that Voice is hard to control.

I realized that I was providing a negative experience for "Come." I scolded her right as she came out of the bushes next to me. There's something wrong with that picture. To apologize, I gave lots of love and "it's okay, baby"s. And I realized that I needed to make this a positive experience, so I decided to grab a stick for some easy "Fetch!" As a bonus, I even added a little underarm smell to the stick, since that adds quite a bit of value to the game for her. All was forgiven.

What am I trying to teach?

As we walked back to the car, I mulled over why this wasn't working, and a thought occurred to me: Why am I demanding a full-stop of momentum?

What a let-down when you're in such a high-intensity game such as squirrel chasing! I try to add a bit of that feeling by having her anticipate the recall (which literally gets her shaking with excitement), but surely that's not as good as the chase. Am I maybe teaching her that "Stop/Sit!" means "I have to ignore my feelings immediately in order to obey mom"? I don't want that. I want her to think, "If I obey mom, I'll get to keep this feeling or even experience a more pleasurable one."

And then it occurred to me. Why don't I change up the game and ask for an immediate recall (U-Turn), rather than a full stop? I mean, Stopping-The-Squirrel-Chase is a "trick." The practical purpose of this training is to be confident that I can get her to stop before she runs out into the street. It's to keep her safe, so it's important we get that 80% closer to 100%. So if "Sit!" is causing us a bit of trouble, why don't I try "B, Come!"?

Thank you, Bella, for teaching me that I needed to come up with a new game. Readers, I'll keep you updated.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The "First Draft"

It's time to start this thing.
I set up this page about two months ago, but haven't had the nerve to write anything. Why is this? It's not as if I don't have anything to say! In fact, when it comes to the description of this site, that it's to be a place for me to share my "journey" of discovering the different dog training methods, theories and ideas, well, I have plenty to say.

I think what I'm nervous about is the vulnerability of sharing these thoughts, and then later discovering how wrong I truly am (or, rather, was). If this were a personal journal, it wouldn't be so frightening. If no one else were to read these little posts, I wouldn't be so nervous about exposing myself to criticism. Because deep down (even now) I know that I'm wrong. I know that the way I handle the dogs around me at this moment isn't ideal. I'm a worrier. I get frustrated much too easily. At times I'm lazy. It's not even that I don't have all the answers; I have very few of them! The point is, I want to be better with the dogs I work with and live with. I have this itching, this inkling, that "better" is out there. And my one redeeming quality is that I'm willing to put in the work to get to better. I'm smart enough to know that there isn't one particular X-Marks-The-Spot idea. This will be an accumulation of ideas and theories.


Why a blog for everyone to read?

So why am I subjecting myself to this torture? Why don't I just keep this blog "safe"? Well, for me, safe isn't worth it. If I were only writing with friends, family or myself in mind as the audience, I probably wouldn't be so excited over the concept. Because I do want to find out what others think. I love a good debate. I love the adrenaline that starts flowing when someone catches me off-guard in an argument. I love the energy of the scramble that happens in my brain when I hear that, "But what about...?"

I do have a few concerns that my clients will "find me out" and this facade of "perfection" that I'm working so hard to create will be torn down in only a few posts. After all, it's a new business, and I'll be the first to tell you that it all starts with trust. Trust that I will be able to provide the quality, loving care that my clients' dogs deserve. To any clients (or potential clients) out there, my only hope is that you take this journey with me. I hope that through some of my trials and errors and successes, you'll be able to see yourself in my stories, and improve the relationships you have with the dogs around you, too!

And really, if any pet care professional tells you that they are perfect handlers of the dogs around them... that they've never cringed after giving a "heel" correction with the leash that was just a bit too hard... that they've never given the "Hey!" warning a bit too loud and growl-ey to stop a pup from eating something gross on the ground... that they've never strangled the air when the two year-old Labradors decide to run in opposite directions just as you've picked up the potty (but haven't flipped the bag to "secure" it with the handles)... they're either lying, they aren't very self-aware, or they don't care about getting potty on their hands.

Hence this silly little experiment in offering my thoughts and musings for your reading pleasure. Well, one can wish, yes?