More on Training + Pictures!

Elizabethanne's comment on the last Blog illustrates the problem dog owners face -- what to do when good trainers have different advice/ideas? How do you weed through what trainers say?

I actually mostly agree with my great friend, Elizabethanne. Dogs bark and usually for a reason, and so knowing the reason is helpful in knowing what to do. But here is where maybe we have a parting of the ways -- I do not think we can really know why a dog -- or a person -- does something. In fact, I would venture to say that most of us are largely unaware of why WE do what we do! (but you will click Read more if you want to read more)

Mrs. Maize barks when other dogs play -- we call her the Chief of the Fun Police. Do I know why she does that? No, I only can observe the behavior/trigger. I could make up some explanation about why she does it -- and I might even believe it -- but that does not make it true. The real truth is that I do not know why she barks when other dogs play -- I only know that she does.

This presents a problem. If my dog is barking at someone because s/he is giving off "rapist vibes" I do not want to stop her. If my dog is barking because she loves to bark about everything and everyone -- well, I want her to have an "off" button.

We cannot read the mind of a dog -- we can only observe behavior. Just this second Zoey ran over to me with one of my shoes and she growled/danced/jumped -- this behavior is what she does to get me to play with her. Is she bored? Who knows?! I cannot read her mind -- but I can read her behavior.

Unfortunately or fortunately, reading dog behavior is filtered through our own skills, knowledge, and experience. I have been thinking about dog trainers I really like and one that immediately came to mind is my friend, Nikki, in Utah -- I send all my Salt Lake City puppies to her. Is it because she has a zillion titles on dogs? Or is world famous? No -- it is for better reasons than that: Nikki is optimistic, calm, and nice to people and dogs. When she works with people and dogs, all behavior is filtered through those excellent qualities, and that is why I refer my puppy people to her.

We see the world -- including dogs -- through our personal set of lenses. Some people are high anxiety, and not surprisingly, see anxious dogs everywhere. Some people are high drama and see Big Problems everywhere. Some people live a life in which they never feel competent, and so they can never really solve problems, including with their dogs. How we are influences how we see the world, and also how we react and interact every minute of every day. And that is why a keen level of self-awareness is a critical dog training skill...

And this also means that nobody trains in the same way -- our training reflects who and what we are, and that is okay. But what that means for dog owners is that they need to embrace the fact that they must develop their own training philosophy and skills, and that is not only okay but also a necessity.

The diversity among dog trainers reflects the diversity among people, and it is not a bad thing -- in fact, it is a GOOD thing. And our own needs are diverse and change over time -- we might start with one trainer and move along to another, and this does not reflect poorly on anyone.

My take-home message is just that we should remain true to our own values, whatever those are, and remember that nobody else has our answers -- only we do. Other people are consultants in our lives -- not experts -- and we should absolutely listen to a variety of ideas but in the end, we are responsible for who and what we become in this lifetime -- and how we treat/train our dogs.

The aforementioned Mrs. Maize is eleven years old, and how I treat her is in a manner that is consistent with the life she had as a successful working dog - she doesn't compete anymore but that doesn't mean she can't still enjoy a little training/activity:

Spot and Dot came calling yesterday -- they are helping their mom, Heidi Marie, with her weed extermination business -- look at how they mirror each other!

For those who have not been to our place, here is the view from our deck:

I also took some pictures of the dogs yesterday -- here is Montana Mac:

Halo deVil:



And finally -- Cadi. Sigh. She loves to take dirt baths!!! Why?! I have no idea -- I can only observe behavior, and that behavior is that when it is warm, she immediately rolls in the dirt and looks like this:

My behavior is also predictable -- I sigh, get the camera, and then blow dry all the dirt off before she comes in the house. Why do I handle it like this? Who knows -- probably because I tend not to stress about the small stuff -- but why is that? Who knows?! Who cares?? Just blow that dirt off and get on with things :)

I am percolating Camp Kaibab 2012 -- involving training, floating, hiking to a mountain peak, a parade in Stevensville, and an agility trial -- oh, and Big Fun. More on that soon. In the meantime, have a fantastic day!!!



by Anonymous on Wed, 08/17/2011 - 10:58

One thing that I have learned (the hard way sadly) is that if it's not fun you don't have the right trainer!! Trainig should always be fun if it's not there is something wrong.

by Heidi on Wed, 08/17/2011 - 11:20

Since I love Bernese Mountain Dogs, and since I know that I may not get (sob!) as much time with my loved animal as I would like, I have learned (been trained?) to make to most of every minute, because that's all I'm certain that I have. Anyone who works with my dogs will need to know that as much as I might like to encourage or prevent a particular behavior, the happiness of my dog/human pack is always my primary goal. Harley is my main example: I wanted to do therapy work with him, and we dutifully went to the necessary classes. He did very well. But I knew (because we know those we love well) that he wasn't enjoying it. He was doing it for me, and so I put that goal aside. We found other ways to work together that didn't include him only tolerating the activity. I'm really glad I did that, because Harley left me much sooner than I hoped. I'm very grateful that I didn't push him to do something he didn't enjoy. I'm glad we tried it, but I stand by the final decision. The best dog people who have been in my life have helped me to be a better participant in the relationship I have with my dogs (and cats). An animal more than I think any other being lives in the moment, and I want to help to make those moments the best that they can be.

by Anonymous on Wed, 08/17/2011 - 18:25

Part of me thinks everyone should have a Bernese but I know that is not a good idea. I watched dogs 101 the other day and they said "do your research because picking out a dog breed is like going into a marriage... it won't work if you have different life styles ". Of course each dog is individual but they often share the same characteristics with one another. I wonder if this is why lots of people go to get help with behaviors... things that naturally come to dog or even breeds of dogs. Then of course there are behaviors that we create.. Our dog has some separation anxiety because we use to make a big deal when we would get home from work or being gone. Now that we don't make a big deal out of it.. he is much better.

by Elizabethanne on Wed, 08/17/2011 - 23:36

I agree that we are not that far apart in our views! I understand the reluctance to ascribe a motive or reason for a behavior when we cannot always truly "know." I also understand that it is fraught with difficulty, particularly when people are not knowledgeable about dog behavior, canine stress signals, etc. How many times have we heard, "He's happy. His tail is wagging." And really, the wagging in that situation means something quite different than happiness! On the other hand, I think it does my dogs a disservice to say, "I can't know, so I'm not going to try." Also, doesn't it dovetail nicely with your behaviorist model? Remember when Charley started his agility career and he barked maniacally at a woman who was sitting on the ground near the agility ring, wearing a big hat, and there was a Puli nearby? Charley (the most level-headed dog you'll ever meet) wouldn't even go near that side of the ring. I thought he was concerned about people sitting on the ground wearing hats, or about dogs in dreadlocks, and I then made sure that he got lots of cookies in those circumstances. Then, we were in Santa Barbara (first time in Excellent A), and he stopped in the ring and began his maniacal barking. No Pulis. No people in hats sitting on the ground. I did some investigating, and spoke to the people in that area of the ring. After some conversation, they disclosed that they ran a ferret rescue. Hmmm. The next time Charley did the crazy barking thing, I approached the person and asked, "Do you have ferrets?" I still remember the shocked look and the question, "How did you know?" At that point, I embarked on the Greater Salt Lake Valley ferret desensitization project. Took Charley to Petcos to get cookies around the ferret cages, got someone with ferrets to put some of my old clothes in her ferret's cage, so I could work with the smell at home. We even worked up to playing tug with the ferret clothes. If I had not tried to figure out the why, I never would have solved that problem.

The way the "why" dovetails with the behaviorist model is that you will know pretty quickly if you are right about the why because the method you use to deal with the issue will work if you are right and will not if you are wrong. So, giving treats around Pulis did nothing. Treats around ferret people did. (Do you remember leaving that stuffed ferret for Charley on our front porch? LOL!)

And, Heidi, we're for fun, too! :-)

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