What’s in Your Mouth?!

I could write a book on this subject alone, how people reinforce the behavior of their dogs who grab things their people don’t want them to have.
It often begins when the dog is a puppy and begins to explore the world. Just as exploring babies do, puppies learn about their world by using their mouths. Add to this, puppies lack hands so they must use their mouths to pick things up.
Of course we don’t want them to harm themselves, so we often become hyper-vigilant. Every time the puppy picks something up that we’re either afraid will hurt them or are afraid they will destroy, we “mark” that behavior by rushing over to them, giving them lots of feedback by speaking to them, looking at them, handling them, putting their fingers and hands in the puppy’s mouth, all with much emotion.
What does the puppy learn from this reaction oh, so quickly? That they’ve found a behavior that is guaranteed to get 100% of our attention.
This isn’t because they want our attention for affection, love and play. This is because they must ask the all-important question that canines ask for their own survival: Who carries the weight of authority? Who has influence over others in the group? The only way they can ask their questions is through their behaviors. If they pick something up and we instantly run to them and fuss, then clearly the being on all fours holds sway in the group!
A good friend of mine is experiencing the fallout from the continual reinforcement of this grabbing behavior, a behavior which has escalated because of the stress the dog is feeling. She’s fostering a dog who is approximately 18 months old, an adorable mix of many breeds who has great potential for being a lovely companion. His grabbing and mouthing behaviors, however, also have the potential for him to eventually lose his life if they’re not resolved.
This dog’s behavior often bends to the extreme. He continually grabs whatever is nearby: shoes, slippers, clothing out of the laundry basket (which he doesn’t touch unless his people are trying to fold the laundry). He pulls on sleeves, pant legs, shirt hems. He mouths the sofa, grabs blankets. He doesn’t destroy these things, and when I recently visited and watched out of the corner of my eye when he took my shoe, he’s clearly watching for the reaction of the people and has no real interest in the item. The worst behaviors are when he puts his mouth on people, grabs their hands, their arms. My friend is bruised from this dog’s efforts to get and keep her attention on him.
It’s abundantly clear that this dog has experienced great success using these behaviors in his previous living situations, all to his own detriment and ending up in a shelter.
How do we prevent this from happening? Very simple. These suggestions are both for puppies and for grown dogs you may welcome into your home.
Firstly, do a twice daily sweep of the home. If you have youngsters in the house, get them involved. Think in terms of baby-proofing. I often ask clients to get down on the dog’s level, go through the house, clearing away anything they see that the dog may be tempted to take, potential dangers such as hanging cords, as well as anything they don’t want the dog to have at all and possibly destroy. Prevention from the outset is the best way to prevent these situations from cropping up to begin with.
If the puppy or dog does pick up something undesirable, don’t react. Have a selection of toys or healthy chew items stockpiled and stored just for these occasions so you can casually walk past the pup, shake it to make sure he notices it, drop it a little away from him so he must move away from what he currently has and then retrieve the item the little bandit had absconded with.
You can also go to another room and call the dog to you, reward him when he complies with your request, and have someone pick up the item the dog formerly had.
Peaceful, force-free, no feedback whatsoever.
Remain alert, however. If you find yourself frequently calling the dog to you to get him to drop something the dog, being the highly intelligent creature he is, may very well have realized that grabbing something = food reward. So as mentioned, the wisest thing to do is to make sure there aren’t any items hanging about that you don’t want the dog to take in the first place.
Simple. Positive. Profoundly effective.  #theABway
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Changes are Challenging

This image is supposed to be funny. At one time, I might have thought it was so. Now I know more about dogs and their perspective, and looking at it breaks my heart.
People tend to believe that dogs don’t care who they’re with, that they can be dropped off at a moment’s notice to a shelter, or daycare or neighbor’s they’ve never met or barely know, or a new home and not have any worries or feelings about it and will just “get over it” quickly and be fine with the change.
 
That’s very far from the truth.
 
Dogs, like all animals (including humans) are first and foremost concerned about survival, in every day and every moment. This means that as group-living beings they will make alliances with others for the sake of numbers, meaning that the more of us we have in our group, the greater chance we can survive what we may face.
 
This is not the same as making “instant friends” or being okay with being abandoned by their family.
 
Think about this: If you were dropped into the most alien environment you can imagine without provisions with a bunch of strangers without explanation and you realize you have find a way to survive, how would you feel? You don’t know these new people, you don’t speak the same language, you don’t know their strengths, weaknesses, their character, how reliable and trustworthy they are, but you must band together to stay alive.
 
Is this a “happy” situation? Wouldn’t you feel fear and anxiety and doubt? How long do you think it would take you to get to know the others in your group to the point that you begin to feel some level of comfort in their presence? And how long would you need to feel comfortable in depending upon them to work with you? Would you be buddy-buddy instantly? Would you trust them immediately?
And the biggest question:  Would you love them immediately?
Of course not. You would feel loss, panic, worry, anxiety, fear, distrust. All of this and more.
I liken this kind of situation to when children who have been in a foster/adoptive family’s care since infancy are unceremoniously handed over to their biological family at the age of two or three. The horror! What that child is experiencing is unimaginable to us as adults. Not far off for the dog…
But there are kind ways to help your dog to become comfortable with new environments.
If you want to have your neighbor take care of your dog, set up dates to bring your dog there and spend some time in their home. Graduate to leaving them there, beginning with short periods, perhaps five to ten minutes, then build on the time you are absent. Make visits there a regular thing, so the dog can form what is called an “extended pack”, a relationship with that neighbor that he/she is comfortable with and begins to consider them a part of their family.
The same is true when it comes to boarding your dog or bringing them to a doggie daycare. Just because there are other dogs there, doesn’t mean your dog will be overjoyed at being dropped into the middle of a noisy, confusing place full of new smells and groups of strange, anixous dogs. Think of bringing a small child to a new daycare or their first day of school. You don’t just come to a halt in front of the door, push your child into the building and take off!
The worse-case scenario is when a family is thinking of re-homing their dog, for whatever reason. First and foremost, one would hope that if the reason for re-homing is behavior-related, serious and committed attempts to change the situation have been made (If the family finds a Dog Listener, then more than likely the dog will be able to remain in their home!) and surrendering the dog is the very last option. Sometimes this simply cannot be avoided, however, and there are times when it’s actually better for the dog to be removed from a challenging environment. Realize that the emotional cost to the dog is truly great, especially when they have developed loving relationships with those in the family. Animals feel grief and loss as we do, and this is compounded by the fact that there is absolutely no way we can explain to them what is happening and why.
That, to me, is the biggest heartbreak of all and the experience for the dog being in a shelter situation will hopefully be mercifully short, with a new home found quickly.
So before casually moving your dog from one place to the next, stop and think about what this does to the dog’s peace of mind and its stress level. When you disappear, they have no way of knowing if they will ever see you again. The kindest and most loving thing you can do for your ‘best friend’ is to find ways to ease them into a new environment and establish a pattern of behavior that lets your dog know that you will likely return and reunite with them once again, and in the meantime, they are in a safe, happy place, enjoying their time until you return.

Emmett

This is our Emmett. He’s 11 years old now, a very well-mannered gentleman.
 
We adopted Emmett from a local shelter at the tender age of 5 months. Adorable puppy, killer cute and loads of charm, with that round, speckled puppy belly and irresistible puppy smell. Things looked good when we brought him home, but gradually all that changed.
 
Emmett claimed the sofa as his…and peed on it. If we tried to pet him, he would snap at us. If we sat on the sofa and his cushion moved, he would rush at us and nip. His barking was off the charts, as was his marking. Marking everywhere. Walks, although not horrible, were a struggle, with him pulling ahead like a freight-train trying to meet new people and dogs. Not enjoyable, because we lived in a neighborhood with lots of dogs. He wasn’t the snuggly, cuddly puppy we had adopted just weeks ago, and we were dumbfounded and completely confused.
 
We had never lived with a dog with such behavior challenges. Up until this point, all the dogs we had known were “easy”, sweet-tempered, calm. Emmett was a shock. And he had taken over.
 
Life with Emmett was exasperating, frustrating, sometimes exhausting. He was a ridiculous barker and living in a busy family neighborhood meant that any little noise would set off a cacophony of sounds from him. He would also strike at our other dog whenever he heard something; not biting him, but snapping his teeth in the air and rushing at him. Sometimes this ended in a session of teeth fencing between them but we knew it could escalate at any time. Numerous visits to the veterinarian yielded nothing but a diagnosis: redirected aggression. With this came the directive to “anticipate” this behavior in order to head it off and change it. That didn’t work at all, because living in a busy family neighborhood meant noises at all times; car doors, children playing, dogs being walked past the house, delivery trucks. The list was endless.
Emmett was also a boundary runner, and any time he was in our fenced-in yard and someone walked by, especially other dogs, he would crazily run back and forth, barking with all he had. Summers were noisy and I felt embarrassed by his behavior, but powerless, having used training tactics with little if any result.
 
Along the way, I received advice, lots and lots of advice. I was told to “be firmer” with him, meaning I should hit him. I was told to “correct” him by being physical with him, yanking on his leash when he didn’t walk well; to get into his face, growl at him and tell him, “No!” whenever he did something displeasing. I bought a bark collar that sprayed citronella past his face when he barked. Emmett figured out very quickly where the gadget needed to be sitting on his throat in order to be activated by the bark, and learned how to bark around it. I really didn’t like this thing anyway, seeing Emmett terrified as the spray came out. It would also spray when our other dog barked and this seemed terribly unfair. As per training books, I taught him to bark on command, and he even learned how to whisper, so we could control when he barked. He turned things around so that he trained me to reward him for barking. Did I mention how smart he is? I bought more training books, lots of training books, but nothing seemed to work or at least,  didn’t work for long.
I learned about clicker training, because it is humane and gentle in its approach, but failed at that, even with clickers hanging from my key ring, both wrists, and placed about the house and in the car so we could click whenever we saw a desirable behavior. Treats, treats, treats. Emmett would do what I asked for treats, such as come to me when I asked to short-circuit his barking, but then would immediately run back and commence barking again.
At one point, my husband asked what we were going to “do” about Emmett. I replied that we couldn’t bring him back to the shelter, because he would most certainly be bounced from one home to the next, would probably end up being put to sleep for being a biter. So, we adapted….to Emmett. We didn’t bring friends over. We kept things on the furniture so he couldn’t get up onto it, which meant that if we wanted to sit on a chair, either a laundry basket or a pile of books had to be moved before we could. Our home began to look as though it housed hoarders.
And we were always on edge, wondering what the next crisis would be.
 
One well-known trainer of German Shepards counseled me to ignore Emmett, completely, reduce his place in the pack, but then asked me to promise to never tell where I had received this suggestion. And we saw changes, positive changes. Emmett began to calm and show respect. We could uncover the furniture and invite him to be with us. I now understand why this worked, but didn’t then and at first it felt uncomfortable because it felt “mean” to be ignoring this adorable bit of puppy fluff. I’ve since learned that it’s a critical piece of canine communication and actually very kind. I forged ahead, because I saw that Emmett was gaining a clear benefit. We were as well.
 
Fast forward a year and a half, to the feeding issues.
We simply thought of our little guy as being quirky, and this applied to his eating. For a long while we simply assumed he had strong preferences about what he liked, just as people do. So we changed the food we fed our dogs. He would eat fine for a little while, then become picky once more. And by “picky” I mean he would approach his bowl, perhaps eat a few pieces, back up from the bowl, look hesitant about approaching it again, and so on. We would change the food again. And again.
Of course this behavior had gained our full attention. We tried coaching him on, rewarding him with praise when he did eat. We tried feeding with the collar on, and with the collar off. We tried several different types of bowls, and tried feeding him with no bowl, either dropping it on the floor or even hand-feeding. We tried moving his bowl to different areas in the house, thinking he was either distracted or uncomfortable by his surroundings. At every feeding, we were completely engaged watching him like hawks; “Will he eat? Is he eating? Did you see him eat anything? He’s barely touched his food, let make sure to fill in with treats…” In between, there were visits to the vet, to make sure there was nothing we were missing health-wise. The vet had no answers, other than to try their expensive prescription food and to heat it in the microwave to make it “stinky” and more enticing to Emmett. That worked…for a little while. Then we were always back where we started.
Ultimately, Emmett reached a point at which he stopped eating altogether. We were panicked.
I called a friend of mine and she suggested I pick up a copy of Jan Fennell’s book, “The Dog Listener”, which I did while thinking, “Oh, joy, another book, more advice, more failure.” I devoured the book, began using the simple techniques, making the small changes, and withing 3 days, Emmett was once again eating like a champ. We were floored.
And overjoyed.
Now I understand why Emmett was doing what he was doing.
When I look back, I so wish I had found Jan’s work sooner. I see the mistakes we had been making in our interactions with him. Such small things to us, but which made all difference in the world to Emmett (and our other dog, who we thought of as being an “angel”). They made all the difference to him because they were changes that made sense to him as a dog. That’s what we had been missing…Emmett’s perspective, his take on the world from his place in it as a dog. His concerns, his canine culture, his goals, his understanding of what his role was in our home relative to ours, and his drive to carry out what he believed were his responsibilities for the family group. It went to the very heart of why he was doing what he was doing, while giving us the tools we needed to help him. Because he did need help and was enjoying his life with us even less in many respects than we were with him.
This new journey to understand, empathize and answer Emmett’s questions and concerns wasn’t always easy, and it wasn’t always clear. It was a process, because we had to change our own behavior rather than trying to manipulate Emmett into new behaviors. Once we did this, we watched as he would respond to our efforts by slowly releasing those behaviors that had turned our world upside down. He became affectionate, playful, much less intense with our other dog, with fewer spats between them. We could see how he was able to learn new things because he was calmer and could focus. In all areas, he began to step back and became more patient.
Emmett, on the whole, has been the best teacher for me that I could ever ask for, and even after all these years, I’m still learning from him while changes happen within our little pack. He is still not the “easiest” dog we’ve ever lived with and keeps me on my toes, making me check in with myself regarding whether I’m behaving in the way that will, first and foremost, help him. The rewards are great, including evenings spent with a warm, sweet dog curled up and sleeping in my lap, something at one time I couldn’t have imagined experiencing with him.
So I thank Emmett for leading me down a path I couldn’t have dreamed up for myself; one which has benefited many, many dogs since I first picked up Jan Fennell’s book and opened the door to real understanding that I have since been blessed to share with others in my role as Dog Listener.
And I thank Jan, for being one of the very few people who asked the question, “What is most important to the dog?” and being wise enough to really listen to their answers.

We All Look for Authority

We, as so many others in the Eastern part of the U.S., have been living through an Arctic deep freeze. For us, this means that during the coldest parts of the night, our house ‘pops’. The cold makes our house make noises that, if one didn’t know what they were, could make a person think that someone is hurling bricks at it. This leads one of our dogs, Tinker, to begin barking.

Usually at about 3:30 AM.

In many people’s minds our dogs are being silly when they bark about such things. We of course know full well that there is no danger because we’re humans and we understand such things. But really, how can our dogs know there is no danger? They’re animals.

But many people do assume that because our dogs live in our homes that they, too, understand that these noises pose no real danger so being roused at 3:30 AM a few nights in a row is more along the lines of a reason to become frustrated, even angry with the dog. Some may lie in bed and shout at the dog to be quiet, or stomp over to the dog and show it by talking (shouting) angrily at it how angry they’re feeling at being awakened at that time of night.

But has this really provided clear reassurance to the dog that there is no threat and that there is nothing to be concerned about?

Quite the contrary. When we behave in these ways with our dogs, they look at us, see our upset and decide that their person is very concerned about the noise too and furthermore is looking to the dog to handle whatever this potential danger is because they’re simply too rattled to face the problem well. This precipitates more stress being experienced by the dog, and very often this greater experience of stress means increased vigilance by the dog, pairing with increased barked warnings. The situation has been made worse.

When in scary situations, we all look for assurance and information, don’t we? Someone to tell us that all is well and we can relax.

I think of a time when our boiler began making strange noises in the basement one night as it turned on to provide heat for the house. It would roar to life and shudder while doing so, rattling the house and I can tell you I was more than concerned; I was terrified. I ran to my husband in alarm, telling him something is terribly wrong and that I’m afraid the house will blow up. Of course he became alarmed as well. Neither of us is schooled in how boilers work or how to maintain them. So we called on those who do possess the knowledge and expertise…the authorities on boilers.

Thankfully, after explaining what was happening, the gentleman at our oil company told us what was happening which was a very simple thing of water somehow getting blown back into the exhaust and making a problem for the boiler. He then said that all we had to do was to push the “reset” button on the boiler and it would resume normal functioning.

He did all this in a calm, confident, relaxed and competent manner which immediately brought reassurance and calm to my husband and me. We pushed the button, and all was well once again.

My husband and I did exactly what our dog Tinker was doing: bringing to an authority’s attention that there was a possible threat to our safety and well-being in the hopes that we would receive support and information we needed in order to know whether there was further action to be taken.

In Tinker’s case, I simply walked through the rooms he inhabits, looked out of the windows in a relaxed and calm manner while he watched, uttered a calm, quiet, “Thank you”, and returned to bed. We all went back to sleep.

I did have to repeat it the next night, and this time our other dog, Emmett, got into the barking act. I did the very same thing for the both of them as I had done the first night. And we all went back to sleep.

Simple. Clear. Easy. Calm.

Think of the times you’ve been faced with a perplexing or alarming situation and see how your behavior is the same as your dog’s when he barks in alarm.

Calm communication providing information in the way our dogs can understand  answers their needs and concerns in any situation with them, just as it does for us.

#nofearnoforcenogadgetsnomeds

 

 

 

Socialization – the Myth

One of my clients reached out to me with a very upsetting experience this week, asking me what I think of “socialization”. Hmmm…

What had happened was that she and her husband had driven to a drop-off point, meeting their dog food distributor, and happened to have brought along their NewFoundland. While they had parked in a place that had been previously far enough away from other cars, for whatever reason other people began parking nearby. Their dog doesn’t spend lots of time riding in the car, but had accompanied his carers to food deliveries before but what occurred was completely frightening to the poor boy.

My client related that at first someone took their dog out of their car for bathroom break, and walked near to my client’s car. Her Newfie barked (appropriately) and was answered by my client, although she could then see he had been a bit ruffled and was now a bit more on alert. More cars began arriving. More concerned barking ensued.

Shortly after this little incident, a person approached my client’s truck, having heard him barking and began sticking their hand into my client’s car, while at the same time asking, “Can I pet him?Is he friendly?” The dog began to growl, while also trying to back away from the person’s hand. My client answered, “Yes, he is, but he doesn’t know you.” She also politely requested that they ignore the dog, and to not put their hand into the truck, because it’s the dog’s space. The person then began to instruct my client on socialization (apparently this individual has lived with Newfies, so of course believe they knew about the breed), how important it is for this type of dog to be “socialized”, etc., etc.

Then, shortly after, another person approached the truck and began to put their hand in through the open window to pet the dog, while the dog growled and backed up. My client’s husband asked the woman not to do this, that although he is a friendly dog, there is too much stimulation for him currently and he needed to calm down.

Unbelievable.

To put this scenario in a human perspective, suppose you’re sitting in your car, awaiting a delivery, as these folks were. Suddenly, someone you don’t know approaches your car and proceeds to put their hands in your face, your hair, and on your body. Think you would pull away? Perhaps even shout at the person, push away their hands and tell them off? I know I would!

Or suppose your children are sitting in their car seats in the back seat of your car and a stranger walks up and puts their hands on your children? In my mind, they would draw back a stump!

What is this bizarre notion that a dog is supposed to tolerate everyone’s hands on them? That somehow we should “make” them be instant friends with all they meet?  Maybe train them to just put up with every person who wants to touch them, to get into their face and space. They are animals, concentrated on their survival every day. They cannot know who is kind and who isn’t by smell alone! And honestly, we share this same “stranger = danger” instinct with them. If a stranger comes to my door, I’m very cautious and keep the outer door closed to them until I learn what their presence means. If an unfamiliar person approaches my car, my window gets raised so I can feel safer. Imagine that you’re sitting at a stoplight and some random person jumps into your car with you. Are you going give him a big smile and ask where he needs a ride to? If he shows up in your living room unannounced, are you going invite him to tea?

Of course not!

It’s absolutely absurd for people to assume they can handle every dog they meet at that the dog “should” be thrilled about it. Dogs don’t have the language necessary to tell these kinds of pushy people to back off. They don’t have hands to push away those hands that are in their face. And often they are leashed so their ability to flee has been taken away or, in this case, they are in an enclosed space and have no means of escape.

They have teeth. That’s it.

The real crime is that if they should feel the need to use those teeth, after having given fair warning with a growl and demonstrated their wish to take flight by backing up as my client’s dog did as the intruder insisted they should be able to touch the dog, the one bitten would immediately cry foul, try to shame the dog’s carers by claiming they haven’t appropriately socialized their dog, and maybe even report the dog for a bite, saying there is something wrong with the dog and it’s vicious.

It happens every day.

It doesn’t have to. If people would learn about the true nature of their dogs, their dog’s perspective and survival needs, putting aside their own egos and investment as being seen as “dog people”, even take the time and interest necessary to learn what dog’s signals mean, then dogs would be given a choice, just as we given one another a choice about interaction, just as we give our children a choice about interaction.

It’s called empathy. It’s called compassion.

Doomed To Fail

I often read the short, informational write-ups about dogs who are in need of a home and so many of them state the dog is the type that “needs to be with their person”, meaning the dog has suffered separation anxiety in the past, this is just a part of who they are, so they need to be adopted by a person who can be with them 24/7.

My heart sinks.

Not just because I know that separation anxiety is something that I regularly help my clients work through with their dogs to success, but also because I know that the dogs who are said to “have” separation anxiety will linger longer in shelters and rescues, some even to the point where they are put to sleep because a new family just can’t be found who can meet the dog’s needs. Those who seek to help the dog find a happy new home are without realizing it, dooming these dogs to lose out on a great home, just by typing those two dreaded words:  Separation Anxiety.

People speak of separation anxiety as if it’s a kind of character flaw, something that is in the dog’s DNA make-up, something that just can’t be changed and is an integral part of who the dog is and it’s personality.

No so!

Separation anxiety occurs when a dog is mistakenly believing that it is responsible for the people in the household, so when the people leave and the dog can’t follow, the dog experiences very real panic. Think of yourself, watching your toddler walk out the door and you’re unable to follow to supervise and protect the baby. We could all honestly say we would ourselves go into a blind panic!

Dogs who are experiencing this separation anxiety will then try to find whatever has their person’s scent on it, in an effort to at least “feel” closer to the missing member. Very similar to a person going into their missing loved one’s room, finding an article of clothing that has been worn, and deeply inhaling their scent. (Interesting how we share instincts with our dogs, isn’t it?) Think of the items that are chewed most often; remote controllers, shoes, sofas. These are all thing which we spend lots of time handling/wearing/lounging on. Or, it may be the dog tries to tear through the door, the window casing, whatever is nearest to the exit the person regularly uses to leave the home, trying their level best to break out and find their “baby”.

Sadly, though, just finding their human’s scent isn’t enough, so the destruction begins. I’ve often been told by clients that they think the dog is “angry” or, “bored” and destroys to exact revenge or to just enjoy or busy themselves. This is far from the truth; chewing releases endorphins in the dog’s brain that help to calm them. In effect, our dogs will chew to self-medicate just to get through this horrible ordeal they’re experiencing. In human terms think of relieving stress by chewing fingernails, or even emotional eating!

What to do about separation anxiety? Simple. Communicate clearly to the dog, in the way the dog can actually understand, that they have no worries, no responsibilities for the people in the home and, in fact, the people are the ones responsible for keeping everyone safe and protected. When this is done consistently and calmly, establishing leadership and maintaining that position through every interaction of every day, the dog can then simply relax and take the opportunity to enjoy the quiet home, settling down for a good nap!

Want to learn how to communicate clearly with your dog? Call me.

Asking Questions

Any changes in our dog’s environment can cause the dog to “ask questions”, that is display behaviors that we’ve either not seen in quite some time, or display new ones we’ve never seen. In our case, it was my husband’s schedule change once the new school year began.

John had been home all summer, all day every day, and the new school year meant he was once again leaving early in the morning and returning in the evening, sometimes late. I didn’t think too much about it until Emmett began some behaviors that I hadn’t seen in quite a long while. We’ve been applying Amichien Bonding with our dogs for approximately six years now and our dogs have calmed to such an extent that I hardly think about it anymore. So when Emmett began acting up, at first I didn’t quite catch on.

It began that first week with Emmett standing at the back door and barking as if asking to go out. Distracted, I would waited a few moments, then breezed by and opened the door to allow him outside. He didn’t go out but just stood there, sniffing the breeze. I closed the door. A few moments later he repeated this bark, looking at me expectantly once more. (I only know he looked at me because I checked in my peripheral vision). I didn’t comply, instead ignoring him. Emmett barked again. I left the room.

Now, the reason I did this was because Emmett had already been out that morning, just about an hour and a half earlier, so I thought this wasn’t a real “call of nature”, having given him the benefit of the doubt the first time. After all, we all have upsets from time to time. This time, however, I knew that this was his way of questioning and I answered in a way he immediately understood which was to not only ignore him, but to absent myself from him. Emmett is a very intelligent dog and one who leans toward the end of being an anxious dog as well, so my answers to him must be swift and unequivocal.

The next day, Emmett stood in the middle of our bedroom and issued a series of barks, just one or two, then would wait to see what would happen. Because I was in another room, I simply thanked him and kept on with what I was doing. Again, he barked. I walked into the room, looked out of the windows (without looking at him), said thank you once more and walked out. A few moments later, “Bark!” I walked past the doorway, pulled the door closed, made sure he was quiet, then counted slowly to five. I reopened the door and ignored him.

The week went on like this, with Emmett barking every so often, and at first I was just a bit exasperated because I didn’t understand why he was suddenly doing this questioning. In my mind, there was no reason that I could see that he should be uncertain of his place. Each time I gave him a clear answer, he would settle into his favorite nesting place and enjoy some downtime.

But then, it dawned on me. Of course! It was my husband’s schedule that had been a change, one that necessitated sorting out in Emmett’s mind. If he wasn’t satisfied that our pack had a trustworthy leader, regardless of the changes in the household, then he would have to step up and that is the last thing he wanted. The certainty of leadership is the key to the group’s survival. Emmett had no way of knowing whether John was going to return or not, so to Emmett the pack size had changed, meaning the roles of the individuals who are left must be sorted out. I told him what I needed to know.

It took Emmett a bit over a week to really understand the new rhythm of our schedule and now he’s stopped “asking” and is his old self again, snoozing in the sun, watching the birds through the window and enjoying life just being a dog. All because he knows I’m there, ready and capable of being the leader he needs.

Tinker: One Year Later

Our one-year anniversary of Tinker’s adoption has come and gone, in August. The little dog with the lion’s mane keeps inching forward, tiny steps at a time. Every week I’m reminded of how much he has overcome, while not having any expectations about how much further he will, or will not, go.

One morning I noticed he was “winking”, and upon closer examination saw that one of his eyes seemed to be irritated. I phoned the veterinarian and set up an appointment for the following Monday (of course this happened on a weekend) because Tinker would have to be sedated for the exam, so I thought perhaps this would be a good time to have him groomed and looked over.

At about this same time, I had been working with Tinker on getting him comfortable with a slip lead, offering him rewards when he would put his head through the loop. All was going very well until one day when he startled and took off. I lost my grip on the lead and off he ran to his crate with the lead dragging along behind him. That panicked look told me everything, as did his pulling back from me by staying in his crate, curled up again. We weren’t even close to being able to have him walk on a lead. We were light years away from that, something I had hopes for to be able to take him to vet appointments.

Thankfully, Tinker’s eye cleared up so we didn’t have to go. Such relief. I want to avoid putting him through that process unless it’s very very necessary. But even though I had a moment of relief, I was still so worried about his progress. How do I keep him moving forward? Will he ever be comfortable with a lead? He doesn’t even have a collar on.

I decided to go to the forum to which I belong as a Dog Listener; a global forum on which we DLs can bring questions, challenges, concerns and receive advice from Dog Listeners all over the world possessing varying degrees of experience, including Jan Fennell herself. I brought all my worries about Tinker, what I had been doing with him thus far, what I was hoping to do, my concerns about continued training and whether he would ever improve; was I missing something important for his learning and improvement; everything, with my heart on my sleeve.

What I got back was indescribably wonderful.

One by one, people shared their own experiences with their own dogs, some of whom had been considered to be “lost causes” like Tinker. They shared the challenges their dogs came with and where they are now; shared their own worries about their progress; shared what had worked for them as well as what had not, all with humility and kindness. They offered the kind of caring support that one rarely experiences. And every posting evidenced a depth of compassion and love for their animals that was deeply, deeply touching and uplifting. I felt once again on a real and meaningful level, that I had found my tribe, my people. People who see dogs clearly, respectfully and extend such acceptance of them as I have not seen anywhere else.

Where most people are intent on molding their dog into something that will fit in with the general public, or with the picture they have in their minds of the kind of dog they want, or into something that others will see as being the “perfect” dog so that the dog will reflect well upon them, this group, this method of AB, offers dogs total and complete acceptance for the individuals they are, warts and all. AB seeks to give people the understanding needed to create a place for the dog that serves the dog, not themselves; a place that allows the dog to be a dog who can simply enjoy life because of the true security they feel in that home with people who can communicate security to them in the way they understand.

Such is the work of Jan Fennell. And it is times such as this, when I go to this collection of wonderful souls who have been drawn to this work, that I am so deeply thankful to have found Jan’s book. I am profoundly grateful to have been able to meet her and to study with her and to have met these like-minded and like-hearted people and to have the privilege of being a part of bringing this compassionate method and understanding to others.

So what advice did the Global Forum have for me regarding Tinker? The best advice I could have possibly received, which is to r-e-l-a-x. Without realizing, somehow I had constructed a goal line for the poor boy to reach and as soon as that happens it opens the door to anxiety, worry and stress. All of which are picked up by the dog who doesn’t understand that I’m concerned about him, but will believe I am concerned about a possible threat in the environment. This takes away his feelings of security.

I stopped everything immediately. All the heel work, SSCD (Stop, Start, Change Direction), all the intensive time together, all of it. I took a breath, and went back to simply being with Tinker. Of course I had been doing this before, but in snatches here and there. Now, I just let him be….just be. I have taken away the ideas of him and where he could end up progress-wise in my mind. I have put away any expectations of myself along with that. And now I just stay in the present moment, appreciating, and knowing that by applying Amichien Bonding I am doing everything I need to do for him, nothing more than that is required. The rest is up to him.

Tinker has responded beautifully well and shows me in little ways almost each week how he is choosing to come forward, step by step by tiny step. We have resumed some practice but it’s done with simple enjoyment, no goal in mind other than bonding time for us.

The best part? He is happy.

His countenance has changed from one of the terrified, bug-eyed look to a soft, curious expression with soft eyes and ears perked forward instead of held flat back. He sleeps on his back, legs splayed while we come and go from the room. Snoring to beat the band! He stays put when I walk past him, rather than darting for his bed or the corner of the sectional. When he comes to me his tail wags gently back and forth, and it’s no longer tucked when he walks walks away. I have seen him playing with his giant ball while I’m in the room with him, turning his head upside down and nudging the ball with his nose, then turning his head upright to look, and turning upside down once again. Freely grooms, lovely long sessions that he looks as though he thoroughly enjoys. Today he casually walked across the room to drink water while I type away on my computer while I watched, slack-jawed. Another first. He even rolls over for belly rubs! (No, of course I don’t give in, but it’s tough!)

Little things. Things most people take for granted and what people consider to be “normal” dog behavior brings such joy and feelings of accomplishment because each step forward is a gift from Tinker, one he is freely choosing to give in his own time and in his own way. The first time I realized he didn’t flinch when I placed my hand on him produced a river of tears from me. He trusts me! I had adjusted to the fact that he may always flinch when touched but once again he proved me wrong. A gift from his heart to mine.

Who knows what he will be like in a year, two years, five years from now. I no longer worry about it or think about it. Instead, I pick up a good book, make myself comfortable, and read while being serenaded by my funny, snoring little dog.

And I send a silent “thank-you” to all the caring, kind and compassionate people on the Global Forum who stand with Tinker and I, supporting us and cheering us on with every step forward and ready to offer their help. #Blessed

Gratitude

“In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.”
                                                                            -Edward Hoagland
Every so often I receive a call from a person looking for help with their dog that touches me deeply because the person is completely focused on putting their dog’s needs before their own. I spoke with such an individual this morning; a lovely man who wants to do “right” by his dog and instinctively knows he is missing the mark somehow, possibly failing his dog and is humble enough to reach out for information and real solutions.
For many, the inability to place the dog’s needs before their own ego is insurmountable because we humans want to feel we are knowledgeable and competent, especially when it comes to something we love and to which we have devoted much time and effort. Being a “beginner” can be uncomfortable and require us to be vulnerable and open ourselves to making mistakes, feeling silly and maybe opening ourselves up to criticism or at the very least, correction. We cling to what we have always done and always believed and have always been told by those whose knowledge we respect and those with whom we want to fit in because it’s safe and familiar, not necessarily because it’s correct or effective.
To admit there are things we may not know is risky.
Very often I will find that clients will take some of the information shared during a consultation but not all, using only the parts that seem to yield a quick fix or quick return on their energy investment; the parts that they’ve “heard” from other sources they’re familiar with so it seems safe to go with it, while not completely closing the envelope of security for their dog by applying all of the advice given. Somehow this allows the client to feel powerful in a sense, picking and choosing what agrees with them, rejecting what they don’t want to do or what might go against what they’ve always been told.
Most often, they won’t admit to this behavior, but will instead claim the method “doesn’t work”, something that those who understand and use it know is completely false and disingenuous.
But then I am blessed to converse with an individual who calls with an open heart and an open mind, only wanting to help their dog who they can see is suffering on some level and rather than abandon the dog to the backyard, or to a shelter, or abuse out of frustration, or to respond with “training” and techniques that are clearly not serving the dog but what has always seemed to work with the guardian’s previous dogs, they reach out, share their story, and I realize they are completely focused on finding a better way, a kinder way, a way that makes sense for the dog. For…the…dog.
The dog…first.
It’s these calls that remind me how important this work is. Because I know that if I hadn’t been available and ready to share this powerful, compassionate method, this wonderful man and all the other wonderful people out there would continue to look but wouldn’t find the solution they know in their heart their dogs need.
It’s in these moments that I am moved to tears to be blessed with such a lovely conversation with a truly caring, compassionate person and to have been fortunate enough to have found Jan Fennell’s work and to have been able to participate in the courses to become a Dog Listener (this fact is still like a dream to me). I’m so grateful for Jan herself, for her lifetime of dedication to dogs and to her being inspired to finding a better way; to Jan’s dedication and perseverance in getting her method out to the world, at times at great personal cost I would have to imagine, given the resistance I myself have experienced on a much smaller scale, even from friends and relatives. I’m grateful for Jan’s work for my own dog’s sake, and for all the other dogs and guardians who really get it, and I’m grateful to those guardians who know that what is currently available for their dogs doesn’t answer their questions, doesn’t truly resolve the behaviors and doesn’t allow them to develop the relationship with their dog that they know in their heart they can experience if they only had the tools they needed to close the communication and information gap.
I certainly didn’t have this posting in my mind when I poured my coffee this morning, but I am so deeply grateful to have enjoyed the conversation that sparked it with someone I know will do the very best for his dog by applying Amichien Bonding well and completely and who is just as grateful as I to learn there truly is a better way of being with our dogs.

The Big Move

In the beginning of June, our daughter was expected to arrive home in under two weeks for a long-awaited and much anticipated visit. I wanted to give her the bathroom adjoining her bedroom back, which of course meant it was time for Tinker to be moved. I had thought I would move him down to the main floor, but had not really been able to find a good place for him without substantial re-positioning of furniture and felt it would be better for everyone and more relaxing for me to instead move the little guy into the TV room for the time being. I wanted to focus on our daughter’s visit. On the plus side, this would also mean that although Tinker’s world would become a bit bigger, it would be much less of a challenge for him than moving him to the main floor, and then have to deal with our daughter’s visit.

My plan had been to simply move Tinker’s crate from the bathroom to its new location, some twenty feet or so, while Tinker was otherwise occupied. This proved to be more challenging that I had expected because for whatever reason, Tinker decided he would stay either very close to his crate, or would dart inside whenever I even walked past the bathroom. He had a seemingly uncanny ability to sense when I was intending to walk in and pick up the crate.

All day, regardless of how nonchalant or aloof I was, when I made any move toward the landing or the bathroom, Tinker was zip past me and run into the crate. I tried everything; singing, carrying a book and trying to look interested (bear in mind, the dog is almost blind; I’m unsure what I was thinking by doing this, other than occupying my thoughts so I wasn’t focused on the crate); walking to the landing multiple times at unpredictable times and then leaving again; walking downstairs, then upstairs, down and up…nothing seemed to work to convince him he didn’t need to man the crate.

I should point out as well that during this time, Tinker was very comfortable being out of his crate with me, just hanging out in his little bed or joining me wherever I was on the second floor and laying on his belly, relaxing for a while then going back to his bed. I really didn’t expect this strange behavior of popping back into his crate the way he did.

This certainly points up something very important about our dogs, something that most people don’t understand or even know: Dogs, with their incredible sensing abilities of smell and hearing as well as their powers of observation, are able to “tune in” to our pulse rates, our hormones, sweat glands, our breathing. They notice what we would consider to be imperceptible changes in our behaviors, our body language, our attention, our habits. Any changes in these things alert our dogs to us. Changes in their environments represent possible problems in the dog’s minds. Anything, no matter how minute, is cause for notice, because for the dog it’s all about survival. If they were to be living wild minute changes such as bent grass where the grass was standing tall before, a torn leaf, a twig on the ground where it hadn’t been previously, a strand of hair caught on a burr, could mean an intruder is nearby, a possible threat. Dogs still live their lives by their instincts, regardless of the environment they’re in.

In short, it’s pretty tough to fool a dog!

I finally resigned myself to being out-maneuvered by Tinker and since I was fast running out of time in that day, thought my best alternative would be to just move the crate with him in it, which I proceeded to do.

I closed the door of the crate with Tinker in it and began to move the crate. As mentioned, it was a short twenty feet or so to the new location in the next room, so I thought it wouldn’t be much of a challenge. At first, Tinker simply lay on his belly in the crate, remaining still. I moved the crate slowly and found it was quite heavy, being a sizable crate and adding Tinker’s weight. I moved it in small increments, possibly a foot or two at a time. About halfway there, Tinker became visibly anxious and began moving around in the crate. This made the crate more difficult for me to pick up and move, with the contents shifting about but I kept at it, little bit at a time, and the crate dragged a little in the process. I could tell the sound of the dragging was adding to Tinker’s anxiety, so I finally just placed the crate down and opened the door. Tinker was out of the crate like a shot, moving around the room as though looking for someplace safe to hide. He finally found a cozy spot behind a large ottoman. When I looked over, all I could see were his little eyes peeping over the ottoman at me, wide and obviously shaken.

“Alright then”, I thought to myself, “This actually makes things a bit easier. I’ll settle the crate in and he will find it again, and all will be well!”

Sadly, this wasn’t the case.

Tinker did not return to his crate. In fact, Tinker avoided the crate completely. It broke my heart for him. I felt that I had taken his one real place of sanctuary from him, his one place of peace and true security. What have I done?!

After about an hour, I sat down next to the crate and requested Tinker to come, which he did, and gained his food reward by entering the crate to get it while I held it through the side. I did this a few times, praising him quietly when he retrieved his reward. But it was crystal clear he would not be spending any time in the crate, because each time he took his reward, he left the crate in a hurry. After a few light interactions, I ended the session and left him be.

That evening and in the days after moving the crate, I watched as Tinker would sometimes walk into the bathroom as though looking for his trusted crate, only to find it gone. I had seen him walk to the crate in the new place, sniff it very cautiously a couple of times, then walk away from it. Having the visual limitations he does, it’s not surprising he is trying very hard to reconcile this big change in his environment, and I couldn’t help but feel I had robbed him of something very, very dear to him. I took solace in knowing that he still had the choice of using his crate if he wished, as well as knowing he had his comfy little bed he seems to enjoy. Still, it was hard to watch him, to see him almost want to enter the crate, only to have his fear win out, remembering how his beloved crate had moved and frightened him. I felt I had ruined some of his very hard-earned security.

The only thing that could be done now is to simply ignore Tinker’s reaction of distress, being very careful not to get caught up in it which could result in my behavior putting pressure on the little guy. I would just have to continue on with life as it is, making certain that AB is in place.

This is the way I could help him best.