Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Meeting New Friends

Did you know there was such a thing as an English Cream Golden Retriever? Well I saw one with my very own eyes last night. For the last several months I've been running into a gentleman and his dog Lena. She was a little puppy at first, filled with energy. We'd have a few minutes of romping together before the human (being the mean man he is) dragged me away so we could make it into the office on time.

Last night I finally got to play with the dog for an extended period of time. Neither of us were in a rush to get anywhere. First off, I learned we had the wrong name--it's Luna, not Lena. Second off the woman who was with Luna said she was an English cream Golden Retriever. Luna is a perfect name for her since she looked like furry moonlight.

All of this reminded me of something that a lot of humans don't do when the meet another dog. Luna's human asked "is it okay if we play" before approaching us. That's such a simple thing to do--yet so many don't. I can't tell you how many times a human has allowed their dog to rush right at my face. It's not very pleasant for me--and I'm generally a well behaved dog. If I was aggressive it could be a bad situation if a dog came at me like that.

A perfect example happened earlier that same day. The human and I were coming out the front door of the office and a German Sheppard was walking by. Despite the dog barking rather aggressively, the human with the Sheppard let the dog charge right up the steps at me. Thankfully the human was paying attention and backed up into the building with me before anything untoward happened.

This sort of event isn't a rare occurrence in Cambridge. Not a week goes by without a dog getting up in my grille like that. It's a dangerous situation out there!

So what's my puppy point here? If you and your human are out walking and you approach a new dog, have your human ask before you play. It's the polite thing to do. It's the safe thing to do. If the two of you come upon a human and dog that don't ask before they approach keep walking. It's almost always a sign that a negative interaction is going to happen--and almost always a sign that a dog has not been appropriately socialized and possibility lacking in polite communication skills.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Peaceful and Playful Compassion in Action

One of my friends on Facebook posted this on my fan page yesterday:

I need to share this with compassionate friends.....about 20 years ago, I got to know a nice family. I owned a needlework store, and the parents and two children would come in often. They didn't really have any money to spend on crafts, so I would trade them goods for stitching for me. The children wore tattered clothing, and shoes with holes. They were all thin. Before Christmas that year, the little girl mentioned that she wished for new shoes from Santa. I decided to help them out, anonymously, and sent them a gift certificate to the local grocery store, and a nice check, without my name. Next time I saw them, the children had new shoes on, and were so happy to show them to me. I loved the warmth in my heart, and was so happy to have pulled it off! Last night, I as talking to my daughter who now lives far away . She mentioned that she had been working on a Santa Drive to give baskets and toys to families in need. She also mentioned that I should see if there was one in my area, and that I would enjoy working with the cause. Then she said how much she enjoys helping the needy, because of the example that I was to her, as a teenager. My heart wanted to burst with pride!! I'm so glad to have a compassionate heart!! Little did I know, the difference I was making in my own child. :-)
I thought it was a wonderful and heart warming story. It serves as a wonderful example of how compassion can change many lives: those who are extending compassion to another, those who are receiving the compassion, and those who witness the act of compassion.

We hear so many stories that are about something other than compassion--pain, abuse, torture, ignorance, greed, etc. What might the effects of witnessing these things be? Is that what we want to become?

Go on out there and do something compassionate. Change the world--a little at a time. Pay close attention to how you feel when you witness compassion as compared to when you witness some other experience. Come back here or to my Facebook page and tell us all what you discover.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Loose Leash Walking (or how to not drive your human nuts)

One of my regular readers asked a question about walking on a leash. Her dog Claire, and aspiring therapy dog, is finding it difficult to become a registered therapy dog with the Delta Society because she tends to pull on her leash while walking. Claire's human partner was wondering if there were any tips she might use that could help out Claire with this portion of the exam. I'm so glad you asked!

First off, there seems to be an expectation that therapy dogs are perfect at all times under all circumstances. As the popular perception goes, we never jump up on someone, we never bark, we never pull our leash, etc. When is the last time you met a perfect human that was (for example) never crabby, never prone to overeating, and never snapped at another driver while waiting in traffic? That's what I thought! We all have off days, bad moments, or times when we behave in ways we wish we hadn't. We ought to have similar expectations for therapy dogs.

Take the experience my human and I had with the therapy dog exam. The human we very concerned about the neutral dog part of the test. I'm supposed to walk with the human up to another human with a dog. The humans talk for a few moments and then continue walking away from each other. I'm not supposed to be reactive toward the neutral dog.

The human was in a minor tizzy about this portion of the exam. I'm a super friendly pup and have this special way of whining and wiggling when I see another friendly dog. I'm not afraid of the dogs: I want to play with them. The human was convinced I would fail because I am seemingly incapable of walking past the neutral dog without displaying my extensive desire to play. What did I do at the test? I bet your first thought is that I was perfectly well behaved. You probably are thinking I was an exemplar of ideal behavior. Wrong! I did what I always do: I pulled on the lead a little, went up on my back feet trying to give a friendly hello to the human walking past my human, and generally was my normal happy playful self.

I didn't fail. Why? The human anticipated by response. He knew I was likely to do this so he was prepared to tighten my lead. He prevented me from going up on to the human (and thus also prevented me from having a close interaction with the neutral dog). When I went up on my toes to greet the woman he asked me to sit (which I did) and then we went on our way. Well it wasn't ideal, and I didn't pass that section with a perfect score, it was good enough. I'm a real world dog, my human is a real world human, and we know how to interact and be safe in real world situations.

On my therapy dog exam there was some space for there to be a tighter lead (rather than a loose lead). As you all know, I am part Basset Hound. Among other things, this means that my nose is the most important organ in my body. My body is lead through the world by my nose. I walk around (for the most part) with my nose to the ground. I'm not all that interested in listening to other people when I catch a scent of something I like. That is my nature. It isn't my nature to be prance next to my human. He's always going to have to be aware of me when walking in crowded environments: if I catch a smell I am going to follow it. He'll have to be ready to tighten up my lead a bit and give me a little extra guidance. No big deal, and no reason for me to fail a therapy dog examination (after all, during the part when I was supposed to be walking on a loose lead I had my nose stuck to the ground trying to follow the scent of something good).

So my first suggestion for loose lead walking is to be easy and alter your expectations. Be aware of your dog, know what she is doing, know what is in your environment, and be proactive. It isn't about being perfect: it's about being safe and in control.

My second suggestion is to balance your walking times with opportunities for your dog to explore on her own with time when your dog is expected to follow your lead. Teach your dog a word to differentiate between the two different experiences. When I am expected to walk close to my human and not explore he says "follow me." When I am allowed to direct my own walk he says "explore."

How do you teach the difference between "follow me" and "explore?" We started with "watch me." When I was a young puppy I started to learn watch me. Whenever I made eye contact with my human he said "watch me" and gave me some sort of reward (excited happy petting, a piece of kibble, a click on the clicker, etc.). When we were learning to walk on a lead we practiced that same skill. If I'm watching my human, I can't be sniffing. If I'm watching my human, I can't be barking at other dogs. As an added bonus, since I am also part herding dog I like watching things and keeping them together. Sometimes it is debatable if the human is leading me or if I'm herding him in any particular direction.

Anyway, over time "watch me" expanded into "follow me" and "stay close." When I strayed way and pulled on the leash I would hear "watch me." I knew this means if I looked at my human I'd get some sort of reward (most of the time, but not always). In order to receive my reward I'd have to (a) watch the human and (b) be close enough to the human so I could reach the reward. Without any effort at all I would start doing "follow me" which means walk very close to the humans leg, look up at him, and lick my lips in hope of getting a yummy reward. For the most part my reward now is that I touch my human's hand with my nose, wag my tail, and continue a happy walk.

Sounds easy? Right? It both is very easy and it isn't very easy. Training like this takes a lot of time, patience, and practice. Those who want their dog to instantly "heel" won't be satisfied with this technique because it isn't an instant technique (in my opinion, there are not instant techniques). I've gotten good at these skills but I'm still not "perfect." Sometimes I ignore my human. Sometimes I pull. When the human collected his patience, we start back to the beginning with a "watch me" and we continue. This is a life time practice.

I've seen dog trainers do all sorts of things. Some use a "choke" collar assuming that a dog will stop pulling to escape from the unpleasant sensation of their neck getting constricted. Usually this just seems to result in dogs that pull and wait for their humans to escape from the unpleasant sensation of being pulled. It's also dangerous (numerous dogs have suffered numerous injuries from these sorts of collars). Lastly, training like this doesn't start with the basis of giving your dog something to do (watch me, follow me, etc.). It starts with the basis of telling your dog what not to do. Humans (children and adults) as well as dogs do best when they are shown what they are supposed to be doing (given an antecedent) and then monitored to make sure they are performing that request. It's unrealistic to think that anyone will do what you want them to do if you give them a consequence for doing it prior to teaching/showing them what you want them to do.

I've also seen trainers do things like step in front of a pulling dog with one leg to block their path. My human is someone clumsy so this generally involved in him tripping and falling or stepping on me. In the end I don't think this is very effective because again, it's not starting with the expectation of what you want the dog to be doing. This isn't showing the dog how to follow, it's showing the dog that you want him to avoid getting stepped on.

I've seen trainers also walk in the opposite direction that the dog is pulling in. It makes for short frustrating walks. The idea here is that (a) the dog wants to walk in one direction and have a good time) and (b) the dog doesn't get to do that unless she complies with what you are asking. This can be effective as long as you first teach the dog what you want her to do (watch me, follow me, etc.). The dog does what is asked (watch me, follow me) and they get what they want (a reward, continued walking, praise, etc.). They don't do that and they don't get to continue walking (a good time to practice sit/say or a time to walk in the other direction).

There is one down side to teaching a dog "watch me." I find that I get into watching my human so much I will occasionally walk into things because I'm focused on him rather than where I am walking.

This help Lauren? Try it out and let us know what you think.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Therapy Dog Examinations, Fear, and Systematic Desensitization

Last Sunday was the big day--it was finally time to take my examination to become a therapy dog. Once my paperwork is processed, I'll officially be a registered pet partner with the Delta Society. The human was excessively worried about the test. There were a few key things that he thought I'd have difficulty with--things that might actually cause me to fail.

His biggest concern was that as a rule, I hate being brushed. The brush comes out and I immediately start mouthing the brush. Part of the exam is being brushed by the examiner and in order to pass said exam I can't be eating the brush. He practiced and practiced brushing me. The general principle was that every time the brush came out he'd bring out food. As he brushed my fur there was a steady stream of little rewards entering into my drooling mouth. He thought for sure this would work. That is, he though for sure it would work until one day he left the brush on a table and I snuck off with it and chewed it.

What did I do during the exam? The brush came out and I rolled over to get my belly brushed.

The next worry of the human was the neutral dog. On a lead, I walk on the outside of the human as he passes another human with a dog on a lead. The humans stop for a few moments, shake hands, and exchange pleasantries. I'm not supposed to lunge, bark, snarl, or otherwise be inappropriate toward the human or the other dog. I'm not an aggressive dog by nature: that wasn't the human's concern. Rather, I'm a playful dog. Each and every dog that I pass is considered a potential best friend. I like to way my tail, do a play bow, and otherwise try to entice the other dog to say hello to me. This is somewhat problematic for the test.

What did I do? Exactly what the human anticipated. He stopped and shook hands with the other human. I went up on my rear feet hoping that I could shake hands with the human too. I passed this portion--while I didn't pass it with flying colors it was okay because the human was in control of me. He made sure I didn't get onto the other human.

The problem I faced--and what almost caused me to fail my exam--was totally unexpected. During the exam I was examined by the examiner. He was supposed to touch my paws, look in my ears, look in my mouth. He then went on to pet me in an exuberant and clumsy way and give me a restraining hug.

These are all things that happen to me on a regular basis. Those of you who meet me in the office know that I love this. We have one particular patient who comes running into the office, sits on the floor, and proceeds to roll me over, pat me vigorousness, squeeze me, and otherwise show me exuberant affection.

What did I do during this portion of the exam? The examiner was wearing a puffy winter vest. He took it off prior to getting down on the floor. I took that as my cue to hide behind my human to do anything I could do to avoid the situation. I displayed just about every sign I could that I was scared and exhibited every one of Turrid Rugaas' calming signals. We repeated that portion of the exam with a female examiner and I did marginally better.

The human first thought that it was the removal of the puffy winter vest. The human doesn't wear puffy winter vests and I've never seen one. In light of me become scared when I saw it being removed, he assumed at first that it was the stimulus that put me into a fear response. I wish I could speak: if I could I would have told the human that he had it all wrong. Thankfully he figured it out on the way home.

To understand why I got so scared the human needed to think about four other pieces of information.
  1. The examiner was male
  2. The examiner had a scruffy beard
  3. Several months ago, for no apparent reason, I became fearful of a patient who has a scruffy beard. Previously I would sit in his arms and nuzzle the side of his neck.
  4. Several months ago I became afraid of a homeless man with a scruffy beard that I used to run to greet.
So how does this all fit together? Why did I get scared? The human has been curious about the last two pieces of information for some time now. My behavior change was sudden, unexpected, and very localized. Other than those two situations I am outgoing, friendly, and confident.

Driving home from the examination I could see the light bulb appear over the human's head as he thought of one more piece of information. I was eager and excited to go to the vet as a puppy. I thought it was big fun to be examined, played with, and given attention. I would actually scamper into the vets office with my tail wagging! In a large part, this happened because my human went to the vet with me multiple times as a puppy and just walked in the door. No exams, no shots. He asked everyone to pet me and I learned that this was a good place to be.

As regular readers know, I had some bladder issues in the late summer and fall. No one could figure out what was going on and I needed all sorts of tests. Naturally, I started to become afraid of the vet--and guess what--the vets who did those procedures were men--some of which had scruffy beards.

The worst experience was when they tried to take a sterile urine sample from me. The vet and vet techs took me into the procedure room, strapped me down on my back, and inserted a tube into my bladder. The first time they did this I had just peed so there was nothing for them to take. A week later they did it again and I hadn't peed. I learned here that the vet was a scary place. Now rather than walking into the vet's office I started pulling away from the human at the door, displayed many signs of fear, and generally had an unpleasant time at the vet's office.

For a variety of reasons, the human fired that vet. He felt like he wasn't being treated like an equal partner in my health care and questioned the vet's knowledge. We tried a new vet. This office wanted to do more procedures--this time an x-ray and ultrasound. They needed the human to leave me at the vet's office. He asked if I could be given a tranquilizer--which they refused. Begrudgingly, he left me there as I was trembling. There again I was strapped down to a board and given procedures without any sort of tranquilizer. The human again questioned if this was a good idea and fired that vet because he felt like he wasn't being treated like an equal partner in my health care and questioned the vet's knowledge.

The third time was charm. The new vet had a holistic remedy for my issues and they have completely cleared up. I'm still afraid of the vet but have learned that I can walk into the office without trembling (we are back to random visits for playtime with the office staff).

Anyway, this is all to say that I was not afraid of the puffy winter vest. I was afraid of a man with a scruffy beard attempting to examine me. I learned that when men with scruffy beards examine me they usually restrain me and do very uncomfortable things. I've learned that it's best to avoid these sorts of men because if they restrain me, there isn't anything I can do but to wait it out.

The human feels he has enough data suggesting that I have a trauma response going on. Since I can't talk, I can't tell him if he's right. In the absence of other compelling data, he's going to move forward with a treatment plan that would be appropriate for a traumatized dog.

What's the treatment plan? Systematic desensitization. What's that? It's a procedure that one can do to reduce a trauma response to stimuli. It goes something like this. First off, the human prepared a list of stimuli that are triggering a fear response. He arranged the list in order of least triggering to most triggering. He then is exposing me to these stimuli in order, and pairing them with a pleasurable stimulus.

For example, the patient who I'm now afraid off gets to give me a piece of food every time he comes into the office. The human makes sure that it is successful every time. He keeps me on a lead so I'm in his control, close to him, and feeling safe. The other human will approach me in a positive way and offer me the food. If I take it, great. If I don't, that's great too. My human will praise me and continue to support me in feeling safe and secure. We take things at my own speed and I eventually learn that men with scruffy beards in the office are okay.

The human also makes sure that he encourages my curiosity when we are walking in Cambridge and we come across all sorts of different people. He lets me meet people at my own pace. If I show any signs of fear we slow down and he gives the other person a small bit of food to offer me. Every time this happens, I'm learning two things (a) it's okay to go slow and (b) when my human is interacting with someone they are usually friendly people who offer me food.

That's how systematic desensitization works. It's a slow process that builds successful experiences upon other successful experiences. It's been tested an replicated in scientific literature over and over again. It's effective, safe, and a powerful agent of change.

An alternative is flooding that has been popularized on television by dog trainers such as Caesar Millian. When flooding is used in dogs, humans, and other creatures the individual is held within the context of a fearful stimuli and not released, no matter what the creature does, until the creature gives up. In this case if I was strapped down onto a table by a human and wasn't released from the situation, no matter what I did, until I gave up--that would be flooding.

Keep in mind that most people confusing negative reinforcement with flooding. In negative reinforcement, a creature can exhibit a certain behavior that will cause the stimulus to stop. For example if I was strapped to the table and released only when I was calm, that would be negative reinforcement. If I remained tied to a board after I gave up that would flooding. Remember that with flooding, there is nothing a creature can do to escape a stimulus other than to give up and wait.

In some cases, flooding works. The human does not use it for treating humans, dogs, or any creature. Flooding doesn't provide a creature with useful coping skills to approach novel situations with confidence. It teaches a creature to give up and not respond.

With systematic desensitization a creature is provided with tools (humans can be taught coping skills to reduce levels of anxiety, dogs and other creatures can have their natural coping skills reinforced and enhanced) to meet a fearful situation with success.

Try it out--and be sure to ask your dog trainer or friendly psychologist for help. Any behavioral intervention needs a qualified expert to help you design a program that works.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Greatest Discover, Ever. Really.

So I've been meaning to tell you all about my most recent discover. It's the greatest discover ever. Really. I don't know why I ever noticed these things. To what am I referring? Windows. That's right. Windows. Did you all know about them? A couple nights ago after work we were walking back to the car. I've probably sniffed right past this spot a good 100 or so times in my life but I never actually bothered to look up. My nose is usually down to the ground savoring all the ground-level aromas.

So here it is, nine at night, and I finally lift my head up and discover this thing called a window. It just wasn't any window. It was the window on the left of the picture that belongs to the restaurant that I'm told is named Arrow Street Crepes. It was also a very special window as inside of it I discovered this wonderful woman who was munching a crepe. This was clearly a moment of two lovers meeting for the first time. I looked up, noticed her, and tilted me head. She looked down at me and smiled. I started wagging my tail. First I just fluttered the tip of my tail. I wasn't sure what this whole human behind the window thing was. As soon as she started smiling at me I went all out wagging my tail with all all the gusto I could muster. The woman smiled even more, so I wagged even more.

We stood there for a few moments--human and dog look at each other and showing each other how happy we were to see each other. I've got no real way to know what she was thinking: she never came out behind the glass. The only thing I do know is that when I took the time out of my sniffing to look up she happened to take the same moment to look down from what she was eating and we both made a connection. It couldn't me more simple than that--two creatures reaching out and making a connection that brings a moment of happiness into the world.

When's the last time you looked up?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Weir Hill Reservation

Winter is almost here. That means a couple of things. First off, it's been cold at night so all the ticks are dead. Second, there isn't a lot of sunshine left to enjoy in New England so it's best to get outside and soak it all up. As it turns out, only one of these statements are true. The human found a tick on his hiking companion. I made out much better: I had a bath to remove all the forest dirt but there were not ticks to be found on my body.

Below are a few images from my adventures today.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

When hats, dogs, and humans meet

As you all previously saw, the human was rather insistent on me wearing a Halloween costume this year. Like most other humans, he apparently finds it amusing to see pets in costumes. We went through this last year with the pink wig. I told him time and time again that I didn't like the wig. I tried to hide the wig. I tried to eat the wig. I tried to shake and kill the wig. Finally I resorted to the only other thing left: I gently tried to eat the human's hand so he knew I didn't like the wig. Did he listen? NoooOoooOo! Of course he didn't. Well I warned him. Didn't I?

Please direct your attention to the following three images. In the first the human and I are having a tender moment resting in the evening sunshine. Doesn't it look idyllic? The warm light of the autumn sun makes us glow. I'm gazing at him with my undivided, unconditional love. You'd think he'd just enjoy it, right? Of course  not.

Out of the blue the human surprises me with a hat. Not just any hat. It's that stupid barmaid hat that I told him that I utterly despised. To make matters worse, he had the nerve to stick his tongue out at me. He knows that drives me nuts. When will he ever learn?
Here in this last picture I'm again finding myself having to give the human a "talking to." I'm threatening to put a leash on him if he doesn't learn to behave. What do you all think? How can I get through to him so he stops trying to make me wear hats?

Halloween Costume (finally!)

So after multiple requests, I'm begrudgingly posting some pictures of me in my Halloween costume. I work so hard at having my tough-girl image (playing with all the big dogs, running with sticks, bossing around dogs four times my size, etc.). These pictures show a different side of me that is well, a little embarrassing!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pumpkin Fest

I got to go to the 20th Anniversary Pumpkin Fest in Keene New Hampshire. It was so much fun, though I just simply don't understand why I wasn't able to sample one of the 22,949 pumpkins. Is that asking for too much? Over to the left is a particularly tasty looking pumpkin at least to me!). Below that is a pumpkin that got to eat another pumpkin (so unfair!). Even though I didn't get a taste of it, I did manage to snag myself a half a hamburger that was discarded in a pile of leaves along with a donut of unknown flavor. 

I was a super well behaved dog. Good thing too, as unbeknown to the human, there were no dogs allowed! On one level, it makes sense that there are no dogs allowed. Many humans don't take time to properly socialize dogs: if everyone brought their dog it could become a very unsafe situation. Many humans also have this habit of not paying attention to what is going on around them and their dog which also can cause an unsafe situation. That's not so good either. Then of course there is the poop. I'd pick my own poop up if I had opposable thumbs, but since I don't I depend on the human. Why do some humans have so many problems with that?

Still, despite the human being a lawless individual who brazenly broke the ordinances of the city of Keene, this was a great opportunity to show off my confidence. I was pet, rubbed, ogled, and otherwise adored by the hordes of humans who were roaming around the downtown city streets. I even got to meet a few dogs (those little criminals!) and had a lovely time licking a particular law enforcement professional who I decided I wanted to greet.

How come I had such a good time? Socialization and past positive experiences. Since the day I left my foster home when I was just a few weeks old I was exposed on a consistent basis to new and novel situations. The human took me to cities, the country, farms, malls, on elevator rides, car rides, escalator rides, etc. I had fun positive experiences with all of these things. My favorite of all was when we would sit in Harvard Square or inside the subway station and crowds of people would gather around me petting me.
The human made sure I was safe. He made sure that as soon as I showed signs of being tired or becoming afraid he'd reduce the degree of stimulus. Over time, these experiences transformed me from a shy puppy into a confident dog who can (with supervision) safely handle situations like the Keene Pumpkin Fest.

You can learn more about socialization here, here, or here. You might also want to check out some of my earlier post about my own socialization.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why Is The Therapy Dog So Tired?

So many of you ask why Magnolia the therapy dog is so tired when she first gets to work. Well you no longer have to wonder. The human is convinced that a tired therapy dog is a good therapy dog. Among other things I generally get about two hours worth of walks a day, plenty of play time, and plenty of space for rest.

When the weather is still nice the human likes to head into the office a little early so we can play in a fenced off area. I generally will locate a stick along the walk and carry it with me. This task gets reinforced because if I have a stick when we get to the park I get to do this:

Monday, October 4, 2010

School Days

Saturday morning can only mean one thing: time for school! Here's a few moments captured from school this past Saturday. Featured are Nike the black Labrador, Gracie the Corgi, and Jake and Sonny the Golden Retrievers. We are all either pet partners or pet partners in-training with New England Pet Partners.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Iron Lady Dog Training

Dog training can be awfully competitive for the humans. It appears that there is the expectation that you all are supposed to get us dogs to sit, come, roll over, wave, and generally respond to your ever whim on command. I guess that's why it's called obedience school.

The human and I had a rather long discussion about this yesterday while walking into the office. He's worried about my upcoming evaluation to become a registered therapy dog for the Delta Society. Part of that evaluation is the neutral dog test: on a lead, I'm expected to walk past a neutral dog without barking, playing, or otherwise tugging on my lead. I'm not so good at this. I like other dogs, you see. As much as I enjoy my companionship with humans, it's nice to hang out and play with my fellow canines.

The human was feeling annoyed with me and worried. On the way into the office we passed by several dogs. I wanted to play with each and every one of them. The human did a lot of comparisons. They weren't tugging on their leads trying to come play with me like I was. He thought those other humans were better. Better dog trainers, better people.

When the human gets like this I like to call it his Iron Lady moment. What follows is a whole lot of sit, stay, come, leave it, etceteras. I don't mind it too much: he generally pets me a lot when he gets like this and I get some major rewards. Food, attention, pets, and good girls. It feels good and does increase the likelihood that I will listen to him.

Where the Iron Lady goes wrong is his expectation that I'm always going to to listen to him. It's just not that simple. While I am a dog and very invested in pleasing him, I also occasionally have some ideas of what I might like to do. I might like to go eat a squirrel, for example. Sometimes the cute little fuzzy dog off into the distance might alert me to something that smells good and I'd like to go check it out. During these occasions I'm less likely to be "obedient" and listen to my human. Sure it's annoying. Sure, sometimes it's even dangerous. In the end, however, it's part of being with a dog. I'm not always going to listen--and it's not a failure of the human. It's simply part of what it is like to be in a relationship with another creature.

The human and I don't often consider the work we do together obedience training. Rather, we consider it relationship building. When he's got his act together and he's not being the Iron Lady he is much more invested in creating experiences that build our relationship together. The more we are connected, the more I'm going to want to pay attention to him and the more I'm going to be invested in filling his requests. Similarly, in a  strong relationship the human is going to know that sometimes the draw of a squirrel or a goose it powerful and I'm going to want to investigate. When we have a strong relationship we have one in which there is a willingness to take turns, to compromise, and to have mutual experiences.

Mind you none of this is to suggest that the human doesn't need to protect me. Sometimes he needs to say no to my desires. There might be things that I don't understand (like hurry up, we have a patient that is going to be waiting). There are things that I might not know are dangerous (like cars, which I am totally oblivious too). A good relationship means that both creatures are kept safe. The human does his part--he gives me limits (like I'm not allowed to chase geese across Memorial Drive where cars are zooming by at 50 miles per hour). I keep him safe by alerting him to unsafe situations that he might not able to smell.

It's a relationship--not a one sided dominance/submission situation.

The sadness of how wrong this can all go was highlighted to us this morning. I was playing with my friend Meadow, a gorgeous Sheppard mix. The humans were talking about a neighborhood dog. Meadow's human had seen a car park on the street and someone disappear into the back seat. It looked like the person in the back seat was punching someone. The woman ran out to investigate and sadly found that there indeed was a young man punching someone: he was punching his dog. Why did this man punch his pit bull? "He runs away from me and chases the cat."

This is the sort of thing that happens when we start to think that the relationship between dog and human is one of dominance and submission. Humans become angry when we dogs don't always listen--when we don't always respond.

It's about the relationship. Wanting to please one another, wanting to keep each other safe, having the awareness that two creatures often have different needs, and having the ability to find ways to negotiate those needs in a safe, sensible way.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Autumn Play

So this morning brought unexpected enjoyment. The human was scurrying around the house and I was growing concerned. I thought it was going to be another morning alone. Those of you who know me know that I'm not a fan of being separated from the human. I was busy hiding from him (today my hiding place was under a blanket on the couch) when he said the magic words "want to go for a walk?" I popped my head right out from under the blankets, perked my ears up, and ambled on over to the door.

It turned out being the entire morning. Some of my favorite humans and their dogs were gathered around the local reservoir for an informal clean up Christian Hill day. They even enlistied two neighborhood boys to hop the fence and gather various sorts of litter that people careless tossed into the reservoir itself. Kudos to one of the humans who pulled around a radio flyer wagon to carry all the dog poop that was left behind by dog owners who don't clean up after their dogs.

It was a nice thing to discover this morning. Those of you who read the Irreverent Psychologist know that there is a lot of acrimony in the neighborhood between people with dogs and people without. The morning was a good example of community: six adults, two young teens, and four dogs all got together to take care of our neighborhood.

After all their hard work, the boys got to spend some time playing with the dogs, eating pizza and drinking soda provided by the adults, and getting some quality time with adult neighbors. While perhaps not part of the plan of the humans, I think the boys got some great positive socialization with adults. They learned about the importance of community while helping the community. Isn't that great?

While the humans supervised and worked I got to spend a lot of time running around with Sammy, Ginger, and Lizzy. In this video Lizzy and I had already took turns creating a rather large hole in the dirt (perfect to nestle in a cool down). We are having an animated discussion about who gets to cool down first.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Flea and Tick Magic

The human is very allergic (and appealing) to fleas. He once lived in a house where a ferral cat crawled into the basement and gave birth to a litter of kittens. He helped take care of them--only to discover they were infested with fleas. He got bites all up and down his legs that swelled, itched, and required medical attention. Not much fun.

He has done what many of you all do: apply a month flea and tick treatment to my fur. It's done a great job. Not a single flea, fly, or mosquito has bothered me. Despite all my outdoor romping I've only gotten one tick on me (that we know of, at least). A pretty good testament to K9 Advantix. There are some concerning things about it. First, it's very toxic to cats. If Iggy and Spot would happen to lick me right after the medication is applied they would likely become very ill and die. There are also numerous reports of dogs having skin problems (rashes, sores), stomach upset (vomiting), and neurological problems (stumbling, etc.).

My vet just recommended an alternative that had immediate positive results. He recommended a product called Vetri-Repel which claims it is a natural repellent for fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and flies. It smells kind of nice--made with lemongrass and cinnamon oil. As long as the human is careful not to get it in my eyes and nose, everything is just great.

Wouldn't you know it works? He sprayed it on me and we went for a walk. He noticed that I happened to be standing on top of an area where there were several creepy-crawly bugs. They were actually scattering from underneath me and running away. Pretty nifty, eh?

Friday, August 20, 2010


This evening's walk was rather interesting. First we were in a big field. I found a stick that the human promptly conscripted into use as a training tool. I was on a 12 foot long leash and he'd ask me to sit and stay. He was so mean. He dangled the stick at me. He threw the stick off into the distance. He walked in a 12 foot circle around me. The whole time he expected me to sit in once place. Talk about difficult! I wanted that stick. The human was using the Premack principle again: if one wants to perform a given activity play with the stick) one will perform a less desirable activity (sit/stay) in order to get at the more desirable activity.

While we were doing this an older couple came up and talked to Jason. They whispered in his ear that there is a neighbor nearby that doesn't like dogs off leashes (he somehow must have missed the 12 foot leash) and that the neighbor takes pictures of dogs without leashes and their humans and turns it into the police.

That's not very nice. I wonder how we might use the Premack principle on that neighbor?

After some time spent doing that, we practiced some loose leash walking in preparation of my upcoming evaluation to be a therapy dog for the Delta Society. As an added bonus, we got to practice walking on a loose leash past other dogs. In my therapy dog test I'll have to pass by a "neutral" dog. We'll assume that dog isn't going to lunge at us or otherwise try to engage with us. While we were out on the road we got chased after a shar-pei that had escaped from his house and then two pit bulls who were very eager to play with me. How'd the human keep me focused on loose leash walking?

The Premack principle of course. That stick, with all it's magical powers, immediately appeared in front of my nose. The human said "watch me" and I did--and watched the stick, and watched him, and watched the stick some more.... It also helped that after a couple of the "watch me" commands little tasty bites of food appeared right in front of my nose too.

So let's break this down: the human used rewards (the food) when I kept my attention focused on him and not the other dogs. He also layered on top of that the Premack principle: playing with the stick is a super desirable reward for me. I'm willing to forego playing with other dogs (sometimes) if there is the promise of some sticks in my near future.

Here is a clip from a couple of days ago. We were at a local tennis court practicing down/stay. Rather than using a stick we used my favorite rope toy. By the time the human took the video I was already exhausted so I had to debate awhile whether staying down was more enjoyable than running for the rope.

Try out the Premack principle with your dog. You'll be surprised at how quickly you'll see things change.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

These Pesky Stones

So the human had a consultation with Rebecca Remillard Ph.D., DVM at Angell Medical Center. I'm glad he did: surgery is postponed. Here is the basic information: it's useful for any of you out there you might be coping with bladder stones.

Way back when this all started, the vet tried to get a urine sample but wasn't able to. Because I had all the signs of a UTI, I was put on an antibiotic. This was the first error. Had a urine sample been taken and cultured we might have already solved my problem. Dr. Remillard shared that if a culture of my urine grew staph, it would have been indicative of struvite stones. This could likely be solved through a nutritional intervention. An alternative culprit could be urate stones. These can be solve through nutritional interventions as well. Lastly, the initial diagnosis of calcium oxalate stones might still be correct. These cannot be solved through nutritional interventions.

Or, can calcium oxalate stones be remedied through diet?

In the May 2010 edition of the Whole Dog Journal featured an article on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of calcium oxalate kidney and bladder stones. It reviewed some anecdotal evidence that these types of stones can indeed be successfully treated by nutritional interventions. The diet focus on increasing water consumption, raising urinary pH a bit, feeding a diet low in oxalates, and various vitamin supplements.

Here are two highlights that were particularly interesting in the article:

  • Standard treatment from many vets for stones of all sorts are prescription diets that among other things, restrict protein, calcium, and phosphorus. The article mentioned research published in 2002 by the American Journal of Veterinary Research. It showed that canned food diets low in protein, calcium and phosphorus and have the highest amount of carbohydrates were associated with an increased risk of calcium oxalate crystals. Whoops. No prescription diets for me!
  • The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and The Journal of the American College of Nutrition, among others, have published research four more than 40 years demonstrating that patients with long-standing, recurrent calcium oxalate kidney stones receiving supplements including magnesium oxide with or without vitamin B6 for five or more years demonstrate stone formation falling by more than 90 percent.
After consulting with my vet, we've decided on a different treatment plan that doesn't involve surgery right now. I'm finishing up my course of treatment with Baytril. After that, we are going to carefully watch any symptoms that develop. The small risk is that I'll get an obstruction which would be a medical emergency. Assuming that doesn't happen, 14 days after I stop the antibiotic I'll have a urinalysis to see where I am. Assuming that doesn't show anything significant we'll repeat the urinalysis again 30 days after I completed the course of antibiotics. If that shows signs of staph, I'll have my diet altered to treat struvite crystals. If there is no staph, we'll re-evaluate and go for plan B. Not sure what plan B is yet.

Okay, that's not exactly true. The human took the cats to the Cat Doctor of Bedford and Nashua this past Friday. Dr. Carlson was informative as always. He suggested that I talk to my vet about having a cystoscopy. They would use a special instrument to peek inside my bladder, see what is there, and remove a stone for analysis. Something worth discussing!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Calcium Oxalate. Say what?

For those of you who are regular visitors on my Facebook fan page, you know that I've been plagued by ongoing urinary tract problems for the better part of the last month. It's not been pretty. I used to love going to the vet--I walked in fearlessly and enjoyed all the attention. Now I'm digging my paws into the ground when I am outside the front door of the vet's office and once inside, I stand by the door with my nose against the doorjamb hoping that I can somehow escape.

I've had urinalysis done twice, two ultra sounds, x-rays, and blood work. Though it's not definitive, it is looking like I might have calcium oxalate stones in my bladder. These little stones roll around inside irritating the tender lining of my bladder and, well, it's uncomfortable.

The human first noticed all these problems four weeks ago. Almost overnight, I started needing to stop and pee five or more times on an hour walk. This is very unlike me--I usually once going once or twice. The vet first diagnosed it as a UTI. I tried a course of amoxicillin. That didn't do much. I was then put on Rimadyl as I finished the course of antibiotics. Little did I know there were a whole host of side effects with Rimadyl. Let's just say while I wasn't peeing a lot because of the stones, I was going outside a whole lot to do some other stuff. I promptly went off the Rimadyl and we got a second opinion from another vet.

A urinalysis, by the way, did not indicate that there were any bacteria. There also weren't any evidence of stones, either. My pH was a bit off, and there was blood in my urine. Both are problems. An ultra sound suggested that there might be stones in my bladder.

My second doctor (whom I'm very fond of, are you reading this Dr. A?) at Linwood Animal Hospital tried me on a second course of antibiotics. This time I tried Baytril. After a week there wasn't a significant change. The human had me pee into a cup (this must have been fun to watch) and I was back into the vet. Much to my horror I spent the morning at the vet. They shaved my belly and did x-rays and an ultra sound. The x-rays showed the outline of stones and the ultra sound confirmed it. The urinalysis shows no bacteria and traces of calcium oxalate.

This however is unclear: the human consulted Dr. Google and found clear evidence that when urine samples are refrigerated or more than 30 minutes old tend to precipitate calcium oxalate regardless of the presence of stones. The human tells his patients that Dr. Google is no substitute for the advice of an actual living doctor. The human needs to remember his own advice.

Dr. A's best recommendation is to have bladder surgery. They will open up my bladder, clean out all the stones, send them out for analysis, and close me back up. This however doesn't sound very pleasant. The human is investigating plan B.

The human is having a nutritional consult with Dr. Rebecca Remillard at MSPCA Angell. That might turn up a few options. We're also having a consult with Dr. Dan Cirnigliaro who is a local vet with a holistic outlook. That might turn some other stuff up too.

The human tried to see if there were less invasive options available to treat the stones (there certainly a whole host of possibilities in humans!). This was a disappointing adventure. Being wary of rising medical costs, the human was willing to pay for a consult as long as he knew there were other options potentially available. Despite being willing to pay for a telephone consultation to find out specifically if there were other options available for treating bladder stones, both Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tufts Veterinary school and MSPCA Angell both declined to answer the question or put the human in touch with someone who could answer the question. The only way to find out about less invasive options is to schedule an appointment (at a rather significant expense) and travel to both hospitals. Great if there are other options. Not so great if the answer is the only treatment is surgery.

Of course, no one can suggest treatment just from a brief phone call--that makes sense. Every dog is different and every situation is unique. It just seems that a simple question (are there a variety of interventions available) deserves a simple answer.

Our friendly dog coach Maureen Ross provided a couple recent editions of The Whole Dog Journal. There was an excellent article in the May 2010 edition called "Stoned Again: Diagnosing, treating, and preventing calcium oxalate stones in dogs." The article reviewed some of the latest research and in particular, talked about the work done by Leslie Bean in bringing together some of the latest information about calcium oxalate stones in dogs. The article has given some hope that there are specific dietary interventions that can prevent the reoccurrence of the stones (which are pesky, and tend to come back within three years). The article also gave a bit of hope that it's possible for dietary intervention to resolve the problem without surgery.

Much more research is needed. For the time being I'm scheduled for surgery at the end of the month. The human is going to keep asking questions until he hears answers that he likes. If he doesn't hear answers that he likes--well that means something. It means that surgery is the best option.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wednesday Smile: Howling Puppies Edition

So if you should ever happen across me when there are fire trucks passing by you get to hear my rendition of howling. It's rather adorable. I put my head way back, form my mouth into a perfect "o" and howl away. At first the human thought I was doing it because I was scared. After careful observation, he didn't detect any body language I offer up when I'm scared. It looks as if something comes over me and I just simply must howl. He's not sure I have a choice: perhaps it's something that is encoded in my genes that gets triggered deep within my brain when I hear something the pitch of a fire truck.

Regardless, we stop and make a spectacle of ourselves every time there is a fire truck. The human starts howling and makes a big deal out of me howling. I suspect he's trying to teach me to howl. So far I'm not complying. Until I do, here are a few other puppies who have figured this one out. Enjoy!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Life In A Day

A couple of people shared with me about the Life In A Day experiment that was happening on July 24. The idea is to create a user generated film shot in a single day. People all over the world had 24 hours to record a glimpse of their life. Some of that footage will be used to make a documentary produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin Macdonald.

Here is my contribution to the experiment:

Friday, July 23, 2010

What People are Saying

Here is a quote about me!

I’m crazy about Maggie! She was a great part of my therapy. I really think she could intuit when I was feeling good and when I needed a little extra love and attention. I think animals, and dogs in particular, are an important part of making us feel happy because they’re affection is unconditional, and they teach us how to feel responsible for ourselves through caring for them. And it’s pretty hard not to smile when Maggie’s romping around burying her imaginary bones and trying to get you to pet her.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

New Office

So I've spent most of my weekend thus far being shuttled back and forth to Cambridge as the new office is being prepared. I'm finally getting to relax today as everything was completed yesterday. Here I am, resting in the new space. If you want to see more check out this link.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wednesday Smile: Tortoise and the Kitty Edition

Kitties get to have all the fun. I'm going to have to head out and see if I can find a suitable sized tortoise to ride upon. Maybe this is how I will arrive in the office very day? That would be fun.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pondering the Meaning of Compassion on the Rail Trail

Sunday was just one day shy of longest day of the year--also known as summer solstice. While it wasn't also the hottest day of the year, it certainly seemed like it. The temperature was almost 90 and the humidity was so high my cold nose and panting couldn't keep me cool. As you see over to the right, I spent a great deal of time hiding on it fields of clover. They are a fantastic place to find bumblebees, little morsels of discarded foods, and chipmunks.

Chipmunks? Whoops. Wait just one minute. Did someone say chipmunks? Next to squirrels, I think chipmunks are my favorite thing to chase after. They seem to be slower and pay very little attention to me. I've gotten close to catching them but my lead always seems just a little too short. I wonder how that happens? Anyway, I spent an awful lot of time scampering back and forth across the trail. The humans walked about five miles. I probably did closer to seven. There was so much to look at and see as I scurried back and forth across the rail trail. Do I look blurry in this picture? That's because I was in near constant motion. Chipmunk on the right, bird on the left, field of clover on the right, and well, you get the point. It was a lot of fun.

At the half way point we stopped at a store called Traveling Rhinos and Friends. I was sipping my water when one of the humans went in to purchase something with a little more flavor. A few minutes later the shopkeeper appeared along with two small dogs. We did the usual "nice to meet you dance" (the dogs, not the humans). Before I knew it I was escorted into the nice air conditioned store. What a nice surprise.

Both dogs were rescue dogs. I was rather taken with Buster. His story was a sad one. The story I was told was that Buster never had the opportunity to play and interact with other dogs. His previous owner kept him locked up in a cat carrier for most of the day--every day--for four years. One day Buster finally had enough and didn't want to go into the cat carrier. He apparently bit his owner who then surrendered him to the shelter. Buster was labeled a vicious dog.

In the end, Buster was lucky: he found a new home that took him in, showed him lots of patience and love, and helped him have a life worth living. Buster is also lucky because he seems to have some extraordinary social skills. He approached me carefully and slowly. My human who is generally extremely cautious was extraordinarily so when we met because of Buster's story. Within fifteen seconds he had assessed the situation and relaxed. There were no signs of aggression and many calming signals: yawning, licking, turning head away, play bow, sniffing, walking slowly, and walking in a curve.

It's useful to know about these calming signals. It's even more useful to learn to recognize them in your dog as well as in other dogs. Once humans learn to have some skill at interpreting canine behaviors things go along a lot better. Anyway, for a dog that hasn't played with other dogs, we had an awful lot of fun. We rolled, played, and generally frolicked all around the air conditioned store.

Buster's humans took a leap of faith and demonstrated a great deal of compassion for him. He had been considered a dangerous dog: one that was very likely going to be euthanized. There are dogs out there that are dangerous. It's a serious problem, requiring serious attention. I don't know for sure what made these humans look at Buster differently. Perhaps the humans took the time to look at the facts.  Maybe they saw something deep inside the dog. It's unclear and that's really not all the important.

The humans demonstrated a great deal of compassion for Buster. In hearing his story, they were moved. They had some sort of emotional experience that was caused by the experience that Buster had. On the walk back to the car I got to thinking about the nature of compassion.

Compassion is at the heart of what many companion animals freely offer humans, yet do we ever really stop to wonder what compassion really is? Many comment that animals don't judge, offer unconditional love, and other such things. All that might be true, and all those are wonderful gifts, but none really represent the compassion that companion animals can offer a person. While no one knows for sure what goes on within our minds, a careful observer can notice how many animals respond to the suffering of others.

Over the first year of my life I've shown myself to be a dog that seeks out those who are suffering. Sometimes it's obvious, like when I'm rubbing tears off a face with my nose. Sometimes it is demanding when I'm pulling my human around Cambridge and "stumble" upon a person sitting alone on a park bench or huddled under a bridge.

Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed. --The Buddha

While I'm just a small dog, might I add one thought? Compassion is a word with direction. As quoted above, in the presence of pain experienced by another being, compassion moves the heart to hold and shelter the distressed.  I think the Buddha might have forgotten to say something. Compassion also transports you from where you are to somewhere else. Compassion can shine like the light at the end of the tunnel and draw you to a place you hadn't known existed.

Just ask Buster.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Now that I'm a year old it's important that I keep myself healthy. I'm finding that doga (like yoga, but for dogs) is an ideal practice for me. My teacher Maureen, who recently started a website called Daily Doga, captured me in the frog pose.

Family Photo Album

Her are some pictures of my brother Cooper. He recently found me on Facebook. I'm starting to think it would be fun to have a family reunion at some point this summer. I wonder if the nine of us plus mom might be able to coordinate a little something?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

I listen well enough: I sit, stay, come when I am called (unless there is squirrel around), and have a few cute tricks up my sleeve. For those of you who have been following along with my adventures, you've probably figured out that I also have a mind of my own. There are some things that just simply have to be done. The human has generally learned it is best to follow along with me when I get into one of these moods.

Sometimes of course I'm just being an obstinate basset hound. I remember where interesting things are along our walk to and from the office and I insist on revisiting places that I like. For example, on Green Street there is a tree branch hidden under a hedge of boxwood. I like to stop there every night on the way home and play tug with the stick. I found a rat scurrying around near the old police station in Central Square three nights ago. I insist on pouncing on that very same spot every time I encounter it. I'll pull the human across the street if we are on the wrong side.

The human finds the stick amusing. He finds the rat down right disgusting. Other times he finds himself just a little amazed at where my little mind takes us. For example, yesterday during a walk I started dragging him around a corner. The human wasn't in the mood to be dragged and he started complaining about my behavior. I ignored him and kept tugging him in a different direction. He finally saw things my way and let me lead. A couple of minutes later we turned another corner and walked toward a woman sitting on a park bench. She was crying and at first didn't seem like she was very happy to be interrupted. I wagged my tail more and jumped up next to her and pushed hard against the side of her body while she petted me for a few moments. She scratched behind my ears, said thank you to my human, and walked away.

You humans might thing that perhaps I heard the woman crying (dogs do, after all, have a sharp sense of hearing). Others might think that I used my high-powered sense of smell and detected the distress someone was experiencing off in the distance (again, dogs to have a sense of smell that is hundreds of times more sensitive than humans). Others of you might just thing this was a coincidence: my pulling of the human toward this spot had nothing to do with the woman crying on the bench.

The only two that really knows what happened was the woman on the bench and me, the dog on the leash. I'll leave it for you to decide what you believe. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wednesday Smile

The news has offered up a lot of sad and devastating images from the Gulf of Mexico. With oil still gushing into the ocean, unknown and indescribable devastation is occurring.

What better way to bring a smile to our faces (and a wag to our tails) to see a bit of good news? Here is a clip about a local family of birds. I've noticed them several times on the way home from work. Now I know what they are. Seeing people take interest in--and be in awe of--nature gives me a lot of hope.

Friday, May 28, 2010

On Manners and Meeting New Friends

Well that was scary!

I was walking along the side of the reservoir this evening sniffing some greenery. There are crickets living amongst the flora and I find them to be the most curious thing. The quiet was disrupted by a rather large dog that came barreling around the corner. The young man walking the dog was saying "heel" but said dog was clearly not paying attention.

I was excited at first. Most of my experiences with other canines have been positive. I wagged my tail, put my head down low, and avoided direct eye contact. It's my usual way of making a friendly introduction with a new dog.

While I was making preparations to say hello a woman suddenly came from the other direction with two large dogs on a tandem leash. She was struggling and appeared to not be in control of her dogs and the young man was struggling and appeared to not be in control of his dog.

It was at that moment that both I and the human knew that trouble was brewing.

It happened very quickly. The human first paid attention to the woman with the two large dogs. To her credit, she was aware she wasn't able to control her dogs and she was walking into a difficult situation: she went around a corner with her dogs and down a hill. The young man with the Boxer decided they were going to meet us with my human turned in the other direction and kept approaching.

With the human's back exposed, I felt that I clearly needed to protect him from the Boxer coming toward us. The human turned back to me as I was moving from play position to a protective posture. What follows takes awhile to explain but in reality took up about five seconds of time.

The hair in the center of my back from the nape of my neck to the base of my tail stood up in a mohawk. The dog lunged, lurched, and leaped toward me and the human. The Boxer wasn't paying attention to me and what I was communicating. My hair was up, which is a sign suggesting that it's not a good time to play. I was looking to the side and licking my lips which is a sign that I'm trying to calm myself and the other dog. Think of it like this, when I do that I'm saying: "hey, leave me alone, I'm not a threat because I'm not looking at you but can't you see my hair, if you keep coming there is going to be trouble."

Well the boxer kept barreling toward us and the young man was being dragged along. In a split second the boxer came directly toward my face. He growled while continuing to approach. I turned and fixed my stare directly on him and snarled. He still did not stop and when he was inches away from my nose I snapped but did not bite.

While all this was going on the human pivoted between me and the boxer, and shouted in a friendly voice "hey big puppy" just as I snapped a warning at the dog. The human said "focus" and I immediately moved from the boxer to him (this happened thanks to practicing this command thousands of times). The human put himself between the two of us because he knew I was attempting to protect him, he read the dog as being out of control but not aggressive, and wanted to startle the other dog to try to distract him off his approach.

Unlike the young man with the boxer, my human did not pull hard on my leash. The boxer was choking on his pinch collar, which was likely raising his anxiety levels. It wouldn't do any good to pull on my leash because I wear a harness, not a pinch collar. Well that plus my human knows that a good way to increase the probability of a problem when dogs are meeting is to tug hard on a leash or communicate anxiety to the dog.

As soon as my focus shifted the human said "follow me." (I don't heel, by the way, the human believes in taking turns--sometimes he leads, sometimes I lead). When he says follow me he always means business: it's time for me to stop sniffing and exploring and walk quickly and quietly by his side. He walked away from the other dog at an right angle from the direction in which he was approaching. He was calm yet quick.

Big crisis was averted. Don't you think?

So what's the message here? Humans needs to be keenly aware of how their dogs communicate, and have a working knowledge of some of the basic ways other dogs communicate. With that knowledge, humans need to be paying attention and reading the situation when dogs meet for the first time.

This dog wasn't coming to me to politely shake my hand and ask me if I'd like to play. He looked like he was going to rough me up, or rough my human up, and I didn't like that. In all likelihood he probably just did not learn proper social skills as a puppy and doesn't know how to make friends.

I read the signs and was moving to protect my human and myself. My human read the signs and knew that there was danger brewing. If he hadn't been paying attention there could have been a bite, a fight, or worse. Even with his careful attention the situation could have ended poorly. He made a calculated decision to change the dynamic by getting between us. He trusted our developing bond and hoped that he could get my focus and lead me away.

What's a dog owner to do? It's not enough to teach your dog to sit, stay, and come. I hear lots of folks are doing this at home by reading books and watching TV shows. It's a start, mind you, but not enough.

Too many dogs are out there pulling their owners around and lacking in canine social skills. Take your puppy to a good puppy class. From an early age, a puppy class is a great opportunity for dogs to get feedback from other dogs and learn how to communicate in dog. Watch puppies and dogs as they interact and socialize. Learn to read a dog's body language as it relates to lots of different contexts. Keep your eyes out for experienced dog handlers--watch how they interact with groups of dogs. Ask lots of questions.

And please, don't ever let your dog meet another dog without first asking if it was okay. Had this young man with the boxer done this basic step, this whole situation would have been averted. The human would not have had his back turned, he would have already asked me to sit, and he would have asked the young man to stay at a distance. When given a choice, my human never lets me meet new dogs that have owners who are not paying attention and in control of the situation.