Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wednesday Smile

Apparently I'm not the only basset hound who eats like this. Mealtime is always amusing because I tend to do this with my food for awhile. You might try to think of all sorts of reasons why I do it: I'm pretty sure the only real reason is because it's fun.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rainy Days

It is raining again here in New England. This creates special challenges in my work as a therapy dog. Jason tends to book three or for clients in a row before we get a small break. Not a big deal in normal circumstances. Across the street is a little triangle of green space. I get my ten minutes of sniffing in while I do my personal dog activities. I still get that with the rain, however then I am all wet. Have you ever smelled a wet dog? I think its great but Jason feels differently.

So we have a ritual. I get wet and have fun. Jason throws a green towel on me when we get back into the office. I think he is playing so I tug. He finds this less than fun, but tries to make it a game for me so he doesnt get crabby. After that I get wiped down with a coconut dog wipe. He likes the smell: I try to eat it.

We tried a raincoat but it is tough to find one in my body shape. Anyone have any favorites?

I attached a cell phone art project. I have some extra time today with the rain making everyone late.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Therapy Dog in Action

Here is what one person has to say about what it's like to come to therapy with me in the room. I've taken it upon myself to add to photos. One is of me sitting on the couch in the office listening closely. The other is me sitting on the chair giving "the look." For those of you who don't recognize this face, it  means that I'm about to start romping around the office playing.

"I'm not a fan of animals. In most instances, I'm quite terrified by them, probably because a dog of my own wasn't too kind to me as I was growing up. So, naturally, when Jason opened to door one day and I was greeted by him and an eager puppy, I wasn't quite sure what to make out of it. Before that first session with my new therapy duo ended I became convinced that having Maggie in the room was a wonderful addition to my experience in therapy. Maggie provides the necessary comic relief during the most challenging moments in my therapy sessions. She is known to jump on my lap and lick my face when I get particularly emotional. When I am feeling most overwhelmed, Maggie helps me put things in perspective and, without the need for words, makes me realize that I, too, can get through whatever obstacle I face at the moment."

Have you had an experience with a therapy dog? What was it like? Have you had experiences with dogs (or other animals!) outside of therapy that felt like therapy? What was that like?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturdays are for Frolicking

Saturdays are clearly designed for frolicking. Especially sunny Saturdays. It turned out to be a fun walk. There were enough distractions to keep me occupied and challenged but not so many as to overwhelm me. These long walks are actually thinly disguised training experiences. Today I got to practice "leave it," "sit and stay," "focus," "stop," and "follow me."

"Leave it" is probably one of the more useful skills I have. For example, there were children rolling down the hill. I thought this was great fun. Children are, after all, just little puppies in my eyes. I wanted to roll down the hill with them. Jason said "leave it" and I begrudgingly listened to him. It was hard since the kids were so exciting to me. At one point there was a bunch of pigeons off into the distance. Jason say me watching them getting ready to run. He said leave it and I changed my mind and did something else. The only reason I was able to do this was the experiences I've had the hundred other times we've practiced "leave it."

He actually caught me looking at the birds. Here I am giving them a curious stare. They looked rather tasty to me--both in terms of playing and eating. Living with a parrot at home I'm always thinking about how delectable a bird would be but I never get to taste one. I didn't this time either.

Anyway, Jason started this training when I was a little puppy. He'd have two things that I was interested in: perhaps two plastic lids with a little bit of peanut butter on it, two different tug toys, or some similar combination. He'd give me one of the objects and let me enjoy it; he'd say leave it and take it away. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I learned that even thought I have to give up something I like, I end up getting something else enjoyable in return for my cooperation. Jason has also done this a lot around meal times. He puts my dish down and says leave it. At first he'd take the food away if I went for it. Then I learned to just sit and wait (and wait, and wait, and wait). I also get to practice this useful task in dog class. Maureen leaves big bowls out in the middle of the classroom and puts a couple of tasty morsels inside each bowl. We practice walking by and leaving it. That's super hard!

"Stop" is another useful thing I've learned. This was less than fun when Jason first introduced it. When I'm out in a safe area, I get to run around without anyone holding onto my leash. My leash is very long: nine feet I'm told. I would be running around and Jason would suddenly say "stop" in a loud voice. As he did it, he'd step on my leash. I got the picture pretty fast: I was supposed to stop moving as soon as I heard the word "stop." I'm not super compliant with this one--I run a little before I decide I'm going to listen. Still, I do a remarkable job for a nine month old puppy. This skill just might save my life.

Jason practices this one a lot while we are out on walks. For example, when I'm running with a stick or a ball, he'll occasionally say "stop!" I will in return occasionally stop moving. It's harder to do than you think. You try stopping when you are playing. You won't want to!

It's not so bad though. Jason never yells at me if I don't stop. This is important. If I'm in an emergency situation (running out into traffic, walking into some other dangerous sort of situation) Jason is going to really need me to stop. If I associate this with getting into trouble, I'm more likely going to run than stop. The same goes for the "come" command. Never yell at your dog or discipline them in any way if they do not come. It's counter productive. If you are mad at your dog and they end up listening to you, and you yell or punish them when they get to you, they are going to avoid you. The "stop" or "come" command becomes very counterproductive when your dog starts running away from you when you use either of this commands.

Are you paying attention? Never ever punish your dog when they come after you call them or stop after you tell them to.

"Focus" is another fun skill. Jason has been practicing this with me since the day I came home. He catches me looking at him, he says focus, I get a reward. Over and over again this has happened. For awhile I was good at this. No matter what I was doing if he said "focus" I'd stop the activity I was engaged in and look at him. Being an adolescent I pretend that I can't hear him most of the time. My other favorite trick is to look at him while I keep doing whatever it was I was doing. For example, I might be barking out the window and Jason will say "focus." I will look at him out of the corner of my eye while still barking. Aren't I creative?

I have a feeling Jason is going to persevere. While I might not always listen to him, I do more often than not. This is a useful command to distract me away from something that (a) might get me in trouble or (b) is getting me in trouble.

It's also really useful for picture taking. I happened to be listening to him when he took this picture. I was also exhausted, which helps too. I had spent an hour running back and forth across a field.

The last command we worked on while playing today was "sit" and "stay." This one is challenging. I'm very good at sitting. I've gotten to practice this one a million times. I walk in the door and I sit. I go out the door and I sit. I get ready to eat and I sit. I get out of the car and I sit. I get tired of hearing it! The whole stay part, now that is more of a challenge. Being a puppy I am easily distracted. Who wants to "sit" and "stay" when there are other puppies, people, or ice cream cones around? I know I don't want to sit and stay.

For some bizarre reason Jason thinks I should learn this. I'm a good sport. We practice when clients come into the office. I walk to do the door with Jason and sit. I stay (or at least try to) when clients settle down onto the couch. I wait patiently (with variable success) until Jason says "okay." Then I leap onto the couch and lavish lots of puppy kisses on whoever just walked in the door. Oops. I don't think I'm supposed to do that.

I can only work on one thing at a time!

I also practice sit and stay at class. We all practice on our own levels. Some dogs sit and stay while their owners actually walk out the door. Other dogs practice sit and stay while their owners slowly walk around their dog in small circles. Other people, like Maureen, ask their dogs to sit and stay while dancing around, dropping things, and generally having a good time. All of this teaches us dogs to sit through all sorts of different distractions.

My favorite way to practice "sit" and "stay" is in the context of my playtime. I like sticks. I like chasing sticks. I also like balls. And you guessed it, I like chasing them too. Jason steps on my long leash, gets my attention, says "sit" and "stay" and then launches my toy out into the distance. I can't go anywhere since he's stepping on my leash. That helps reinforce the "stay" idea. When he says "okay" I run after the toy in question. Since I'm having so much fun I bring it back to Jason. This is bonus training as I'm also learning "come" at the same time.

Remind me sometime to blog about how I learned to come when I am called. That was big fun! Anyway, for now I'll leave you with a couple of video clips of a sort of sit-stay-okay. Jason was having trouble being both dog trainer and camera operator.

In this second video, Jason is demonstrating where he takes me when he wants to really tire me out. He throws a toy down the hill. I make a mad dash down the hill, get the toy, and come back up. We repeat until I'm tired. As you can tell from the total lack of spring in my step, I'm totally exhausted here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Napping Meditation, Part Two

For those of you tracking the progress of my napping meditations, I thought I'd add another photo. I find that traffic provides a perfect time for contemplative activities. With the notorious Boston traffic jams, what else is a therapy dog to do? With no fingers I can't offer up any sign language to those in cars around me. I tried honking the horn but Jason doesn't find it very safe for me to sit in his lap.

It's a good think I got my meditation in yesterday morning. When we left the office at 7pm I had some of my own work to do. I got to have my twice weekly visit with Jerry. I also put my paws up on the edge of the steps leading to the Harvard Square T Station. A woman spotted me and zoomed up the steps to come visit with me. I think she was feeling particularly lonely. My wagging tail was just what she needed (I'm not even making that up--she said it!).

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I am pretty sure that I am going to need to become a coffee drinker. Either that or you humans are going to need to slow down and stop rushing to do "things." What ever happened to taking time to enjoy things such as sunbeams, naps, and naps in sunbeams?

This is one  of the gifts a therapy dog offers. Since we only live in the moment, we can invite you to join us there and appreciate the sunbeam, or stick, a tail wag, or a lick. It is so much better than becoming consumed with what you should be accomplishing.

Baack to my nap now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Comfort Consultation

Here I am offering a consultation to a local psychologist about the comfort level of her couch. I give it a two paws up rating!

Wednesday Smile

If you've never had the opportunity to watch sea otters, I hope you do. Jason got to spend some time watching them play and romp around a dock once in Alaska. They are incredibly cute and playful creatures!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I'm a Super Listener

So I demonstrated to Jason this morning what a super listener I am. He fed me rather late this morning: he was busy blogging and tweeting. There is a routine and I stick to it. First Jason feeds the cats. They are a little complicated to feed. He opens up their canned food, mixes it with chicken broth, and then sings the "It's time to feed the kitties" song. Spot eats on the kitchen table. Iggy eats in the bathroom with the door closed. After many experiments, this is what works best. No one argues, no one steals food that doesn't belong to them, and peace and harmony is generally maintained.

Then I get fed. Part of the routine is that Jason puts my food bowl down and says "leave it." I wait patiently until he says "okay, take it." I usually have to wait anywhere between one and 15 seconds. Well, Jason got distracted this morning. He put my food bowl down and left. I sat waiting for ten minutes. He finally walked by and saw me looking at him with very sad Basset Hound eyes. Jason said "okay, good girl, take it!" I finally got to eat.

Aren't I a good girl?

Making me wait this long bordered on cruel and unusual. Don't be this extreme at home. However, the basic principle is a great idea. Food time is an ideal time for some basic training. I'm motivated--I want my dinner! Anything that happens in the few moments before a meal is a powerful training opportunity and shouldn't be wasted. Doing simple things like always asking me to sit before I eat, or teaching me to "leave it" before I get to eat, lays a foundation for some wonderful skills that can be replicated at times away from the food bowl.

Try it. Just don't walk away and make your puppy wait ten minutes. That's just mean.

Dog Heros

Sorry for the commercials in the embedded video links.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday Smile

So yesterday the sun finally came out after a weekend of torrential storms. I was feeling a little stir-crazy after my mostly indoor weekend. Jason was kind enough to take me for a long walk during the afternoon yesterday. I got to engage in my favorite activity: goose chasing.

That's right. I'm a goose chaser. It's no doubt partly genetic: many of my dog ancestors were working dogs: herding, shepherding, and other wise moving animals to-and-fro. Things of course don't always go according to plan. Here is a sheep that is a just a little too smart, don't you think?

I did a little better at my job yesterday. I still found it rather difficult because I was on my leash. Jason thought running off of a leash along the Charles River wasn't a very swell idea. Cars, people, you know, the usual problems. I promised I'd behave but he ignored me.

It's not a bad way to get exercise (for either of us). We got to creep up on the geese slowly. As soon as one of them noticed me I stopped in my tracks. The goose lengthened his neck and stared at me. I bow down and stare back. I start to creep low along the ground toward the geese, then with little warning I start running along the back of the geese. I make oval circles behind them, moving them closer and closer to the water. Once they get there I bark at them some.

I toil so hard, don't I? 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wigglesworth dorm

Who knew there was a dorm named after me on Harvard Yard! How com no one tells me these things?


Some of you have shared that it was hard to see the name in the photo. I've added another image zooming in on one of the doors. Do you think the dorm needs a new mascot? I can offer lots of free snuggles.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Web Site Renovation

Hi everyone. You might have noticed some changes to the blog over the past couple of days. First and foremost, Jason finally decided I was old enough for my own e-mail address. I can now post to my blog under my own name. I feel so grown up!

Also, if you look to your right, there are three new icons. The first, Jason's name with an umbrella, will take you directly his website that talks about his private practice. The second, a self explanatory "follow me on twitter" badge will take you to our shared twitter profile. You can follow Jason and I there to find out when the blogs are updated, find out what we are up to, and get other little morsels of information. The third badge, also self explanatory, takes you to my new Facebook fan page. I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to use it. I figured if that crazy cute dog Trixie Koontz has a page, I should have my own too.

You also might notice there is a new and improved slideshow. Over the coming weeks there will be lots of new pictures of me. Jason bought photoshop and tells me he is feeling creative.

Lastly, since Jason is redundant, all the way on the bottom right is a Twitter widget that lists our last several tweets.

Thanks for stopping in today. Make sure you do something positive today to build your relationships--whether they be with animals or humans.

When Good Dogs do Bad Things

It's raining. Not just a little sprinkle, mind you. Serious, drenching, I'm stuck in the house rain. It's pretty windy too. I woke up this morning and poked my head out the door. It took a lot of convincing to get me off the front porch. My poor little ears kept on catching the wind and floating on the current.

Finally being able to take the boredom, I did head out into the rain to run back and forth across the front yard with a stick in my mouth. That helped a little, but I'm still rather bored.

What's a puppy to do? I tried chasing the cats around the house but they know my games. They are sleeping up in the cupola where I can't get at them. Napping is the next best thing. I figure if the cats sleep all over the furniture, why can't I? Here I am lounging around while Jason was ignoring me. He claims he was making me a Facebook page.

I figure if I can't go outside and play I should at least be able to sleep? Right? It's much better than  misbehaving and eating shoes, for example.

Jason had the nerve to poke me and wake me up. I showed him. If there was sound in this picture you'd hear me barking. I thought it was big fun when I was caught. He was not amused, made me get off the table, and settle in my bed. I'm starting to think he is assuming this is some version of a puppy time out. Jason doesn't know this yet, but I think there is going to be no other option than a waterlogged walk in the rain this afternoon. Hope he has good boots.

Anyone have any ideas how to keep a puppy entertained when housebound?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Left out of the Community

I had a great time walking around in an urban environment yesterday morning. I got to meet lots of new people, kiss some elderly women, and run around with a shepherd who was playing frisbee. I sniffed out some Cheerios that a child had lost in his stroller. Wasn't that nice of me? Eating them was perhaps not that nice. I never said I was perfect.

Still, despite all this fun, things can seem pretty unwelcoming from my puppy point of view. Jason's friends around the neighborhood keep  mentioning the local community association president who calls the dog catcher on any dog that is playing off leash. The dog catcher is sighted at least  three or four times a day. I like to be chased after, but being chased by the dog catcher doesn't sound like a very good idea.

Yesterday I kept on finding signs saying that I wasn't welcome. Sure, I understand there are places that aren't for dogs: the grocery store is one place that comes to mind. I'd eat everything I smell. That wouldn't be very good. Athletic fields make sense too. Some owners don't clean up their dogs poop. Who would want to play soccer in that?

Or are athletic fields a good place for puppies to play? What about parks where I'm safe from cars? Aren't those a good place to play? Sure -- owners who don't pick up poop are, well, thoughtless. The community ought to encourage those folks to be better neighbors. In fact, the community as a whole ought to encourage each other to be better neighbors in general. What better way to do that than through dog owners?

It seems that while the puppies are playing together the people get to talk. They get to know their neighbors and the news around town. The find out who had a baby, who is sick, and who is struggling at work. They hear about the neighbor who leaves their dog out roaming the neighborhood and develop strategies together how to solve the problem. The people get, well, neighborly. Isn't that a good idea?

The community board president seems to be getting it all wrong. She calls out the dog catchers and chases neighbors out of the park. Who will be left to plant flowers and pick up trash? How will neighbors get to know neighbors and start to care for each other?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Defying Gravity

Together we're unlimited.
Together we'll be the greatest team
there's ever been.
Dreams, the way we planned 'em,
if we work in tandem:
There's no fight we cannot win.
Just you and I defying gravity.
With you and I defying gravity.

(From Wicked)

Basic obedience skills are a must for every puppy. Sit, stay, down, off, leave it. I've been learning those commands since the first day I came to  my new home. It was fairly easy for me to get these basic concepts. For the first couple of weeks, every time I sat down Jason made an enormously big deal out of it. He spoke in this high pitched voice, petted me, and consistently gave me a bit of something to eat and made this clicking sound with a device around his wrist (for more on my puppy-view of clicker training, check out this blog post). What a fun game, no? All I have to do is sit down and great things happen to me. Why on Earth wouldn't I want to sit?

Now that I'm becoming a teenager it's not as easy. Jason is great and all, but there are tons of things out there in the world that I want to investigate. Birds. That's a big one. I don't care what Jason says, if there is a flock of Canadian Geese in my field of vision I'm not going to remain seated. I'm going to go herd them. That's what I do. Same with squirrels--those pesky creatures. I'm not going to stay calmly in a down position when squirrels are darting around me. I'm going to chase them. It's in my nature. Oh yeah, and these bowls of food my dog teacher puts out in the middle of the room. Like I'm supposed to walk by them and not eat what is inside of them when Jason says leave it? What is Maureen thinking?

Back to my puppy-point. I'm getting distracted. That's exactly part of my point. I will always get distracted. I'll never be perfect. There will always be squirrels. There will always be treats of some sort that I find irresistible. Sometimes, I just will not feel like listening to Jason.

With consistent practice Jason will eventually reign in my impulses enough that I will be reasonable. I'll be able to do the things he asks of me. I'll do them most of the time. I'll sit and stay in a distracted environment. I'll leave delectable treats undisturbed. I'll even eventually learn to stop dead in my tracks when Jason says "STOP."

Why? Why am I learning to listen to Jason? Why am I learning to do this with any sort of consistency?

A big part of the reason is Jason has devised a consistent operant conditioning training plan. Since I was eight weeks old, I have been learning that Jason is basically the greatest treat dispenser ever made. Seriously people. He rocks. When I do the things he asks of me, great things come at me. I go pee and he dispenses a reward. I sit down and he dispenses a reward. I stop trying to eat the cats and he dispenses a reward. For awhile this happened every time I did something. It happened immediately when I did the behavior he wanted and it happened consistently. Over time I've learned I never know when great things happen: I get rewards intermittently now but when I do, they happen immediately.

Rewards, by the way, are sometimes food, sometimes verbal praise, and sometimes play.

I am learning that when I do not listen to Jason, my rewards are taken away. Technically, this is called a negative punishment. This means that a pleasant activity is contingent on a particular behavior. If I play too hard and endanger other people, play immediately stops and does not start again until I am calm. This is a hard one since everyone loves me, but Jason is starting to train the people around me to stop paying attention to me if I jump on them. I learn that I do not get attention if I leap onto people.

This represents the basics of obedience training in dogs. Any dog training class you take your puppy to offers some components of operant conditioning. Some focus more on the positive reinforcement (reward) aspects of operant conditioning. Other's focus more on positive punishment aspects of operant conditioning (application of an aversive event contingent on a behavior).

Confused about the language? You aren't alone. Check out this previous blog post for more than you probably ever thought you needed to know about operant conditioning.

There is another reason why I'm learning to reign in my impulses and listen closely to Jason. It's something that many dog training classes and books don't ever talk about--and if they do it's always seems to be a one-sided discussion. I'm developing a relationship with Jason. He is paying as much attention to me as I am to him.

The basis of this relationship is trust. That trust has been built through the consistent operant conditioning that Jason has done. Good things happen to me when I'm around Jason. I focus on him, I get rewarded. I do the things he asks of me, I get rewarded. I am never yelled at or punished for these behaviors. I learn to trust that when Jason and other humans are around, good things happen to me. With this knowledge I can move through the world with a lot of ease. I am curious. I explore. I meet new people with an easy attitude and fearless nature.

Despite being a generally gentle dog, Jason has discovered on a few occasions that when a new and potentially dangerous situation crops up, I will march right in front of him, stick my tail straight out, raise the hair down the center of my back giving me a fierce mohawk, and growl for all I'm worth. I will protect Jason. I'm learning something else--I'm learning that Jason does the same thing. He is willing to put himself between me and danger. He keeps me safe. I keep him safe. It's a reciprocal relationship.

Embedded in this is a message that Jason is just starting to understand (he can be a little slow, no?) With this deep trust comes a flow in the dog/human relationship. This is much more complex that the conversation that is usually had about the dog/human relationship (if the conversation is had at all). One popular believe is that being pack animals, dogs need a leader that is always dominant. The human needs to be this leader, and needs to unquestionably be in charge. The dog must unquestioningly be submissive.

As a psychologist, Jason has always found this to be rather suspicious. He has sat with people in a helping role for seventeen years. These relationships have been reciprocal. Sometimes he is in charge, sometimes he is not. Sometimes he leads, sometimes he follows. Sometimes he jumps out in front and will fiercely protect his clients from danger, other times his clients will reach out and protect him. He follows this dance in psychotherapy closely. Being in the role of psychologist there is an inequity in power: the psychologist directs this give and take process and is ultimately responsible for keeping his clients safe. Jason decides when it is appropriate to follow, and gladly does so when it is in the best interests of his client. He also decides when he needs to lead. He also does that in the best interests of his client too.

Being a little slow (did I say that already?), Jason is discovering the same thing with dogs.  Dominance and submission isn't an either/or thing. Being a wise leader, Jason is learning how to dance with me.  He's learning that sometimes he's in charge, and sometimes I am in charge. Sometimes he decides, sometimes I do.

Being the human, he gets to decide when I am in charge. He sets limits to protect me from danger. Like a wise leader, he knows that at times it is reasonable and safe for me to make my own decisions and at other times it is not. I trust that he will step in front of me and protect me from danger. I also trust that sometimes I can be left to my own devices.

This is why I'm learning to listen to Jason even when I'd rather not. We are building a relationship. I know he keeps me protected. Still, the squirrels are powerful creatures. That's why I am always on a leash when Jason cannot fully be assured that I am protected from danger. He also doesn't leave food sitting on the floor since he knows I'll ignore him. I am after all, a dog!

What have you done to build your relationship with your dog?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Maggie the Huntress

I find the darndest things while walking. Usually I hunt down children with ice cream cones, sticks, or people who need my puppy love. Today was different: I located this turtle resting in a courtyard on Linden Street.

Jason wasn't amused when I stuck my nose in the shell. I thought it was a good idea. What if turtle needed to be rescued?