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.