Asking A Lot, #stayhome style

Take a shower. Get dressed. Stoke the fire. Make a To Do list. Staying home isn’t new to me. I’ve been living a modified #stayhome lifestyle for years. For me, it’s been both economic and psychological. If I go out, I tend to spend money. Since I make very little money, staying home (and staying away from online seductresses like Etsy and Amazon) has been a conscious choice. Save gas, save cash, make it myself or go without — these have been the rallying cries of the Bramleywolves for the past 6 or so years.

A huge part of that lifestyle has been writing. Writing for clients, writing this blog, writing short stories, but front and center – writing my book. The Book. Working on the book has occupied a central part of my Bramleylife for the past 6 years. Or not working on the book and feeling the need to work on the book (which is a huge component of writing).

And now it’s done. You may buy The Book. It’s out of my hands, and available on the shelves. To get your copy, click here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0868Y7Z9J (e-book version) or here, for the paperback: https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B086BC11HZ?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860

It’s a strange feeling, being finished. I mean, now the real work begins. Writing is the fun part. It’s the beautiful part, for me. I love words, and I love thinking about my dogs, life, nature, wildlife, and how to be the best human I can be. I love the process of finding the words to share what is so often wordless. Wonder, joy, love… for me the process of writing is like a funky internal rodeo in which amorphous concepts get rounded up, hog-tied, and branded. Hmmm, maybe that’s a little violent. Rounded up and hugged, smooched on the nose, and given an embroidered collar with a pretty daisy on it. Ok, that’s kind of cloying. But the search and the consideration, the trying on of phrases and paragraphs… it’s joyful. It’s the shower in which my soul belts out Born To Run, off key and off tempo but enthusiastic as fuck. Eventually I find the phrase that works, years go by, and the book gets written.

The cool thing about art (writing or any other form) is that sharing it is the point. Art is by nature communal, although its creation is often a solo act. The sharing is at once vulnerable and triumphant; my fervent prayer is not just that others like it, but that it connects. Strikes the chord, hits the nerve, touches the soul… and somehow feels helpful. I guess that’s the big goal. Not only do I hope that readers are entertained by Asking A Lot, although that would be enough, but I hope that readers are somehow helped to feel a sense of community – that they are not alone in how they think, feel, or get by. If I can help one reader heave that sigh of relief and say “Whew! So I’m not the only one who feels that way?!?” I’ll be delighted. I wrote the book in part to sort my own life out, but also to give voice to what I just don’t hear enough – simple commonsense approaches to life with dogs.   

And here we are, sharing a moment in history in which we are all struggling to adjust to constant anxiety, questions, loss, and tremendous uncertainty. How long will this social distancing last? When can I have my life back? What will my world look like when this is all over? Are you already sick and tired of thinking that phrase: “when this is all over?” I had a beautiful heart to heart last night (over Messenger) with a friend struggling to be productive and focused during this time. She said to me “how can I focus on MY work? It seems petty and unimportant in the grand scheme of things.” I hear ya. The hubris of releasing a book about dogs and nature now, in the midst of a pandemic, seems incredibly small and selfish. Trying to promote the book and ask people to purchase it seems almost absurd.

And yet… here’s what I hope: that reading my book (and any other book! READ ALL THE BOOKS!) will give you some respite from the uncertainties and relief from the dreadful feeling in the pit of your stomach. Come with me on my morning walk, laugh at my ridiculous conundrums, and let yourself have a few moments of escape. Yesterday, Peeka killed a dead mink on the morning walk. Truly, I can’t make this stuff up. But I can shake my head and laugh, and so can you… even while you’re worried.

I’ll do some author events too. Facebook Live and Instagram Live: I can do a reading, answer questions, and yell at my dogs and Tom “live” and we can build an Asking A Lot online community of support. Heck, we already have one every Friday morning on Facebook!

Read, enjoy, and if you feel moved to do so, share! Your social media shares can help Asking A Lot reach beyond our inner circle and into the larger dog community. That would be a dream come true for me and the gang.

Be safe, hang in there, read, and connect. We’re all in this together.

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Of Dogs and Porcupines

A picture’s worth a thousand words. And when that picture is a trail camera photo of your porcupine-addicted dog standing calmly several feet away from a porcupine clambering into his den, it’s also worth a few hundred bucks in vet bills.

We live in the heart of Porcupine Country. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a porcupine-enriched ecosystem. This two-thousand or so acre area we call home is deciduous forest, farmed for decades before being sold to the New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection as buffer land for the NYC watershed. It’s a mix of maple, oak, beech, and hornbeam, with a few open meadows being taken over by hawthorn and blackberry. It’s used recreationally for hunting, trapping, and hiking. For reasons that a wildlife biologist or ecosystem scientist may be able to explain, it is an amazingly porcupine-rich place. We also have heaps of foxes, fisher, chipmunks, red squirrels, blackberries, bobcats and bears. But the porcupine population is gigantic – unusually so.

Porcupines are rodents. Squint and you can see how similar they are to beaver, the largest rodents in North America. Beaver are buck-toothed aquatic rodents equipped with a wide, flat, hairless tail. Porkies are buck-toothed arboreal rodents sporting wide, flat, quill-covered tails. Both flip or flick their tails when distressed. Beaver splash the surface of the water when they do so; porcupines often smack the faces of the scary marauders they are fending off when they use a tail slap.

Porcupines cannot shoot or throw their quills. The quills are barbed and hook into attackers. They are pulled loose from the porcupine only by attaching to something (or someone) else. I’ve gotten quills stuck in my hands and legs many times while removing them from my dogs. They hurt going in and they hurt coming out.

The most common wisdom regarding dogs and porcupines is that some dogs learn to leave porkies alone, and some do not. Some dogs never learn despite repeated encounters and some only get quilled once. Some never get quilled at all. Peeka has been quilled very thoroughly more than once. She has been unlucky: one of her more awful quill experiences came after the porcupine she barked at from a distance fell out of a tree and hit her in the head on the way down. Yup, Peeka broke his fall. Another encounter ended badly for all – Peeka killed the porcupine and endured three subsequent surgeries as quills migrated and needed mitigation. Some were removed from her eye socket.

But we live in a porcupine-enriched world in which daily interactions are unavoidable. You see, with five dogs and a steep wooded landscape filled with nooks and crannies (fallen logs, rock ledges, hollow trees, etc.), it isn’t possible to see what every dog is doing at all times. Tonshi, one of our foster dogs, was quilled at 10 p.m. when we went out for a pee break. She was out of sight for about 20 seconds. She returned to the pool of light by the front door sporting a quill beard. One of the local porcupines lived quite literally in our driveway for the better part of 2019. Tom and I would look up from dinner to see him strolling past the front windows. If we wanted to avoid all contact, we’d have to move, or never let the dogs out.

But it’s a bold claim I’ve made, that my dogs come face to face with porcupines on a regular basis without any quills shed. Because there’s no prickly evidence, and most of the time it happens when I’m not looking, it’s been hard to know for absolutely certain if that’s true. The trail cam photo is evidence – hard fast proof – that what I’ve believed all these years is true.

This evidence of calm, restrained behavior around a moving rodent – Peeka is obviously hanging back in the photo and not barking, not play bowing, not harassing the porcupine in any way – gives me pause. What do we really know about how our dogs comport themselves when we’re not there? It’s fascinating to ponder. What do dogs do when humans are not directing them, not ordering them around, not mitigating their interactions with each other, other species, and humans? For years I have been claiming that this is the norm, that my dogs have been taught to leave the locals alone, and that they do… with very few and very dramatic exceptions.

We can’t monitor and intercede at every turn… at least I can’t. It’s simply not possible.

I’ve been writing this post for days, juggling laundry, cooking, dog walks, and other interruptions. I started when I saw the trail cam photo. Today, several days later, Bindi took off at 6 a.m. only 3 steps from the front door. I hustled everyone else inside, grabbed a flashlight, and ran in the direction of her barking. Sure enough – a porcupine waddled into the pool of light, Bindi only inches from its tail. She hung back just enough to remain out of reach, and Franklin (I’m pretty sure it was Franklin, our recent porcupine resident of the wood shop soffit who has since moved to the rock ledge) ambled along, piloerection in full swing. I recalled Bindi. She obeyed. She tagged my fingertips and hurtled back to Franklin. This game continued: She obeyed my recall but shot back down the trail to monitor Franklin’s departure twice more. Third times a charm. She came, she stayed with me, and I can only guess that she decided breakfast (indoors, quill-free) was a good idea.

I can’t prevent these encounters. We’d never leave the house. The only thing I can do is train recall under distraction until we all turn blue. I believe in this kind of training, but sometimes I don’t even know I need to issue the recall command. What then? What happens when the dogs are on their own without direction from me, facing porcupines, deer, bears, coyotes, foxes, and so on? Because I think I can assume if we see Peeka on the trail cam with a porcupine, that’s the tip of the iceberg. That’s just the one time she got caught.

I don’t exactly have an answer. It’s food for thought. What do dogs do when we don’t insist they trade their agenda for ours? How much do they rely upon instinct and to what degree do they refer back to previous commands, previous training sessions, previous painful encounters? I’m sure it varies by breed, individual temperament, and other variables I haven’t even considered. But it’s fascinating.

Peeka’s and Bindi’s behavior definitely earns them the label of Good Dogs. The choices they made in those situations were good choices by any human standard. But we all know Peeka is not a good dog. Not really. She’s the minimally rehabbed offspring of a feral rat, with a bad attitude, serious mental problems, and no bite inhibition. She’s definitely not a good dog, no matter how you slice it. Bindi is a puppy, part terrier and part German shepherd. She is a prey-driven hot mess of a girl, more excited about hunting voles than playing with her border collie buddy when both opportunities are present. But both of them made pro-social, Happy Mama decisions WITHOUT ME THERE. I guess to me that’s just … well… fascinating. I don’t know what else to call it. It’s fascinating to think that perhaps somewhere deep in the recesses of their brains, there’s a piece of Mama that resides, giving orders and setting limits, even when I’m not physically present. Much like human children, somehow, someday, they choose to do the right thing without adult assistance or threats and bribes.

How do you make sense of good behavior that happens without your bidding?

The trail cam photo — Franklin and Peeka
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Bindi – Pupdates from the Trenches

It’s March and that means mud season is upon us. The pond is thawing and the opportunity to track critters in the snow is ending (although it is going out with a bang: I tracked an otter up and over the mountain the other day!). It also means Bindi, our newest pup, is completing her first revolution around the sun. We don’t know when she was born but I guessed that March was probably her birth month, given her age when Foster Mama Jan scooped her up.

We’ve enjoyed Bindi’s presence in our home and pack for 6 months. She arrived here in September, a donkey-eared black puppy with that adorable wonky paw. She has grown like a weed and filled out, but her ears have also grown. All those predictions that she’d grow into her enormous satellite dish ears prove incorrect -she is still sporting ridiculous ears on a cute little black and gold brindled body.

She has been so easy, so relaxed, so happy, it’s been hard to reconcile her quirks. Now, at the six month mark, I’m ready to call it: she fits right in. That means she is both perfect and flawed. And I’m finally ready to write about her issues.

Bindi is a fearful dog. She is timid. I have no idea why. She was found very young, and fostered by a champion foster mama, in a warm, loving, safe, fun household. Her first 8 weeks or so may not have been great, but since then she has had nothing but kind structure and loving guidance, first from Mama Jan, and then from me and my pack. She is confident and playful at home with her packmates and me, the picture of a normal pup of her age. But the moment Tom gets home from work, she is distressed. She barks and hides and scoots away from him if — god forbid – he approaches her.

She is timid when meeting all new people and dogs. She warms up to dogs quickly, especially if they are submissive. She is all hackles and deep-voiced barking at first, but within 2 minutes, she is relaxed and playing. Humans? She’s ok with women but not friendly. She will take treats but doesn’t really want to interact. She will not approach men. Forget about it.

She is fabulous at the animal hospital and settles as if she’s home. Sleeps, even, while waiting for the vet to examine her. If the vet and I chat, she flops to the floor and takes another nap. She can walk nicely on a leash in stores or busy streets, but could not be cajoled or dragged into a friend’s home. That was too scary.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re not worried and we’re not unhappy. This is fine. I’d be stunned if a dog without issues called our pack home. A little wonky paw and timidity is no big deal. But I do have a few thoughts about it.

First, the temptation to assume that a man was abusive to her is natural, but I don’t necessarily buy that. Maybe. But maybe not. Her fear of men may be due to something other than a past experience. It could be something in the present – scent, size, vibe, or something else. Men are different from women (you may call me Captain Obvious), and those differences might be enough to tip sensitive little Bindi Loo Who into fear.

You see, even dogs with great pasts have issues. It happens. Just like some humans are more nervous and some are more trusting, I think it’s just her temperament. The quirks and idiosyncrasies are what make her who she is, and I think to a certain degree, this is just how she came from the factory. Maybe there was a bad experience that turned the volume up on a pup that was already predisposed to fear. Maybe not. We’ll never know.

How to handle a dog that is fearful of a family member is an interesting window into all the relationships in the home. Tom is accustomed to forging his own relationship with the dogs, separate and different from my relationship with them. He is also well versed in flux – he’s watched dogs grow and change in our care. The most dramatic is Peeka, but all of them change as they age. As do Tom and I.

Tom asked me what he should do. I counseled patience and distance. Don’t approach. Don’t ask her to make friends. Don’t push. Let her approach you. Let her do this in her own way, on her own time frame. Be uninterested and uninteresting. That conveys safety.

Tom calls her, sticks a hand out, follows her when she runs from him, and bribes her with food.

I have to laugh. He’s been pretty successful. She still runs from him and barks at him, but she also approaches and receives his ministrations graciously at certain times of the day. She seems to like him best if he is wearing his blue bathrobe. Go figure. If he is sitting still, focused on a meal or computer work, she will nose flip him… especially if I tell her to go haunt a house. She is changing, a lot more slowly that I would have expected for such an overall robust dog, but I expect she will eventually accept him with the same affection and comfort as she accepts me.

I sought a puppy to adopt with the expressed goal of having an easy, “issue-free” new pack member. I wanted a nice dog, one I could bring with me on hikes or in public places, one that would be a healing salve on the wounds inflicted by life with Peeka and Brody. I got a gimpy, fearful, barking fruit bat. And I couldn’t be happier.

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The Cop Out – A Post for Trainers

It’s the first day of school, and you’re the teacher. You run a tight ship and the kids in your class do well. You know what you’re doing.

This morning you are welcoming a new student into your classroom. You don’t know anything about this new student — no information about the child, his home, or his family is available.

When he walks in and sits down, you can see something is off. You’re not sure what. His eye contact is fleeting and he doesn’t answer when you speak to him. In fact, he seems both afraid of you and oddly defiant. He won’t interact with you or any of the other students. Within the first few minutes, he’s broken about half a dozen classroom rules.

At this point, you have choices about how you attempt to manage your new student. You can withhold everything: bathroom breaks, food, water, etc. until he starts interacting more appropriately. Remember, nothing in life is free. You could try cajoling him with M&Ms to change his tune. You could just watch and wait and see what he does next. Given your power and control over the classroom, you have lots of options.

But wouldn’t you like to know if he speaks the same language as you or not? Or if he is able to hear? Or if his mom died last night in a car accident? Was he in the car? Is he injured? Is he in shock? Does he have a traumatic brain injury? Or was that car accident five years ago and his injuries were minor? Has he traveled from a war-torn country and is here living with relatives he barely knows? Or is he the spoiled rotten son of the local aristocracy?

Would knowing any of this information assist you in reaching him and working with him? Would any of it change your approach?

***

On the surface, it sounds sensible to say, “I train the dog in front of me.” It sounds like a bandwagon we can all ride together. Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t get mired in pity. Don’t get caught up in the story. The dog in front of you will tell you all you need to know. Just be the leader the dog clearly needs. The rest will unfold.

As a psychotherapist, I know how important telling a story can be. The very act of telling can be cathartic and healing. That doesn’t mean we turn the story into gospel, however. Using the story to excuse or ignore unacceptable behavior isn’t helpful. The story isn’t a prediction of future behavior, and relying on the story as a reason to stay stuck in an unhealthy pattern is unfair and lazy. But none of those pitfalls are reasons to dismiss owners who need to tell.

I’ve had trainers say to me, point blank, “the story doesn’t matter.” I’ve heard trainers say “I train the dog in front of me,” which is shorthand for “I don’t want to hear another sob story about who abused your poor fur baby.” Some of the time, these trainers may be correct. They may do just fine with a Peeka or a Brody without knowing anything about the dogs. But they also might fail, wasting time, money, and hope. Not to mention getting injured.

The thing is, people who adopt dogs with a poignant backstory need to tell it. Trainers need to work well with human beings, so that these humans can work well with their dogs. Dismissing an owner who needs to tell their dog’s story is shooting yourself in the foot. It is a trainer’s job to listen, hear the critical parts, and tolerate being with the discomfort. Knowing a dog has been harmed is painful, but tolerating the emotions and then working with the dog and his human is the trainer’s role. Doing so teaches owners that we can feel and still make wise decisions, guided by emotions and knowledge, technique and sound methods. We can train with love, structure, and boundaries, providing clear guidance and safety. We can use our head and our heart together, in concert. Hearing wrenching stories is part of the job. Role modeling compassion and empathy while making sound decisions is part of training dogs. It’s a key aspect of teaching owners.

Ignoring the story is hubris. Telling an owner their story is not important is not only unkind, it’s also incorrect. The story is terribly important and beautiful. In it lies the seed of the bond. The owner is telling you who they are and how they see themselves in relation to the dog. This is information you, as a trainer, really need.

Being present to hear and feel the hurt and harm other humans have inflicted upon a dog is, quite simply, god’s work. It is beyond important. It is necessary. It will make us ache and weep, but it will also make us present. Being present sets us up to then take the next step: to provide what the dog needs.

You can’t know whether to be tough or lenient, strict or a softie, easy going or a total drill sergeant, if you haven’t been open and present to receive the whole picture. You can’t know how to deal with that new kid in your class if you haven’t found out what’s wrong. Does he need hearing aids or detention? You need information, and that information is in the story.

You need to be vulnerable and present to find out. As a trainer, you need to listen to the owner when they recite what seems like a rehearsed litany of wrongs the dog has been subjected to. You need to sort through the nonsense, and sift out the nuggets of truth. And then you need to step up to the plate and teach that owner how to meet the dog’s need, even if it isn’t easy. But you’ll never be able to do that if you haven’t truly listened to the dog and the owner.

Long story short, falling back on the “I train the dog in front of me” line is a cop out. Strong emotions can support bonding and training, but we can’t deal with them appropriately if we’re too scared to feel them. Feeling, being present, and being vulnerable are critical components of bonding… and training.

If you find yourself sighing and rolling your eyes at yet another canine tale of woe, ask yourself what it would cost you to be present and feel. We steel ourselves against feeling to avoid the pain, but when you let yourself feel the pain, you discover the answers. You have more to gain than to lose.

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Expect Dog Hair and Delays!

T SHIRT NEWS: TWO WEEKS NOTICE!

Howdy T shirt buyers! I haz news!


I ordered 2 colors and saw the shirts yesterday. There are pink shirts (turquoise ink), and eggplant shirts (pale yellow ink). They are 100% cotton, made in the USA, and are lightweight. Same brand and same style as the red, white, and blue Mica Movie shirts (but a lighter weight than the gray Mica shirts). The pink color is a rich medium pink. Not muted or “dusty” at all, it’s a lovely, strong and bright mid-tone pink. The turquoise ink will be a gorgeous contrast. The eggplant color is sold as “oxblood black,” but it is NOT black at all. It’s a dark reddish purple, very saturated, and truly – it’s nice. It’s unique, not a maroon, not a red, not a purple, but a super cool color. The pale yellow ink will really pop. Both the eggplant and the yellow are more muted or “dusty” tones. I can’t get you photos … so you’ll have to take my word for it!


The image is the Bramley Wolf Press logo. It looks freaking awesome on the shirts.

Design by Kimberly McGuire


I’m using a local, family-owned print shop (Catskill Mountain Embroidery and Screenprinting), right here in Delhi, NY. They are extremely experienced and provide fabulous customer service, and do a wonderful job with price.


Because I’m using the local shop, I had to buy a bunch of shirts. This is where it gets a little wonky. I’ll have a stash of shirts. I’ll sell them. Some sizes will run out faster than others. I’ll have to reorder, but I’ll need to sell enough stock to have the money to reorder… blah blah blah. Basically: be patient with me. I am not a store. I’ll do my absolute best to give retail store customer service, but remember… I’m just a crazy dog lady sitting in a house in upstate NY. I might get distracted in the middle of filling your order because someone needs a potty break. I’ll be as fast, professional, and buttoned up as I possibly can, but expect dog hair and delays… then you can be pleasantly surprised if I’m on track!


Sizes: S-XL, and XXXL. I didn’t buy any XXL this time around.


This run will be first come, first served. Paying for a shirt reserves you a shirt. The shirts are $20 each, $5 for shipping. I will be happy to discount a bulk order — message me if you’d like more than 2 shirts and we can talk! I can take paypal or venmo — paypal email address is purplemayajaya@yahoo.com.


The shirts should be ready in about 2 weeks (roughly March 1, 2020). I’ll update y’all as I know more.

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Acceptance

Imagine getting a new job. Let’s pretend your new boss is eager to work well with you, and for you to work well with her.

From the outset, however, you feel like your boss wants you to be different than how you naturally are. You might figure this is just the learning curve, and it’s pretty steep. You keep telling yourself it’s newness, or nerves, and that things will get better, but it feels deeper. No matter what you do, you feel like who you are, at your core, is not acceptable. Your boss wants you to be different, fundamentally different, from who you are. Trying to do the right thing helps a bit, and each time you actually manage to complete a task the way your boss wants you to, you receive your paycheck. But you can feel it — your boss is never actually happy with you, and you, just plain old you being you never makes her happy. She always seems at least a little bit disappointed in you.

If you express yourself at work, either verbally or by acting out, your boss punishes you. You learn pretty quickly that self-expression is a bad idea. If you just try to zone out and disengage and be content by yourself, you get harangued until you interact more. But you can’t interact with her the way she wants you to, so you just make her more disappointed and angry, and you feel more and more hopeless.

You might start to wonder why you were hired, since you’re definitely not what the boss wants. You probably feel like it’s pointless to try harder, since all your past efforts have come up short. No matter what you do right, you’re always getting schooled, guided, forced, or bribed to be different. It reaches the point where you find it hard to trust those good moments, few as they are, when you’re actually getting praised. The praise is only for what you did – the action, not you.

Humans can look for new jobs. We can move out of toxic marriages, cut off dysfunctional relationships, and if economic conditions permit, leave soul-killing jobs.

Dogs cannot.

I read a lot of dog trainer blogs, watch videos, and listen in on Facebook groups. I have picked up on a theme among some trainers and their disciples. Leadership is being confused with acting like the boss in our example above. To all those people struggling to be a good leader for their dog, and in the process being unsuccessful and dissatisfied with your dog’s progress, I ask: can you accept that your dog is trying her hardest and doing her best? What if what you’re getting, right now, today, with crappy leash walking and broken stays, is the very best your dog will ever offer you? Can you accept your dog as he or she is?

That’s worth repeating. Can you accept your dog as he or she is? What if all your efforts to make Buddy be different is making you both feel exhausted and lousy about the relationship? Can you stop demanding that the dog be different and accept the dog as he or she is?

This doesn’t mean you don’t train your dog. This doesn’t mean you let your dog engage in dangerous activities like running into the road. This doesn’t mean you throw up your hands and do nothing with the dog. But it does mean that everything you do comes from a place of truly knowing and accepting the dog for who he or she is. Maybe not loving it – that may or may not ever be a part of the picture. I have known some very unlovable dogs.

But acceptance is different. Accepting a dog as he or she is means you adjust your goals. You manage some situations because your dog simply can’t. You can drill, train, demand, cajole, and bang your head against a wall but you won’t change who your dog is. You won’t be able to erase the factory default setting. You can buy new leashes, clickers, collars of every type, harnesses, and whips and chains (not literal ones!) but all you’ll do is end up with a ton of stuff you don’t use. You can pay trainer after trainer, and attend every class your local area offers, but your dog will still be who he or she is.

You see, a bit like a bad boyfriend, or the gem you end up marrying, the innate characteristics don’t change because of love or pressure. Ask anyone who ever believed a partner would change for them. No amount of love, nookie, or verbal bludgeoning ever made anyone change. Pick the partner with whom you click, because no matter how much he or she may even want to… people can’t fundamentally change who they are to please other people in their lives. And neither can dogs.

Accepting your dog won’t make him or her more biddable or more cooperative. It won’t earn you blue ribbons. It won’t be the magic ingredient that suddenly turns your relationship around and firmly places you in the leadership role. What it will do is make all the effort sting a little bit less. It changes the definition of success. It changes your goals.

And it changes your biochemistry. Accepting your dog (or your spouse or kid) for who he or she is will reduce stress, and that will change your hormonal secretions when you’re around your dog, and guess what? Your dog will be able to tell. You will feel different to be around. You can’t fake it. You can’t pretend. You have to do it for real, with your whole heart. But the results will be better.

The truth is that we click with some dogs and not others. Monique Anstee writes about intuitive dogs in her book As a Dog Thinketh, but I think sometimes it’s not just the dog that’s intuitive. I think there are also some people who are more fluent in Dog, more open to receiving dog essence, and just plain “get” dogs. Maybe not all dogs, but those intuitive folks are champs at accepting their own dogs. And when you have a dog that seems to truly “get” you and vice versa, it’s pure magic. It flows, it’s easy, and it’s like having a best friend that finishes your sentences for you.

If you’re seeking that, know that you have to offer it. You have to be available for connection by being present without demands. You have to spend time NOT training, not asking anything, not working your dog, not stimulating him, not doing all the things your Instagram guru told you to do, but just by being with the dog. Being present and accepting your dog without expectation, desire, or need. No pressure, no goals, no hopes or fears. Just acceptance.

Thoughts?

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If Self Doubt Was a Sport, I’d Be a Champion

I’ve been waking up early lately – 4:30 or 5 a.m. has become typical. I don’t get up, but lie there going over yesterday’s high points, or plans for the day, or ways to get revenge on people that irritate me… you know, all the normal stuff people do when they wake up too early.

Yesterday the dogs and I had an especially fun play time. I was thinking about it in a few different ways this morning, and that sparked the desire to share.

First, though, play time requires some explanation and description. Four of the five dogs come outside with me. Cinder stays indoors because she is the fun police. Apparently it’s illegal to have any fun at all around Cinder, so she gets private play time. Nice and safe.

Hawkitt needs to exercise. My role is to facilitate this exercise and get out of the way. We play fetch alternating balls and frisbees, and each throw is earned. Hawk must obey commands and demonstrate self-control. Yesterday I tried issuing commands without speaking – just moving my mouth. Hawk had to read my lips. He also has to respond to whispers and shouts, and commands issued when my back is turned or I’m lying face down on the ground. He has to hop in and out of a trailer, touch the other dogs with his paws, ignore the puppy gnawing on his elbow, climb up a stack of tires, and anything else I can think of, in addition to come, down, sit, around, back up, and speak. For Hawkitt, this is all fantastic. He could go all day. I’ve never met a dog happier to team up and do fun stuff. He requires 100% of my focus and attention.

Brody has to play fetch. He is a lot that four year old kid whose parents signed him up for T-ball because the outfits are so cute. He got stuck in the outfield and he’s wandering. He’s a flower-picking butterfly-chaser. He’s eating poop. He’s lying down, chewing his ball. He’s whining and barking at his ball as he pushes it around with his paws. He will come when I call him, and chases the ball each time I throw it, but then… he needs help staying on task. He requires 100% of my focus and attention.

Bindi, the puppy, is eager to Do All The Things. She wants to chase Brody and Hawkitt, eat poop, play biteyface-tackle with Peeka, and fetch and tug with me. Her favorite game is Keepaway and she is a master. Despite the wonky paw, she is incredibly athletic. She and Hawkitt have developed an acceptance of taking turns that I sort of taught and sort of just insisted upon. I do something with Hawk – Bindi sits and waits. Then I turn to Bindi and do something with her. By now Hawk is back with the ball or frisbee. He stands still and waits. And so on. Bindi requires 100% of my focus and attention.

Peeka watches. She moves as little as possible and needs to be left alone. Tom calls her “Inertia.” A body at rest…. She asks nothing of me. She monitors the perimeter from her perch and I keep an eye on her because she is the early detection system. Dangerous intruders are visible in her facial expression at a half a mile away. Snowplows, UPS trucks, chickadees in the spruce trees, ravens across the street… all dangerous intruders. She is the only dangerous dog of the bunch so I need to know where she is and what she’s doing at all times. Thankfully she doesn’t move around much.

Each dog has specific strengths, specific talents. Hawk is just a perfect Dutch shepherd: he’s good at everything, and does it all with enthusiasm. Peeka has the most incredible nose I’ve ever experienced. If the dogs lose a ball, Peeka could find it in half the time the others take… including Hawkitt, who is more motivated, focused, and driven than Peeka, but Peeks has zero interest in helping. She’d rather snooze. Bindi is kinetic. She will leap and launch herself for the sheer joy of it. She pivots and shoots off in new directions, playing keepaway or chase like she’s an agility star. All three could be contenders in the dog sport world. Hawkie would kick ass in whatever it’s called this year (schutzhund is out. IPO might be in. IPG may be correct. PSA is another sport. Not mondio ring or French ring, though. Ring sports are a different thing.). Peeka could clean up at scent work… if you could entice her to move. And Bindi is absolutely already earned her title in the combination sport: driveway agility plus biteyface-tackle. Brody… nope. Just nope. Not him.

Because the dogs and I exist at this moment in history, we have access to ginormous quantities of information about dog sports via social media, I know way too much about all the things I’m not doing with them. Lest anyone misunderstand, let me be explicit: dog sports are great. I mean, I’m no expert since I’ve never participated in any, but from what I can see and what friends tell me – dogs and humans alike definitely gain a great deal from participating. I am not “against” sports, and I’m not critical of those who do them. I think if that works for you and your lifestyle, your family, your budget, and your dogs… there is nothing wrong or bad about sports at all. Quite the contrary.

I’ll admit it, sometimes I wonder if doing some sort of organized sport would be “better” than what happens here on the mountain. I do get sucked into comparing myself and my gang to what I see out there in the social media world of dogs, and I do engage in soul searching. Should we be doing more? Do I owe it to them?  

It’s an odd feeling to be out of sync with what sure seems like the dominant paradigm. I don’t recognize myself in the dog world on social media. I do it differently, from feeding to exercising to training. And, truth be told, I’m not seduced by what I see. I don’t yearn for my life or my dogs to look more like anyone else’s. I second guess myself, and I am plagued with questions about what I can do and what I should do… but I always circle back to what I AM doing. What I do well. How the dogs look, act, feel. And that’s where I take heart. They are vibrant, healthy, happy, fun, obedient and well mannered, and full of beans (maybe not all of them get A+ in all those categories all the time, but we hold steady at good enough most of the time.).

Talent is not an imperative. Humans or dogs or any other species… talent is not a clarion call to serve. Finding peace and sharing joy are imperatives. Meeting needs is imperative. But competing in something because you happen to possess significant innate skill? I vote no.

Can I meet my dogs’ needs without competing in anything? Yes. Totally, definitely, 100% yes. Can I satisfy Hawkitt, Peeka, and Bindi without competing in anything? Yes. No question about it, no discussion: we have a blast, we work hard and play hard, they learn, grow, and blossom, and they sleep the comatose slumber of the sated. They show me with gorgeous behavior and an ever-increasing repertoire of beautifully executed commands that they are satisfied, from the tips of their toes to the depths of their soul.

The dogs don’t care. They might really enjoy all the trappings that competition would provide. They might not. They might shine… they might fizzle. I think we all know how Peeka would handle being asked to do anything in public. If there were men present, Bindi would spend her agility run hiding under the table. And Hawk? He would do whatever it took to get me to throw the goddamn ball. He would be oblivious to all the trappings of a competition, just like he is oblivious to the puppy biting his elbow or jumping on top of him while he runs through his drills.

Self-doubt is my sport, and gnawing uncertainty is my challenge. Letting go of expectations about what it means to own a dog (or five), even high drive dog/s, and simply responding to my dogs is where it’s at, at least for me. The worry, the questioning, the doubt seeps in but I think that’s part of the human condition in this modern age, whether it’s dogs or human physical health, mental health, nutrition, fitness, eco-consciousness, home organization, or any other arena in which everyone else seems to be better-happier-cleaner-tidier-thinner-more-productive etc. than me. Developing the confidence to shrug all that shit off, be happy for those that are doing more with their dogs, and head back outside with my goofballs is my plan. I don’t know what we’ll “work on” today, but I know it won’t feel like work for any of us.

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