Aug 092016

Isabella GSD

Earlier this week, one of those giant, Florida, summer afternoon downpours demanded we reschedule our dog training session. I’ll admit to mixed emotions. On one hand, I had been looking forward to showing off our progress, feedback from our coach and getting the next set of assignments. On the other? The accidental drowning of an iPhone in a raincoat pocket helped me discover a strong preference for watching those storms while indoors and dry.

To make the best use of our extra practice days, I asked the trainer a couple of questions about working with my shepherd. Isabella (yes, that’s her real name) and I have a complicated history. She has never felt completely safe on-leash when there are strange dogs around and, while we are making progress in many areas, I wasn’t satisfied with my work on this problem. I did not want to move backward to where she gets anxious, I get nervous and the whole scene gets ugly in a hurry.

[Tweet “She gets anxious, I get nervous and the whole scene gets ugly in a hurry.”]

I’m a big fan of layered, generalized learning. I get pretty happy when, for example, I can apply something I learned at yoga to my dog-training practice and vice versa. Or when my trainer reinforces lessons I learned (and taught) back when I worked as a therapist.

I explained to our coach that I’d achieved some success keeping Isabella more engaged with me than with the neighborhood dogs who sound off as we pass their fenced yards. “Find the edge of her bubble and work there,” was the advice I got.

[Tweet “Find the edge of her bubble and work there.”]

Everybody’s got a comfort zone — even our dogs. And each of us is different. What may be a comfortable social space for you may feel nosey and intrusive to me. Another thing we know about personal boundaries is that they vary according to time, place or situation. We feel a completely different level of comfort and intimacy with our partners and children than we do with fellow concert-goers or alone in a dark alley. Isabella can stay focused on the same side of the street as the low-energy Labrador but needs a bit more distance from the shepherd/pitbull duo guarding the neighbor’s landscape business. Duh.

[Tweet “Healthy boundaries enhance relationships and increase confidence.”]

Healthy boundaries enhance relationships and increase confidence. Hmmm. I can do this. I can say “no” to people or situations that don’t fit my goals. And I can do the same for my dog. It’s a decision that leaves so much more room for “yes.”


Do you need establishing better boundaries with your #innercritic? Check out The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head



 August 9, 2016  Posted by  Dog Wisdom, Happiness, Thinking 14 Responses »
Jul 272016

If we’re connected on Instagram or Facebook, you know I’ve been doing some dog training. I found a wonderful teacher who is willing and able to meet us where we are, we’ve got homework and, unlike parts of my academic career, I’ve been diligent about doing it. And, as the photos will attest, the dogs and I are having a blast.

While I love to learn new things, I struggle to balance the beginner mind I need to participate in a course with my ego. Ego wants me to abandon everything to become “the best.” It (that pesky ego) usually also gives me a two or three-week deadline as well. Fortunately, I have partners in this venture and we are practicing for about 10 minutes, twice a day. In other words, I asked for help and am following the directions. It works.

And, while skills mastery is cool, I’m noticing some other things.

Alex thinking

[Tweet “Confidence is catchy.”]

Confidence is catchy. Both of my dogs are rescues and came to us when they were almost a year old. Before that was some abuse and neglect. I had learned not to be one of those “oh-you-poor-baby-dog-moms” because I discovered it wasn’t good for them but I didn’t know how to increase their confidence. Turns out they’re a lot like humans: the larger the skill set the bigger the comfort zone.

She shep place

[Tweet “Overpayment is counterproductive.”]

Overpayment is counterproductive. We’re in the process of reviewing basic skills while learning lots of new things.  This process requires yummy treats. Apparently, I was using treats that were a little too tasty:  my shepherd was getting so excited she was skipping steps in order to “get paid” more quickly. When we switched to reward that is a better match for the task at hand (dry cookies instead of something with meat) she was able to slow down, focus on her job and perfect her skills.

Alex heeling attention[Tweet “To get attention we have to be interesting.”]

To get attention we have to be interesting. My little deaf dog is a rock star. He has always impressed us with his willingness and ability to learn. He loves to perform his tricks for visitors. But I was having trouble teaching him to heel. Even when it did “work,” it felt forced and awkward. That’s because only one of us was on board with the idea. As soon as I learned to get his attention? It’s a whole different ballgame. He’s curious about what’s coming next so, guess what? He’s looking at me,  giving me his attention. We’re communicating. Imagine that. Simple but not easy.

We’ve just started, so I’m sure they’ll be teaching me more. If you like, please use the comments to share about something simple you’ve learned.



 July 27, 2016  Posted by  Dog Wisdom 16 Responses »
May 052016

Argos (or Argus) was Ulysses’ hunting dog and the only creature to recognize the Greek hero when he returned home disguised as a beggar after 20 years of adventure.

Polish Hunting Dog

(Polish Hunting Dog Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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