Tuesday, 22 September 2015

ARE WE WORKING VERY HARD AT STANDING STILL?


A businessman was visiting a small village and one day went down to the pier just as a small fishing boat was coming back in from fishing out in the bay.
On the small boat were a few large Salmon. The businessman complimented the fisherman on the catch and asked how long it took to catch them. The fisherman replied "only a short time". The businessman then asked why he hadn’t stayed out longer and catch more fish.
The fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The businessman then asked what he did the rest of his time? “I lie late, fish a little, play a little with my dogs, take an afternoon nap with my wife, take a walk into the village at night and sit and watch the stars whilst sipping a glass of wine”. “I am very busy” said the fisherman.
The businessman scoffed and said “I have an MBA and could help you out”. “You should spend more time out fishing and with the proceeds from the bigger catch you could buy a bigger boat”. “From the profit made with the bigger boat and bigger catches you could buy several boats”. “Eventually you would own a fleet of boats". "Instead of selling your fish to a middle man you could sell directly to the processor, eventually penning your own cannery”. “You would control the product the process and the distribution”. “You would need to leave this small village and move to the city to run your expanding business”. 

The fisherman asked how long would this take? “15 - 20 years”, replied the businessman. “What then”, asked the fisherman.

“Thats the beauty of it”, says the businessman. “When the time was right you would float the company on the stock market and  sell the business making millions”.
“Millions” said the fisherman, “then what”?

The businessman said “Then you could retire to a small village with your family and dogs, lie late, go for strolls and take it easy watching the stars sipping a nice glass of wine”.

Monday, 21 September 2015

PERSONAL SPACE

I was out walking my dog this morning as usual. She’s a white Northern Inuit. I rescued her from Dogs Trust about six years ago. When she came to the house she was, to put it politely a basket case. Throughout the first year at home she had a go at each of the other three female dogs in the house. Being the biggest she challenged them all for the right to be top dog one after another. I had my hands full with her to say the least. 


Miya and Star playing in the snow last year.


Out walking with her in those early days was a challenge in that every time I met another handler and dog combo she would go into stalking mode and completely freak out the oncoming duo. Her head would go down in line with her spine in an almost arrow like fashion and she would slow her walking pace. Her body would slightly stiffen just like you see the lions on the serengeti do when stalking an impala. By the time the other dog came close it was ready for a fight. It took me many months to train her through redirection that this was not an acceptable way to greet other dogs. But we made a lot of progress in that first year. She still resorts to this behaviour if i let her but I am suitably aware now of her behaviour and work hard at getting her to focus on me when other handler/dogs approach meaning the whole encounter now is much more relaxed. 
Anyway back to this morning, I was out as usual walking round my usual walk on which we encounter mostly the usual suspects out walking their dogs. As a behavioural trainer I like to watch other handlers walking with their dogs to get a flavour of what their relationship is like. Who’s walking who? Given all the work I have put in to getting Miya to stop stalking approaching dogs you can imagine how I feel when other handlers are completely oblivious to their own dogs body language as they walk along either talking to their friends or checking their Facebook status on the phone. Having no idea that their dog is sending all sorts of messages to an approaching dog, child or other high value distraction. One such owner and dog came towards me this morning. I have seen this person many times on this same route. The dog is a Lab and walks like its a metal detector sweeping from one side to the other as it moves forwards. The owner is usually on her phone either deep in conversation or as I say checking her FB status. Normally I go in the opposite direction so as to avoid any interaction between the dogs. I have witnessed countless times how she lets her dog go up to oncoming handlers and dogs to ‘let her dog say hello’. Up until today I never knew whether the other handlers and dogs had any say in the greeting. This morning I found out. I found myself on the same path heading straight for them. The only alternative option I had was to turn around and head back the way I came but that would have been socially unacceptable to some people. So I carried on. On they came the lab was on an extending lead and it was at the very end of the extension coming straight for us. The thought crossed my mind briefly. Let Miya go and the lab can take its chances. I thought that the fall out wasn’t worth it. So I called Miya to me and talked to her. I asked her to sit and glanced towards the oncoming duo. Now at this point the mere fact that I had called my dog in to close control and made her sit might have you think that  the other handler would see this and think ’he’s called his dog in and has her under close control, I will do the same just incase his dog is in any way aggressive’. But no she kept coming with her dog at the end of the extension some 15 feet in front of her. There was no way she could have done anything had it kicked off, she was too far behind. As they got to within striking distance I began speaking to Miya which immediately got her attention. I glanced towards the other handler who said, whilst continuing to come straight for us, wait for it… “Will I apologise now for my dogs behaviour”. As she finished this statement her dog was right up into Miya’s face adopting a submissive posture. “She does this all the time”, she says. “She just loves saying hello to strange dogs”. “She’s very sociable”. Now thats all well and good and because of all the work I have done with Miya over the last few years there was unlikely to be an incident, however. Had I been just a normal run of the mill owner like her, who let their dog just go and say hello, chances are there might have been a flare up. 
Its all very well people, saying your dog is friendly and just wants to say hello, but what you don’t take into consideration is that the dog that is coming towards you might not like other dogs coming into its space. It might look quite happy walking along with its owner because theres a decent distance between you, but the second you let your dog go right up to another dog you are forcing that dog to make a decision. A decision between, ok i’ll let you say hello or no I really don’t want you coming into my personal space so i’m going to tell you, the only way I know how, to get back, and thats by snapping and lunging at you. Ordinarily that would be acceptable in the dogs world because they know and understand what was being communicated here. But the owner interprets it differently because they don’t understand what just happened there. More times than not the owner of the friendly dog who just wants to say hello takes offence to the fact that their dog has just been snapped at. What they don’t appreciate is that the poor dog that snapped was put in a situation were its options were limited and only did what comes naturally. The bottom line is who’s at fault here is the person with the friendly dog who just wants to say hello. Just because you think your dog is friendly, doesn’t give you the right to let it go barging up to other dogs so that it can make new friends. 
Respect other peoples boundaries people, and if you see another handler take steps to get their dog in and under control, at the very least ask if its ok for your dog to say hello to the other dog, don’t just assume its ok. And if a dog snaps at your dog, don’t blame the other dog and handler, the fault lies with you and your handling.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

DOES YOUR DOG UNDERSTAND WHAT YOUR SAYING?

In this months Kennel Club Standard news letter there’s an interesting article written by one of the trainers that will be at their teaching event this weekend.
The article is about a recent trip she was on using public transport and whilst travelling, she sat near a dog owner who was busy speaking to their dog about something it was or wasn’t doing. The article boiled down to the fact that this trainer felt that we as trainers were not getting our message across to our clients and the general dog owning public at large that, Dogs cannot understand us when we speak to them. This particular dog owner was saying something along the lines of “now I have told you before that what you are doing is wrong, so why are you doing it again”. So not only has the poor dog supposed to understand what its owner is saying but that it also has to relate what it was told last week to the bad behaviour it is doing now.
Challenged by this trainers remarks that we are not getting our message across, I carried out a straw poll in one of my classes this week.
I posed the question “who among us believed that our dogs understood us when we spoke to them?” I was surprised by the response that I got. About 30% believed that when they spoke to their dogs albeit in short sentences they understood. For example if told No, bad dog. The dog knew it had done wrong.
Now in my classes, the first thing I tell my clients during the very first lesson is to imagine for the next 12 weeks that their dogs only spoke Russian. They spoke no words of english. I always check first before I say this, in case anyone in the class speaks Russian. One day someone will say yes.
I carry on and say that in order for us to get our dogs to understand English we would need to show them first what it is we want them to do and then teach them the English word for that. Much like we would try to teach someone we had met for the first time from a country whose language we didn’t understand. So simple things like “would you like a seat” would prove challenging if we couldn’t speak their language. I then ask them to demonstrate how they would do this using a stooge.
I then challenge them to do the same thing with their dogs when asking them to do everyday things like ‘Sit’, ‘Down’ etc.
The fact that I go through this with every class made me all the more surprised by the results of my straw poll.
I thought I was getting the message across quite effectively.
So then I gave the article I read more thought and I think I can offer up some possible reasons why some dog owners speak to their dogs.

Firstly, is that its easy for humans to believe something is right if they want to believe it in the first place. And if there is any kind of acknowledgement of that belief then all the better.
So when we say ‘NO, Bad Dog’ and the dog shows any kind of submission, its easy to believe that they understood what we mean. Yes I know that what the dog is doing is reacting to our body language and raised voice. But it makes sense to some people.

There is also a situation when handlers will scold their dogs for jumping up on other people or snap at an approaching dog. Most of this talk is for the other humans benefit. “Oh look what you’ve done, thats a bad dog making that nice ladies coat all dirty, now you go and apologise”.

Lastly why I think people talk to their dogs is because basically we are sociable beings and like to talk. Where people live in a single human environment with only a dog as a companion then i’m sure it gives them great comfort to hold a conversation with their only companion. And when that companion looks back and gives a few thumps of its tail and smiles with its eyes, then the human feels warm and happy inside. So it affects their wellbeing, even if deep down they will admit that the dog doesn’t completely understand them. And that can’t be a bad thing can it?

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

ARE YOU A BEGGAR?

A man walks past a beggar and the beggar says “Can you spare some change” The man says “Sorry I have no money”. The man then notices that the beggar is sitting on a box. “What is in the box” the man asks the beggar? “I don’t know” the beggar replies. “How long have you been sitting on the box” the man says. “30 years” the beggar replies. “Why don’t you open the box and see whats inside” says the man. “Theres no point there’s nothing in it” says the beggar. “Try it anyway” says the man. The beggar gets up and turns and tries to open the box. After a bit of a struggle he manages to pry the lid open. To his surprise the box is filled with gold.
The beggar was unaware he had been sitting on a box of gold for more than thirty years.

If you look inside, not any old box as in the parable above, but inside yourself you will find Joy and deep unshakable peace. People with material wealth are still beggars, continually looking outside for scraps of pleasure, fulfilment, validation, security, acceptance or love, whilst inside they will find all of those things and more than the world can offer. - ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle 

Are you a beggar?


Dogs are not beggars. I know of no dog that seeks fulfilment other than to satisfy its basic of needs, food and water, warmth, shelter, security and companionship. Dogs are expert at living in the Now. Living in the moment. Not looking back, not looking forward. Taking everything they need from this moment in time. We could learn a lot from living in the now. We can learn a lot from dogs.