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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Treasure's Birthday!

When I first saw her - on Petfinder.
 
Happy Birthday to my wonderful girl, Treasure!!  Three years ago, I drove to meet her and to bring her home.   My heart already belonged to her, even though we had never met.  I felt her already as a part of me.  And I longed to be with her. 
 
When I first met her, my hands reached for her immediately.  I tried to pull myself back a bit so I wouldn't startle her.  In my mind, I imagined her, blind and deaf, being reached for and touched by someone who she didn't know, and being afraid.  But as my hand touched her, it was immediately pulled in to her soft, white coat.  I knew there was no need to worry.  It all felt right, and somehow, all too familiar.  Even though we were strangers.
 
I never could have imagined what an amazing animal lived inside this fluffy white dog.  Treasure had lived a very sheltered life.  She hadn't been given much opportunity to show the world what she was capable of.  When she came into my life, I had no expectations.  I put no limits on Treasure.  In my mind, there was nothing she couldn't do just because she was blind and deaf. 
 
Treasure took that attitude and has taken off to accomplish things that I never even would have imagined.  She was quickly ready to take her therapy dog evaluation, which she passed with an advanced rating.  And she began working her magic with everyone she met!  She began a career as a Healing Touch for Animals ambassador from the very beginning, coming along with me to many classes and helping the students to learn new techniques. 
 
She has been an amazing spokesdog for specially-abled animals.  We go together to do demonstrations and talks for various community groups.  She is also spokesdog for Fluffy's Blankets, an organization that gifts special blankets and care packages for animals and their people in need of comfort and assistance. 
 
Treasure is a natural at the sport of k9 nosework.  She searches for hidden odor - her nose still works great!  She really loves this game!  Treasure also went on to earn her Canine Good Citizen award, and a Novice Trick Dog title.  She is continuing to work on new training projects all the time.  She is always eager to learn new things - especially when there is a treat involved!
 
Treasure is my stress relief after a rough day.  She snuggles into my lap and I can feel my stress falling away.  It's magic - Treasure's magic.  It's what she's best at!  Just being herself.   Even after three years, I am still discovering wonderful new things about her every day.  She is like a book full of possibilities.
 
Stay tuned for more about her birthday celebration this weekend!
 
Happy Birthday, beautiful girl!  I love you and I hope we have many more birthdays together!
 
My beautiful girl now!
 
 


Monday, July 22, 2013

Aggression!

From my TTouch notes: 
Aggression comes from a place of fear, and is a cry for help!
 
(Note, this is just play, not fear or aggression!)
Behaviors that can be interpreted as aggression - growling, snapping, biting, lunging, reactivity, barking, etc - stem from a dog feeling that it needs to defend itself.  A dog that feels it must defend itself feels threatened and afraid in some way.  Thus, aggressive behaviors stem from a place of fear. 
 
Yes, dog trainers may try to argue with me here, saying there are different types of aggression and that aggression can be learned.  I do agree with those statements, but if we look at some different types of aggressive behavior, they do indeed stem from fear. 
 
A mother protecting her puppies feels that someone or something is threatening them and maybe her.  Threat = feeling of fear that something bad will happen to her or her pups.  She feels defensive - that she needs to chase this thing away.
 
A dog snapping at someone when it is eating a meal or a special bone, or guarding its favorite toy or sleeping space is afraid that it will lose whatever it is that is important to it at that moment.  This is where the behavior can also be learned.  It starts from a place of fear and feeling threatened that it will lose a resource that is important to it.  If the aggressive behavior works and the dog gets to keep that resource, the dog learns how to prevent the resource from being taken away.  But still, the behavior begins from a place of fear.
 
Dogs that snap or bite when they are touched or reached for are not trying to be dominant.  They are afraid to be touched for some reason ... maybe because they hurt when touched, maybe because something they don't like happens to them when they are touched, ... there are many reasons.  But it stems from fear.
 
Reactivity comes from a place of fear and the dog feeling that it needs to chase away the feared person, animal or object, before it can pose a greater threat. 
 
When you feel afraid, your ability to think is decreased.  You start to move over to reactive mode.  The same is true of our dogs.  If you are afraid and someone you trust offers you some help to get out of the situation or to feel better about it, this is appreciated.  If you get no help and you have to rely on yourself to get out of the situation, there are many ways you can react.  You can run away from the threat or you can stay and fight it off.  Often we don't allow our dogs the option of leaving or running away.  Their only option is to fight back and try to chase away the threat.
 
When you see your dog react with behaviors that can be considered aggressive, stop and think about this statement - aggression comes from a place of fear, and is a cry for help.
 
Help your dog out of the fearful situation.  Then review the situation in your mind.  What was it that your dog felt was threatening?  Sometimes this is more than one thing.  When did you first notice your dog feeling uncomfortable and anxious about the situation?   This is when you should have stepped in to help her.  By stepping in earlier when you first notice your dog feeling anxious and unsure, you can prevent her from feeling that she needs to protect herself.  Teach your dog that it's ok for her to leave a situation that she feels threatened by.  If she is on a leash, this means that you must be paying attention to her at all times, so you can leave with her when she first begins to get upset.
 
No one likes to feel afraid.  By changing your perspective about why your dog displays aggressive behaviors, you can be in a better position to help her.  By helping her to feel safer in those situations, you will see her behavior begin to change as her fear goes away.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Make It A Practice

From my TTouch notes: TTouch is a practice ...

I love to learn!  I seem to always be taking a class or a seminar, or reading a new book, or somehow expanding what I know.  There are so many new ideas to try, and new perspectives to gain.  But just learning something on the surface level isn't enough.  Knowing that 3+3=6 is a great party trick to impress your parents' friends when you are in first grade.  That is surface knowledge.  But until you learn to experience what 3+3=6 means in your own life, it can't really help you.  By taking that learned surface level fact and giving it meaning in your life, you can experience so much more.  3 jellybeans + 3 jellybeans = 6 jellybeans!  3 dollars + 3 dollars = 6 dollars and a new toy from the store! 

The same holds true for the things we learn as adults.  We can learn all sorts of cool party knowledge - the facts that impress our friends and start conversations.  But until we take those same facts and make them personal for ourselves, we cannot find all the potential they hold. 

When I'm learning something new, of course I first learn it on a surface level.  But then I try to make it a part of who I am and how I do things.  Some of these things will eventually fall by the wayside because they don't resonate with me, and that is ok.  But much of this new knowledge becomes a part of me and shapes who I am becoming and my perspective. 

By incorporating new knowledge and skills into my life, I must take a closer look at myself and see what changes need to be made.  It's not always easy to change.  Sometimes I have to look more closely at things I would prefer to ignore.  I have to learn to forgive myself for things I may have done in the past that I now know how to do differently.  But this is how I'm able to grow.

I certainly don't train dogs now the way I did when I was first learning.  To begin with, my first dog and I went to a traditional obedience class where we were fitted with a choke chain and I was told to make sudden about turns and yank my dog off his feet to teach him to pay attention to me.  While I didn't like treating my dog that way, I didn't know a better way.  I had paid this trainer money to show me the best way to gain control of my dog, and so I trusted that this was the best way.

Of course, I have learned so much about dogs and how they learn since then.   I now know that those methods aren't necessary in order to teach a dog.  I now have a much better relationship with my dogs because they trust me and I trust them.  We are not training with methods that pit our strength against each other in a constant battle for who will come out on top.  Now we work side by side as partners with mutual trust and respect.

But these changes would not have come about if I had just learned new things on the surface.  Sure, I could listen to others talk about it, and I could read about it, or watch videos about it.  But until I decided to take a look at how I had been training, and until I began to really explore how to change what I was doing, I was not able to make those ideas a part of myself.  Now, this nicer view of teaching dogs is part of who I am.  I cannot go back to the person and the trainer I was back then.  I have changed.  This newness has become a part of me.

Allow those things that resonate with you to become a practice in your own life.  Make an effort to put them into practice every day.  Practice, as they say - makes PERFECT!!