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Saturday, October 29, 2016


The White Dog Blog now has its own book!

I started the White Dog Blog 6 years ago as a way to educate the public about a tragedy.  Puppies are being born blind, deaf, or even both, due to a completely preventable genetic combination of merle to merle.  I hope through my efforts to educate, that one day, this type of merle to merle breeding will no longer be supported by the dog community.  In the meantime, this offers a tremendous resource for those who are rescuing, adopting and training these special dogs. 

Through my educating, I have many people contact me looking for specific topics in my blog.  There are many posts, and all posts about one topic are not grouped together, making them sometimes tricky to find.  Through the graces of technology, I have ways of tracking the most popular and commented on posts, and I have grouped them all together for you, by topic, in this great new book!  
All the most popular and influential posts are together in one place making them easy to find and refer back to again and again!

The book is available in paperback and kindle formats.  The link is here.   Take a look!  

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Do Dog Trainers Get Frustrated?

Lately, this cute adorable little fuzzy white puppy has been frustrating me!  I know, just look how adorable he is, right?  Yes, this was the adorable-ness that came into my life several months ago.  

And, puppy-hood is a lot of work for us humans!  Housetraining, puppy proofing the house, sleepless nights, constant supervision, not to mention socialization and starting to teach good manners, and on and on ... Truthfully, it can be exhausting - yes, even for us professional dog trainers!  

But when the puppies are so tiny and cute, it is easy to be motivated to keep going.  They also still sleep a lot at this stage, which provides short windows in which we can get things done or nap ourselves.  

At some point, our brilliant little puppies become quite charming and relatively well-behaved and we think we've done an excellent job raising them.  We might even pat ourselves on the back a bit.  Or breathe a sigh of relief.  

Now enter adolescence ... 

Oh, still adorable, right?  Yes he is.  And he still reminds me to laugh quite a bit out of each day.  But I am also shaking my head at times in frustration.  This is a tough stage to get through sometimes - that teenage stage.  Puppies get BUSY!!  Even busier than they were before!  And they hardly ever sleep anymore - what happened to all the naps?  Large breed puppies are getting close to their adult size, but they are still far from adulthood.  They are just huge puppies!  

So many people give up on their puppies at around 6 months of age.  I see this a lot in the shelter and rescue world.  It is a tough time.  It's pretty normal (even for us dog trainers!) to be frustrated.  Puppies are rowdy and seem to come up with behaviors overnight that you thought were either non-existent or were no longer an issue.  

Oh, 6 month old puppies are still endearing and cuddly and playful and smart.  They are learning so very fast that it's hard to keep up with them - and it's either stuff we want them to learn, or stuff that we don't.  

Vinny's challenging behaviors right now?  Well, when I'm out of the room, he pulls up the bathroom rug and shakes it until it's dead, then dragging it to the middle of the bedroom floor to display his kill for all to see.  He is back to mouthing hands and arms with a passion, and is back to being overstimulated by touch, grooming and handling.  He is actively teething right now so his chewing behaviors have increased a lot - but for the most part he limits this to toys and bones. Although he has a strange attraction to chewing on my computer chair!  He is trying to jump up on me and others when he had been sweetly sitting.  He discovered he likes rolls of toilet paper.  And as the weather is getting cooler, he has discovered my jacket that hangs just right so he can grab it in his mouth as we walk along.  

Now, most days, I am able to laugh to myself at his antics - I mean, after all, he is only a teenager once, right?  As a dog trainer, I know that this phase will pass and he will settle into a calmer, more reliable adult.  I know that the most important thing for me to do right now is to manage Vinny's environment and to set him up for success whenever I can.  I know to maintain consistency and gentleness in my relating to him, and to not allow frustration to take hold.  

But it is truly a full-time job to keep him entertained appropriately, to give him things to do to keep his mind and body busy, and to keep my patience and sense of humor.   There are times when I do get frustrated.  So, what do I do when frustration begins to creep in?

Take a break!  Too much togetherness can increase frustration.  It becomes a never-ending cycle of overstimulated puppy and frustrated person.  Put puppy in a puppy-safe area with every toy and bone you can find, including food puzzle toys that are safe to leave with him unsupervised.  Frozen stuffed Kongs and hollow bones are great for teething puppies and can keep them busy for quite a while.   After a break, you will both be in a better frame of mind and will be ready to play and have some fun!    

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Calm Behavior During Grooming

If you've been following along in our blog, you know that Vinny has always gotten overstimulated by petting and grooming activities.  Trying to groom him, and often just pet him sweetly, results in him turning to mouth my hand and grooming tools.  If I continue, the mouthing gets more intense and he begins to also move his body around more.  If I continue still, he also becomes vocal and then ... well, it's all over.  

He had gotten so much better until about 3 weeks ago.  He's 5 months old now and his behaviors appear to be reverting backwards in a few areas, but they are now more intense than when he was smaller because he is now a much bigger boy!  

Vinny is now well aware of his marker (clicker) signal, and that it is followed by a reinforcer for certain behaviors.  He knows that his behaviors can drive that marker.  

I have been working with him by reinforcing calm behaviors when I touch, pet and groom him.  I started with just touching him - this was a review for him, but I wanted to start in an area that he could be successful.  I touched him calmly and then followed by giving him a treat.  I allowed him to feel the touch first, before the food appeared, and I fed him the food straight ahead of his nose with his nose facing forward and not at my touching hand.  By reinforcing him with his head away from the hand that was touching him, he did not have the opportunity to begin mouthing me, and he will learn to keep his face away from the hand petting or grooming him (eventually).  

After reviewing this a few times, I moved on to stroking or scratching him lightly just for a moment before feeding.  I was still not using a marker signal at this point because I needed both hands - one to touch and one to have that treat ready super quick by his nose.  When I saw that he was making the choice to turn his head forward for the treat when he felt me petting him, I moved on.  

Adding a second stroke or longer scratching with one hand while I continued to feed treats was the next step.  Only for a short period of time at first and then gradually building up to longer periods of time.  At first I fed treats one right after the other quickly.  But it didn't take long to be able to space out those treats more and more and build up the duration of the stroking.  As I can spread the treats out a bit, I can then begin using the marker signal to pinpoint calm behaviors.  

Now I have progressed to stroking with grooming tools.  I can do several strokes at a time with Vinny remaining in place and calm (no mouthing or vocalizing, and sitting or standing still) between marking appropriate behaviors.  If he gets up and walks away, that is ok.  It is his choice.  He will come back if he wants to do more.  If he moves away, that is ok too.  I just stop and wait.  He will come back closer when he's ready.  

I do allow him to turn and investigate a touch with my hand or the grooming tool, and I allow him to sniff the grooming tools before touching him with them so he knows what I'm going to be doing.  After only a few sessions, I am so pleased and already seeing a big change in his behaviors.

This is good because his big-boy Collie coat is starting to come in and will require a lot of grooming in the future.  I am so pleased that I can create choices for Vinny so he can be a willing participant in his grooming and care.  

This video was taken today - I tried to groom him before our training session so maybe I could get a video of his previous behavior for you - but he sat still like a champ waiting for his reinforcers.  And, so, what you see is not the flailing, mouthing and yelling that was his normal grooming behavior.  This is our 3rd session and you can see he is attentively waiting for his marker and reward.  When he moves as if he is uncomfortable, I don't force him.  I wait or move to groom a different spot for a moment.  When I groom his body, which we've worked on more, I can groom longer before reinforcing.  When I work with his ear and his tail or rear of his body, which we have not worked on specifically, I sometimes only swipe a couple times before rewarding.  

This is a session in its entirety.  The only part cut in the middle was when I had to go check on something in the middle.  It is a bit long (8 minutes appx.) but you can see in real time, how often I am reinforcing still and how he is responding.  When you see him startle and move his head around, he is responding to his marker signal and is waiting for the food!  

Friday, October 7, 2016

Affecting Change

I wrote this post several months ago, and kept it as a draft - why I was not ready to post it yet I don't know. But when I looked back on it, I noticed something very interesting - I had written it on the day that Vinny, my current foster puppy, was born.  I had no idea at the time that two little double merle puppies had been born that day and I would be instrumental in their lives.  And so, due to this coincidence (or not!), I am ready to post this now ...

When there's something we are truly passionate about, it's easy to get carried away and to push hard for others to see our way of thinking.  We may end up getting angry and going after the other person in a way that we hope will intimidate them to change to our perspective.  But I have seen this scenario enough times to know that it rarely, if ever, works that way.  Anyone who has been on the receiving end of such a situation knows that the first reaction is to feel you are being attacked, and then the natural thing to do is to fight back. Very quickly things get out of control with words being slung around that are hurtful and alienating, and neither party actually accomplishes anything except to cement the idea that they are right even further into their mind. 

Those of you who read this blog already know that I am very passionate about educating people about the issues with merle to merle breeding and why it should not be done.  While I love my double merles and wouldn't change them, I could also love them just as much if they could see and hear normally, and no matter what color they were.  My favorite slogan is, "Until there are none, rescue one!"  Until there are no more double merles, I will continue to educate and to rescue.  

Tonight I am sad.  But I am hopeful.  You see, I initiated an online conversation with a breeder who is utilizing a double merle in a breeding program.  Out of surprise and sadness mostly.  Certainly not to attack this person, but more to express my sadness and concern.  Although I didn't initiate contact to place blame or as an attack, I sort of expected to get a nasty, defensive answer in return, as is often the result of such communications.  Instead I was pleasantly surprised that this breeder and I, with very different views, were able to have a lengthy conversation.  

Our views about our dogs were very similar.  We both love our dogs and enjoy participating in dog sports with them.  We discussed new rule changes in competition.  We discussed the good that this breeder is doing with the current dogs that he/she is working with - training, showing, therapy work.  

Our views about breeding were different.  Our views about breeding were discussed, but calmly, with no word slinging or accusations.  We both heard the other's opinions and perspectives.  Did we end up agreeing with each other on these?  No, but we both felt heard.  And neither of us felt attacked or defensive. 

This is the place where understanding and change can begin to occur.  We cannot think or consider or make decisions when we are attacking or being attacked.  We can't hear another's viewpoint and try to understand their perspective.  Without understanding, how can we affect change?  

It upsets me when people are nasty to each other in the name of change. How can we change if we don't know there is another way?  How can we change if we don't see another way that we feel might be right? When we are educating, it's important to model for people that there is a different way.  We cannot ever make someone else change.  That desire to change has to come from within themselves.  But we can model for them, and we can talk to them about different possibilities.

Remember, though, that each of us starts from wherever we are.  Whatever that person's perspective is, that is where they are. That is what they feel is right, and we all will defend what we feel is right.  As we show people that there are other ways of seeing things and other ways of doing things, they will realize that now there are choices.  Will they choose to change to one of those other options?  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  That is out of our control.  

If the other options we offer them are confrontational or embarrassing, will they be likely to choose them? Probably not.  If the options we offer them to think about are gentle and understanding and forgiving, they will be more likely to go away thinking about them, and more likely to choose them when they decide to make a change.  

Please be kind when you educate.  Remember that you once didn't know these things either.  You had to learn and make a choice too.  Listen to the other person's perspective and remember that is where they are right now and what they feel is right.  Try to understand why they feel that way.  If you can relate something you are trying to teach to something they already can relate to, it will be an easier jump for them to understand and think about. 

Change is not easy, and it does not happen all in one large, all or nothing swoop.  Change comes in stages. Trying to get all at once change is not going to end well.  Allowing change to happen as perspectives change and choices are made, can lead to lasting change, a new person out there educating in line with your perspective now, and possibly a new friend.  Be forgiving of mistakes or back sliding.  Remember this is a process.  It's hard to change our old habits and ways of thinking.