"One of my favourite books and I love this excerpt from it. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it. We have it available for purchase in the store and to borrow from our library. I have been thinking about this whole concept a lot lately, and just how much better life would be for dogs if humans took the time to understand them and look at things from their perspective as well"
Imagine you live on a planet where the dominant species is far more intellectually sophisticated than human beings but often keeps humans as companion animals. They are called the Gorns. They communicate with each other via a complex combination of telepathy, eye movements and high-pitched squeaks, all completely unintelligible and unlearnable by humans, whose brains are prepared for verbal language acquisition only. What humans sometimes learn is the meaning of individual sounds by repeated association with things of relevance to them. The Gorns and humans bond strongly but there are many Gorn rules which humans must try to assimilate with limited information and usually high stakes.
You are one of the lucky humans who lives with the Gorns in their dwelling. Many other humans are chained to small cabanas in the yard. They have become so socially starved that they cannot control their emotions when a Gorn goes near them. Because of this behaviour, the Gorns agree that they could never be House-Humans. They are too excitable.
The dwelling you share with your Gorn family is filled with numerous water-filled porcelain bowls, complete with flushers. Everytime you try to urinate in one, though, any nearby Gorn attacks you. You learn to only use the toilet when there are no Gorns present. Sometimes they come home and stuff your head down the toilet for no apparent reason. You hate this and start sucking up to the Gorns when they come home to try to stave this off, but they view this as increasing evidence of your guilt of some unknown act.
You are also punished for watching videos, reading certain books, talking to other human beings, eating pizza or cheesecake, writing letters. These are all considered behavior problems by the Gorns. To avoid going crazy, once again you wait until they are not around to try doing anything you wish to do. While they are around, you sit quietly, staring straight ahead. Because they witness this good behaviour you are so obviously capable of, they attribute to "spite" they video watching and other transgressions which occur when you are along. Obviously you resent being left alone, they figure. You are walked several times a day and left crossword puzzle book to do (you have never used them because you hate crosswords; the Gorns think you're ignoring them out of revenge).
Worst of all, you like them. They are, after all, often nice to you. But when you smile at them, they punish you, likewise for shaking hands. If you apologize, they punish you again. You have not seen another human since you were a small child. When you see one on the street you are curious, excited and sometimes afraid. You really don't know how to act. So, the Gorn you live with keeps you away from other humans. Your social skills never develop.
Finally, you are brought to "training" school. A large part of the training consists of having your air briefly cut off by a metal chain around your neck. They are sure you understand every squeak and telepathic communication they make because sometimes you seem to get it right. You are guessing and hate the training. You feel pretty stressed out a lot of the time. One day, you see a Gorn approaching with the training collar in hand. You have PMS, a sore neck, and you just don't feel up to the baffling coercion about to ensue. You tell them in your sternest voice to please leave you alone and go away. The Gorns are shocked by this unprovoked aggressive behaviour. They thought you had a good temperament.
They put you in one of their vehicles and take you for a drive. You watch the attractive planetary landscape going by and wonder where you are going. The vehicle stops, you are led into a building filled with the smell of human sweat and excrement. Humans are everywhere in small cages. Some are nervous, some depressed, most watch the goings on from their prisons. Your Gorns, with whom you have lived your entire life, hand you over to strangers who drag you to a small room. You are terrified and yell to your Gorn family to help you. They turn and walk out the door of the building. You are held down and given a lethal injection. It is, after all, the humane way to do it.
We should brush our dog's teeth regularly and it can be a bit frustrating for both us and our dogs to start. You will want to ensure that you take the time to positively introduce this so that it can be stress free for both of you. I recommend that you first start by having your dog comfortable while you handle their mouth (you should do this for overall handling, not just their mouths). To do this, follow the below steps:
Once your dog is comfortable with having their mouths handled, you can begin to introduce brushing their teeth. Use a toothpaste that is specific for dogs – you should never use a human product. The toothpaste is flavoured, so that dogs actually enjoy it. Before putting the toothbrush to your dog’s mouth, let them investigate the brush for a minute, allowing them to lick the toothpaste. At this point all you are trying to do is introduce the toothbrush, the toothpaste and the experience itself to your dog.
At first, start to lightly brush a few front teeth and even a couple back teeth. Do this in short sessions, every day to get the dog comfortable with having the toothbrush in their mouth. Stay calm and praise your dog throughout each session. Ensure you do not push the dog to get fussy or irritated – keep each session as short as your dog needs. It is also beneficial for the dog to understand a sit or down to help keep them settled during the session. Once your dog is comfortable with the toothbrush, follow the below steps to brush their teeth:
Good dental care and healthy teeth go a long way in keeping your dog happy and healthy!
Last night I was teaching our Reactive urbanK9 Orientation and my two eldest dogs, Guinniss and Deja, were with me. They love these nights and I am always so proud of them when they are there. Guinniss always works the room and melts everyone's hearts. I love sharing his story and he has become a beacon of accomplishment, encouragement and success. He seems to just understand his role and immediately wanders the room ensuring he spends time with each person. He looks them in the eye, rests his head on his lap and gives them the up down in search for some treats. I love joking with the class about how we perhaps overdid his work with people as he has become such a attention seeking sweetheart. I watched him do this slowly last night, spend more time on his bed sleeping and struggle with the demos. He gave it his best and escorted everyone out for special goodbyes and I knew it was time for official retirement.
Initially it broke my heart and I thought about how maybe he still had some left in him. And then I remembered the most important lesson he has taught me: acceptance. I've been working on another blog post for the Reactive urbanK9 program on acceptance and realized it would become so much more. I wanted to start the series with a tribute to my special boy. Guinniss was the reason I opened dogma. I realized Calgary lacked the appropriate places to help our fearful/reactive dogs that were screaming for help. Facilities were often ran (and unfortunately still are) with too many dogs being supervised by untrained staff. Classes involved bringing all dogs in the room, and even though there may be visual barriers, this is way too stressful for the dogs. I knew Guinniss needed something different, and knew all dogs like him did, so together we decided we needed to create it. Guinniss took the role of my teacher and taught me more than I could ever have learned from people, book or seminars. He has been patient and has allowed me to make many mistakes while always being forgiving and ready to get out and work some more. The lessons have been immeasurable and one of the greatest is acceptance.
So how have I accepted Guinniss? My initial goals were for him to be with me at dogma at the daycare, assist more in classes and just be involved in more of my day to day work. Could I have done this with him? I think we could have accomplished this with time and the right set ups. We are an amazing team and he has already come so far. And he continues to progress and surprise me this late in his life. Would it have been the best choice for him? Absolutely not.
Accepting our dogs is challenging for us. And I see this over and over; well-intentioned dog owners often feel that the only way for their dogs to be happy is for them to be going off leash, maybe attending daycare or being able to attend certain classes. As I learned the importance of making the right decisions for the dogs in our care, we have been faced with a variety of reactions. Most often, dog owners show relief and are thrilled that they don't need to continue the pressure to have their dog love everything. They have already accepted them and love being reassured. Occasionally, we have some that become quite angry. They take this personally and place blame on us for not working their dog through their challenges. They view it as a failure and become discouraged with our decision. I would like to believe that most come to realize that these decisions were made to provide the best for their dog (and the others in our care), but I understand their frustration. However, we need to learn to accept the dog we have and provide the best environment to keep them happy.
I decided early on that Guinniss would not enjoy daycare. He was older, the dogs were full of energy, and I would risk setting him back, or at the very least, put him under a great deal of stress with my goal that he enjoy it. I realized if given the choice, he would prefer to stay at home and enjoy walks with me in the trees. And what is wrong with that life? Nothing. It has been wonderful and has likely increased our bond even further. I learned to listen and accept. And last night I was reminded of this decision. I would love to have him come with me more. I want people to experience him and learn from him at dogma. But, he has done his job. How lucky we were to have him at the ones he could attend. How happy I am that he has touched so many. I need to accept his age and limits. To return the acceptance he has given me. I will continue to take this lesson and encourage others to help make the best choices for their dogs. And so I thank you, Guinniss. It's time for an official retirement.
We had recently lost our dog Nicki, who had been a family member for 14 years. I was heart-broken and not having a dog in our lives was making me miserable and apparently, according to family around me, very cranky. It was time to get another dog. During a blizzard I convinced everyone (somehow) we should drive to Petsmart in Beacon Hill to look at the puppies. As it turned out Oops-A-Daisy had not gotten there due to the storm. For some reason I decided we should drive to the Petsmart on MacLeod Trail.
We walked in and there must have been about 10 puppies there. They were all sitting at the front of the cage wagging their tails and jumping – enjoying all the attention they were getting. Then I spotted one little puppy at the back of the cage – all alone – the saddest little puppy I had ever seen. And I know without a doubt that Abby had 'found us and a home'.
Abby was one of ARF's -31 degree litter and was an insecure, and fearful little puppy. We brought her home and I was determined to help her in any way that we could and I started phoning around for information on classes, playtimes, advice from any place I could get it. . .Fortunately for Abby I called dogma and spoke to Megan. We talked about confidence building, fearfulness, the ways that puppies learn, training options , and playclasses. She was so knowledgeable, and understanding I knew that's where we needed to go. She recommended we start with Puppy Playtime.
Our first playtime – yikes – I recall having to carry Abby in and out because she wouldn't even walk in the door and for the first few minutes I'm sure she wanted to dig a hole in the wall to hide. That didn't last long though – I guess both of us felt the atmosphere was so warm and welcoming – that she blossomed. Everyone was so friendly and kind. As I met other dog owners I soon realized that most of them are 'dogma regulars' and as far as I was concerned, that was for good reason. We then and there became regulars at Puppy Playtime and registered for some classes. As we moved through the levels (Puppy Class, Puppy Spirit and a Fear and Reactivity class – which gave us useful tools for understanding) Abby's confidence and mine increased in heaps and bounds. The classes were all so positive, and Megan, Drae and the rest of the staff reiterated time and time again to always set these puppies up for success. That to me was the bottom line. I couldn't even venture a guess as to how many questions I asked the staff – everyone was always so patient and would offer suggestions – 'try this' or you could 'try this'. Abby and I could tell immediately that these were all people who genuinely love dogs – and really what more do you need to know !! We became so confident we even got involved in an Elvis' Hound Dog routine (this was a huge thing for Abby – crowds, strange people) which was a great bonding experience for us and we had a blast. She learned how to weave in that routine – and she proudly displays it every chance she gets! (sometimes when you aren't even expecting it !)...
Abby is a sweet gentle little dog – gaining confidence all the time – we still have some issues that we need to deal with but intend on working through these in upcoming classes and to continue on with our successes. As far as playtime is concerned she now has a 'BFF"- Khali, and will even encourage shy dogs to 'come out of the corner'..'sometimes trying to drag them out by the scruff of the neck'.. (Drae always laughs at that).. I guess we are now dogma Regulars ourselves.
Note from Megan: Watching Sharon and Abby grow together has been such a rewarding experience. To think of scared little Abby when I first met her, to the brave, happy girl you see now is unbelievable. Sharon is a testament to the outcome when you commit and put the time into training and working with your dog – and that this can be incredibly fun for both! All of us at dogma adore her and Abby and are always thrilled when they take part in another class or event. She has taken the time to understand Abby's fears, how to work her through them and all while being so amazingly patient and compassionate. This success story means a great deal to our entire team and we are all so proud of them both! We love having them be an integral part of the 'dogma regulars'! Keep up the good work and we look forward to continued playtimes and dancing in the future :)!!
Having your dog accustomed to being behind a gate (or door, ex-pen, etc.) can be helpful in many situations. It allows the dog a quiet place away from potentially stressful activity and gives you time to remove them when you cannot be fully supervising them. Preparing your dog to feel comfortable when being left alone will prove to be a useful skill throughout their lives. The steps to accustom them to a gate are:
1. Put the gate up somewhere in your house and always have it there to start, so that bringing out the gate does not become a trigger to them that they are going behind it.
2. Occasionally toss treats onto the other side of the gate for your dog to find on their own.
3. Feed the dog's meals on the other side of the gate.
4. After a few days, begin introducing a cue. Say your cue (ex: 'Behind gate'), toss treat. Praise as dog eats treat and then cue him out with another cue of your choice (do not reward the dog for coming out from gate).
5. Repeat step 5 numerous times until your dog enjoys going behind the gate for the treat, without actually closing the gate.
6. Start to cue the dog and encourage them to go in on their own. Once they are in, reward with a treat. Ensure you cue them to come out.
7. If they are hesitant to go in on their own, wait it out. Do not repeat the cue! Stay upbeat and positive and do not force them behind.
8. If the dog still will not go on their own, end the session – stay calm and do not appear frustrated. It was just too much for your dog. Try again at a later time. If the dog does go in, jackpot reward them!
9. After dog will go into gate on cue, begin to shut it when they go in. Treat repeatedly while they are in the closed gate to start. Only do small increments of time to start and then increase.
10. Start to get up and walk around, around room, towards the gate.
11. Take one step over the gate, then two, etc.
12. Start to walk around on other side of gate, while remaining in sight. Ensure you are returning to dog and rewarding.
13. Begin increasing duration by keeping yourself busy while dog is behind the gate. Go back and reward as needed when dog is being quiet. Ignore any crying or whining. Never let the dog out of the gate if they are crying. They need to learn they only come out when they are quiet.
14. Next start going out of sight for short periods. Build this up the same as the above steps. Do not continually make the time longer – vary this. Keep your sessions short!
15. As your dog begins to use the gate more, ensure you are not only using it when you leave the dog home alone. They may begin to pair the gate with isolation and create a negative association.
16. Always teach your dog that the gate is a positive, safe place for them!