Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Seminars! And "balanced" trainers!

I believe that it is important for a professional in any field to learn, especially in the beginning of the career. Hence, in the past, I attended many workshops and seminars, and worked with many dogs at many places in different ways, and it’s all listed on my website. I enjoyed every minute of it. Well, almost. I remember one seminar I absolutely hated, but I still learned – what NOT to do. Generally though, there is nothing better than to meet professional dog people, friends and colleagues, and talk nothing but dog for three days straight, and learn from the best.
Said that, I have not attended anything since 2007, when I drove to Ottawa for an aggression seminar with Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz and Kellie Snider. So am ripe for it, and luckily this year are a few great events happening.
I am already signed up for a “Dogs in the Park” workshop that takes place in Guelph in April. Information is at It’s relationship stuff with Suzanne Clothier and totally up my alley.
A month later, also in Guelph, is a dog-dog aggression seminar that sounds very interesting. Info is at I won’t attend, but if I were a humane society or rescue group or animal control, I might send a representative – and then run a once-a-month, mandatory and nominal-fee based, mini-seminar for new dog parents. Just thinking.
And then, again about a month later, is the CAPPDT conference in my old stomping grounds Calgary, organized by my friend Tammy Brooks, who also organized the 2005 conference, which was fantastic. The conference page on their website wasn’t up yet the other day, but I can tell you that Karen Pryor will be there, and Steve White and other fabulous and positive dog experts.
I know the line-up cause it was announced at the CAPPDT yahoo group - and the discussion that followed kept me entertained for a few days afterwards. You see, neither P in CAPPDT stands for Positive, but for Professional and Pet. Hence, the membership includes all kinds of trainers, and a few vocally complained that this year’s conference caters to clicker trainers, and not to the ones that have a more balanced approach.
“Balanced”, in case you’re wondering, is a euphemism for traditional style control and punishment training, including the use of various choke-type, prong and shock collars to correct unwanted behaviors, combined with rewarding obedience with praise, or a food treat if you deal with a progressive "balanced" trainer.
Balanced trainers justify punishments with the claim that nature teaches that way, and therefore it is necessary for a balanced dog and relationship.
Are they wrong when they say that nature works with both punitive and rewarding consequences, and that both are crucial aspects of learning? I mean, we do learn by trial and error, don’t we? If we make a mistake and it hurts we won’t make that mistake again, in theory anyway. A dog quilted by a porcupine avoids the porcupine in the future. Avoid! The key word and my point. A dog who receives a punishment from his person will avoid! What? His person, the training facility, wanting to learn, dogs that were in the vicinity, and possibly a number of other details humans aren’t even aware of. Avoidance in the future is the natural consequence of experienced discomfort or pain. My dogs trying to avoid me, and the space where they live and learn, is not my relationship goal.
That “balance” I don’t want. I am glad to be imbalanced. And I am glad that Mike isn’t a balanced spouse. And also that the CAPPDT’s line-up of speakers is imbalanced, just wish they wouldn’t, almost apologetically, be defending it in their yahoo group. What’s wrong with taking a stand for the imbalanced purely positive approach? “Balanced” is the method taught by the majority of trainers since the last 60 years or so. It’s what most owners already know and apply. The last thing we need is a conference that teaches more of that.
And the CAPPDT doesn’t – not this year anyway. I am glad about that and depending on how my year unfolds, I might attend. Would love to hear Steve White again.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The New Holistic Way

During the Christmas holidays I read “The New Holistic Way for Dogs and Cats”, by Paul McCutcheon, DVM and Susan Weinstein. I blogged about the book a while back and was very keen to read it, cause Dr. McCutcheon is a real t(r)ailblazer in researching the role stress plays in wellness and disease, and was a holistic thinker at a time most people had no clue what that meant (we forgive him that he lives with cats, not dogs).
In addition, my friend Susan Weinstein, a very mindful dog owner and writer, co-authored it.

I was not disappointed; enjoyed the read from the first page to last, both for its content and the way it was written. There is a lot I like and to comment on everything is too much for this post, so you need to get the book yourself, but the things that stuck out for me were the emphasis that pet animals CAN BE stressed, and that stress starts with CONCEPTION.

"The New Holistic Way…" talks about the connection between stress and health, specifically the immune system. Books that fall into the disease and alternative health category can be dry and boring, and one has to be really interested in the topic to work through them. Not this one. Thanks to Susan’s skilled writing, I was glued and think it will be the same for others, and that is important because it allows layowners to understand their pets better, and make confident choices on their behalf that’ll make them feel better.
Nowadays, thanks to the media and physicians that acknowledge the detrimental implications stress has, most people are somewhat aware of it – when it comes to themselves. But many dog owners I meet are surprised that their furry companion can be stressed as well. So I am glad that there is a book now that addresses that, written by an authority with four decades of first hand experience.
Just because our pets don’t have to rush to work, multitask and worry how they’re gonna pay the bills, does not mean they don’t deal with things, including environmental, medically induced and food related stressors, which is also explained very well in the book.
One sentence I really liked and I quote: “…animal can cope if the stressors of life is appropriate for him as a species and individual…”, and that gives you an idea of Dr. McCutcheon’s approach to evaluate each animal individually, rather than to apply a one-fits-all symptoms suppression fix-it method. Assessing and healing according to individual needs is typical for everyone who thinks holistically, but the care, love and respect he has for all his clients is extraordinary and visible on every page. Such sensitivity.
I am really happy that the book points out that stress begins with conception. I couldn’t agree more, and it is a fact every dog owner should know, but many don't. It’s important cause that insight hopefully compels more and more people who think about getting a dog to ask their breeder specific questions how the damn is fed and treated, and what the environment she lives in is like. People that know that they could have lifelong problems if their pup’s mom was fed crap and stressed; lives in an inadequate, overcrowded or harsh place, are less likely to shop at a pet store, puppy miller or broker.
So, those were the focal points for me. If you want to find out more, you can purchase the book at chapters or amazon, and there also is a website:

I am addicted to books and got a bunch for Christmas hubby Mike and our daughter Yana picked from my pages-long book list I handed them in November. The next two I am going to read are: "Shadow Syndromes – The Mild Forms of Major Mental Disorders That Sabotage Us", and I’ll probably find some useful info to help me with my work with dogs.
And “The Vanishing Face of Gaia”, that has nothing do to with dogs, but is kind of a dooms day account of the consequences of global warming. I heard a CBC interview with the author James Lovelock that really intrigued me, and I can read stuff like that because I have a “not so mainstream” belief about life and won’t get depressed.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

I have a New Year’s Resolution! It’s the same one I had for the last ten years. Yep, the reason why it never changed is cause I can’t stick with it passed March, but because I am not easily discouraged, I keep on trying.
Were I able to ask Davie and Will about theirs, I’d bet my liver-stuffed Kong they could come up with a couple more things needing to be changed, and my guess is that it would involve more meat and less veggies in their dinners, and more quality time with their human servants. Those, as you probably noticed, are resolutions for hubby Mike and me, not themselves. That is not because our “girls” are narcissists complete with a huge mental blind spot, but because it is not in the nature of dogs to see anything wrong with their own behaviors, so the concept to better themselves is foreign to them.

Dogs never act out of the blue. There is always a reason, although we humans don’t always get it. One is instinct: the stuff all dogs do without having to learn it, for example growling to warn someone and lowering their body to acknowledge superiority.
Instinct is the genetic makeup in all dogs.
Drives are what people selectively bred, and still breed for. They are not homogeneous, vary depending on breed of dog, but are inherent nonetheless. The border collie giving eye, a retriever wanting to have something in his mouth, and the beagle following a scent relentlessly, are all behaviors people at one time wanted, and the driven pooch can’t help but to act them out, even if he lives in a pet home and annoys the owner.
Just because dogs come with a hardwired, species and breed specific program, doesn’t mean their actions are fixed ones. Nature is only one factor that determines behavior. Nurture is the other one. Nurture includes imprinting, training, setting rules and teaching dogs all the things we prefer them to do. And it includes managing dog and her environment in a way that allows her to succeed; not fail and behave badly – or dangerously. It is channeling what nature bestowed on them into people-acceptable conduct. There is a lot a person can do to guide even a strongly driven and instinct-ridden pooch into behaviors people approve of; to help her to be a successful dog in a predominantly human society.
The onus lies entirely with the human. Little-reasoning-brain dogs have no way to do it on their own. They are not cognitively equipped to read up on human by-laws and proper societal etiquette and toe the line thereafter, especially if those expectations are against their nature.
If a dog behaves “badly”, she does so as a result of not being taught alternate behaviors, because the social group she lived or lives in is not meeting her needs, or because her people misjudge her limitations and fail to manage her and the environment to keep her out of trouble - or all of the above.
I don’t want to simplify dog behavior. In reality, the lives of companion canines can be almost as complex as that of their persons, and their actions intricate, but it doesn’t change the fact that dogs act according to their nature and the quality of nurture they received, and therefore are never to blame for the way they behave. And because they don’t purposely misbehave, they wouldn’t understand, even if they intellectually could, why they need a self-improvement resolution.
Davie and Will are perfect the way they are, and I am not, and so I need one – or ideally several.

May 2010 treat you and your canine companions kindly - and may you have the strength of character to stick to your resolutions longer than I, based on past behavior, probably will.